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Exchange student in Bologna University. Part 1.

Alexandra Malakhova - the student of the program "Population and Development" shares her life and study experiences of participating this exchange program with University in Bologna, Italy

Note 1. Date 27/10/2016

Ciao a tutti!
Today is a month since I live and study in Italy. Let's say both: good and bad. But for now, when the biggest problems are resolved and I feel free to joke about it I realized that it's a pretty good time to start my "Foreign diary". By the way, the problems started as soon as my foot stepped on Italian ground. I arrived in Bologna at night, I was so tired. I got in a taxi and rushed to the hotel where I booked a room. A taxi from the airport to the centre of Bologna cost me 18€ for a 20 minute trip, and this is a fixed price to the city. To take a bus would be cheaper (6€), but at night they do not go. My hotel was located in the area Piazza Maggiore, which provided me quick access by foot to anywhere in the Centro Storico.

In fact, whole Bologna is a historical center, which radius is about 3 km. The fortress wall that once surrounded the city are already new, more spacious and green areas. Now the only arches left of the wall (I counted 12 pieces). Previously, they served as a gateway to the city, they are called "Porta", which means "door". From one of these Porte I was scheduled for the morning meeting with the owner of a delicious apartment, which he rented. Living in the hotel a “little” expensive – from 35 to 50 euros per day. Hostels are cheaper-about 20 € per day. But at the first time Bologna did not open its doors for me. The owner did not come to meet me. From this moment many days of my wanderings in search of shelter began.

I could not imagine what a problem is to rent an apartment or room for 3 months. By the way, I started to search in the summer with the help of the Internet. With the various sites and groups on social networks I have found an apartment or room, wrote in WatsApp and called the numbers listed in the ads. But nothing but "no mi dispiace", "occupato" (including 50% ignore) the response I received. At that time I dumped it at the end-of-summer turmoil as the number of students neither more nor less than 100 thousand, with a population of 300 thousand people. And I decided to manage with it in place as the majority does. But it was not my best idea.

I will not go into details and describe my every visit to the potential residence but I will tell about the only one. And the last. Who has brought me to tears of despair. On the fourth day of searching, calling, and writing letters, after more than a hundred of rejections, I went to one agency, which specialized in searching accommodation for students. This was the dire necessity, because I have not heard anything good about it. Unfortunately, it was my last chance. In the agency my personality was immediately found in the database (I was registered there in the summer). I said that I need accommodation for a short period - 3 months. Shaking-heads and bewildered stuff started to look for variants - what a luck! Room for rent, only for girls, term - 4 months! And close to the historical center! The owner said that I can come and see it in 2 hours. I seized a sheet of paper with the written address and went toward the venue. I had a lot of time to investigate the district. It was pretty good! Many cute ordinary houses, nothing special, but one of them stood out significantly. I checked the address and could not believe - that was a house I needed! And what a chic! That was very nice one with a central marble staircase leading to the entrance, a private garden, surrounded by ornate wrought-iron fence. I took photos and admired for the rest of time before the meeting. My happiness had no limits, I though: "Fine! I will definitely rent a room in this house, no matter what! The location, the price and rental period - everything is perfect!" But it was early to rejoice. The owner was well-heeled and young. And with a very poor English. When I entered the apartment he began to explain and show me everything: "this is the kitchen, here is the bathroom, this is your room...". It was evident that the apartment is old, small, furnished with antique furniture and vintage decorations. Suddenly I observed that one room was closed and thought that the neighbor-student was probably left. So, I asked the owner: "who else lives here?" and the answer was: "I live here! I just decided to not specify it in the ad, because when I have written about it the last time the agency refused me!" Really!!! Here they are rascals!!!!! Don't give the guy the gals as the lodgers! With a sweet smile I started moving towards the door, simultaneously pulling his leg by telling about love for antiques, politely said goodbye and quickly ran away. However, he had my telephone number, as he promised to call me back the next day because it still had to come girls to look a flat. Fortunately for me he didn't call, but here are the text of message I received: "I sasha how are you...yesterday i forgot to ask you your age you seem soo young like a nice lolita". (Copied)
Whaaaaaat?!?!

After this visit to the lonely heir to grandmother's apartment, hating this Agency and all Italy at the same time I briskly walked home with only one purpose: to book a ticket to Moscow. I thought that is the end of my journey, I will never study at the oldest University in the World... I've had enough adventures already, this can really end badly for me. 
But the miracles may happen. About how "The Six Handshakes Theory" has been proven, the first lectures and student gatherings, I'll tell you the next time. And it will be a positive story...

In conclusion, a note to all those who one day will be looking for housing in Bologna. A few items I was able to learn about from the owners of the apartments:

1. Landlords prefer to give the property for rent for a long term, for example for a year, on purpose to give and to forget ("Solo annuale");
2. Some of them give preference to couples, some pass only the Italians, there are many of those who do not want to pass students, especially Erasmus (in ads you can often see: "Non studenti", "Non-Erasmus")
3. Extremely important point: utility payments. In Italy it's a very surprising case. First, here the bills are paid not monthly but every two months (so, nobody going to give a rent for three, five, seven months). Secondly, taxes. The longer the contract the less the tax is paid by the owner. 
4. Well and the complexities of the contract design themselves. Usually, landlord enters into a contract with the rent apartment agency, which in its turn concluded an agreement with one of joint-stock companies, that provide utilities services. So, bills for electricity, gas, water and garbage come to the tenant's name. The cost of signing a lease is € 200 per apartment (this cost can be divided between the tenants). So every time a new tenant comes, the landlord should go to the agency and arrange the papers, papers, papers. Who wants to do this once every 3 months? Nobody. Mi dispiace.
5. Last but not the least point - taxes. In Italy tax on rental income from property in the average is 20% (but not above 30%) and for non-residents it can reach up to 45%. Therefore, there are very popular rental offers without a contract. It would seem a good solution: the tenants do not have to pay for the contract, and the owner is a free of tax payments. Of course, not everything as smooth as we would like. First of all, you can not obtain a residence permit (Permesso di Soggiorno) without a rental contract or an invitation from a citizen of the country. A residence permit is obligatory for those who are going to stay in the country for more than 90 days, except for residents of the European Union. Secondly, the contract ensures you a restful stay and a safety of the personal belongings in your absence. In Bologna, where the rental business prospers throughout the year, the fraud cases are not uncommon. All in all, to rephrase my popular Russian namesake, this farewell to you: "Take care of yourself and your personal belongings!".

Grazie per la vostra attenzione! 
Buona continuazione...

Alexandra  Malakhova
https://vk.com/population_and_development_hse