Lago di Como: The Beginning of Something New

Ciao from Lago di Como!  My name is Laura Robinson, and I am entering my senior year at Niagara University, located just a few minutes from the American side of Niagara Falls.  This summer, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work at the Hotel Metropole Suisse for two months, located in Como, Italy, through a work abroad program at  my school.  Throughout the summer, I have decided to blog about my adventures and learning experiences to keep my friends and family back home updated on all that is happening.

Almost two-and-a-half years ago, I applied and interviewed with Dr. Praetzel, the Dean of the College of Hospitality & Tourism Management at the time, and Dr. Scarcelli, one of my professors, for an opportunity of a lifetime, and one that my heart had been set on since visiting the university – a chance to work abroad in Lake Como, Italy.  Over eleven years ago, our former Dean created a partnership with University of Insubria in Como, Italy, and hoteliers around the lake.  Students from Niagara University would work in hotels around the lake during the summer as a semester abroad, while during the Fall, students from the University of Insubria would come to NU for a semester.

This year, there are ten of us placed at ten different hotels in Bellagio, Cernobbio, and Como.  In return for our work, we receive free room & board, excursions to Florence and Milan, and help from Dr. Droulers, a generous donor, for our flights.  But most importantly, out of our work, we will be given an opportunity to grow professionally, experience a foreign culture, meet new people, and better ourselves.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, I have looked forward to this summer and tried my best to prepare myself for it by working two summer internships, taking four Italian courses, and saving as much money as possible.  My placement is at the front desk of the Hotel Metropole Suisse in Como, a four-star hotel located right across from Lake Como, with 71 rooms.  It is the first summer my college has worked with this hotel, so it will be a growing experience for both of us.

In the weeks, days, and hours leading up to our departure, I felt nothing but excitementHere I was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime my first time ever abroad, with some great people, to one of the most beautiful places in the world.  I was about to experience a unique opportunity, and one that I have waited very long for.  Eight months ago, I nearly lost my life while running a half marathon, and one of the lessons I took from that was to live life to the fullest and appreciate it more than I already did, for you never know when something will change it instantaneously.

I arrived ten days ago, and still find myself in disbelief that I am actually here.  For two years, I have looked at the area through pictures online, and finally I am physically here.  Located in the far northern part of Italy, Lake Como is known as the “Hollywood of Italy,” surrounded by the Alps, gorgeous villas, and nature.  Versace, George Clooney, and the owner of Virgin Mobile are just a few of the notables whose villa line the shores of the lake.

After arriving on Thursday, May 21st, the first few days were spent acclimating ourselves to the area.  Dr. Scarcelli, the professor now in charge of the program, and his wife took us over.  Friday was spent touring the beautiful gardens of Villa Melzi and the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, before introducing ourselves in Italian at a welcome ceremony and meeting our donor, university professionals from the Univeristy of Insurbia, and Italian students coming to NU this coming Fall.

On Saturday, we left for a weekend in Florence, the first of our two excursions as a group.  Getting a guided tour of the historic city, climbing 414 steps to the top of the Bell Tower for a breathtaking view of the city and Duomo, experiencing some of the finest Italian food, and walking around the birthplace of the Renaissance made for quite an incredible weekend, with some unforgettable memories.

On Monday, we all began our work week.  My work situation really could not get any better.  I am lucky enough to live in my hotel, and work Monday – Friday, 40 hours a week.  Most importantly, the people I work with are just simply wonderful.  They have treated me with nothing but kindness, generosity, and friendliness to make me feel at home, leaving me with nothing but good feelings about the next nine weeks ahead.  I will be working front desk for the summer, with a possibility that I will help out in the restaurant.  I hope that I will be able to take the differences I see in the European hospitality industry and compare them with the American industry, then take some of what I learned and saw back home to apply it there.  Many of our guests are English-speaking, but my colleagues speak Italian with each other.  I mostly speak only Italian when conversing with them, and in just five days, I have noticed an immense improvement in my language skills.  I do not know if I will get completely to fluency, but I do know that I will be speaking much better Italian when I leave compared to when I got here.

This weekend was full of adventures.  On Saturday, two of my friends and I took a two-hour ride on the boat to Lenno, a city located mid-way up the lake.  There, we toured Villa del Balbianello, a gorgeous yellow villa where many scenes from Star Wars:  Episode 2 Attack of the Clones and Casino Royale was filmed.  Then, we traveled further up to Villa Carlotta, where there is a grand white villa with beautiful gardens and landscaping all over huge lawn surrounding it.

Today consisted of an eleven mile hike up to the top of Brunate, a mountain 715 m tall right near Como, and down a path to Torno with some friends.  From Torno, we took the boat back to Como.  Having hiked a fair share in the Adirondack mountains, it was interesting to see the differences in Europe.  Trail markers are virtually non-existent, and the trails themselves are much different.  It was not uncommon for us to pass a grouping of a couple old stone houses in the middle of the path, while hiking across the mountain, or stone structures that looked like they belonged in medieval times.  Not to mention, practically the entire path down the mountain was stone steps!

Here are some pictures to highlight some of the main events so far:

If you’ve made it to here, thank you for reading!  I hope to blog weekly now that my schedule is settled, so stay tuned!  Ciao for now!

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