Quality cappuccino’s, lots of tiramisu and the support of a departed friend: Elske’s experience in Milan will forever be a special memory

Life Sciences student Elske Christiaanse found an ideal internship at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan. But the initial excitement about her adventure in the fashion capital of the world suddenly took a turn, when she received terrible news.

fd56bf40-c988-11ee-b6c6-de69bf64e474 Life Sciences-student Elske Christiaanse loopt stage in Milaan

In one street in Milan’s city centre, there’s fancy fashion celebrities stepping out of their luxury cars to attend an exclusive gala. And just around the corner you’ll see people standing in a huge line, hoping to ‘profit’ from a free giveaway campaign of one of the world’s most famous fashion designers.

It might be a typical day for local residents during the Fashion week in Milan, but not for Life Sciences student Elske Christiaanse (24). “I’ve never seen the gap between rich and ‘regular’ people so clearly portrayed”, she says. “It was quite a spectacle.”

The Fashion week was just one of Elske’s many experiences in Milan so far. “There’s so much interesting culture, history and architecture here. So many beautiful museums, shops, and parks, and the nightlife is great as well.”

Making every minute count

However excited she may have been in her first weeks in Italy, that excitement was brutally overturned when Elske received terrible news from home. One of her best friends had suddenly passed away. “It’s still hard for me to believe. And being so far away made it especially difficult, of course.”

Nevertheless, Elske remained determined to continue her internship in Milan. Not just in spite of what happened to her friend, but because of it as well. “It was she who had most strongly encouraged me to go abroad. She was a super ambitious, and motivated person. She was only 24, had already created her own business, and she loved to travel. We regularly called since my arrival in Milan. I want to get the most out of my experience here, because I know that’s what she would’ve wanted.”

So that means enjoying everything the Italian city has to offer, even though it sometimes gives her mixed feelings. “I’ll honor her by making every minute here count,” says Elske, with watery eyes. “And by eating tiramisu every place I go, because she loved that.”

Affordable housing

Elske arrived in Milan September 2023 to start her internship at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research. “I wanted to go abroad and I like working with C-elegans. So I sent a message to Lorenzo Rella, who works in that field. He came with a couple of suggestions, and the nice thing about Milan was that the internship came with affordable housing right across from the institute.”

Her internship and the city are so much to her liking, that she already knows she will remain there for her graduation internship as well. “We’re currently trying to crossbreed two types of worms to develop a new type, that could be useful in research on amyloidosis. And for my graduation assignment I can continue working with C-elegans, so that’s perfect.”

Apart from the surroundings and her professional challenge, it’s probably the food culture that Elske enjoys the most about Milan. “You start the day with a quality espresso, of course. And the lunchbreaks are amazing. We take at least an hour for it, and everyone gets a complete meal in the cafeteria with pasta, meat and vegetables. I’m not sure if I can go back to my cheese sandwich after this.”

I want to get the most out of my experience here, because I know that’s what she would’ve wanted

Elske's advice

For students who are considering an international experience as well, Elske has some tips. The most important one? “Enjoy every moment of it. Because it can all be over before you know it. I feel like I’m too young to have that realization, but now that I have it… I’ll put it to good use.”

And then, regarding practical matters: “It was important for me to find an internship in a field that strongly interests me. And I think the most effective way to do that, is to get in touch with a teacher that’s in that field.” She smiles: “In my case, I was lucky to have an Italian one.”

“After arrival, it’s important to find people to hang out with of course. You can do so by joining organizations like ESN, or here there’s ‘International student Milan’ as well. They have so many activities, there’s always something nice to do. You’re with like-minded people, who are also getting to know the city. So you’ll be sure to find friends there. In my case, these activities feel like an added bonus, since I’m already fortunate with a great group of colleagues with whom we do a lot.”

'In memory of her'

Elske will travel back to the Netherlands in April, to celebrate her late friend’s birthday with a close group of friends. And in the summer she’ll come back again for the festival season. “We’re going to try to be together as much as possible, in memory of her.”

If you are thinking about going abroad for your study, you can contact Kelly Vellinga-Chan for information. 

Photo Elske Christiaanse