Moving to Berlin

A few short weeks after graduation, while I was still traveling after a conference, I realized that I would be moving to Berlin to start a new job in machine translation. All of this happened so quickly– much quicker, I think, than I was mentally prepared for. But now the frenzy of bureaucracy is finally slowing down, and I’m looking forward to a trip home for the holidays. I’ll be starting work in January. In the meanwhile, I’ve been working on getting a visa and finding an apartment. I’ve also visited a few of the Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas markets). The one in Charlottenburg was by far the best, with tons of craft vendors and all the usual delicious street food you can expect (although the one in St. Wendel is still the best one I’ve been to).

Getting a Visa

Two years ago, I moved to Saarland to start my master’s in computational linguistics. Last time I was applying for a study permit, and the process was such a headache, that I had to make a flow chart for myself in order to understand everything I had to get done. This time I’m applying for a Blue Card for me and my husband, which allows both of us to work in Germany. The process is nearly the same, that is to say, just as annoyingly complicated.

The problem with the German system, is that it seems like there’s some sort of circular loop on the documents that you need to get a stay permit. For example, to start working, you need a visa. To get a visa, you need an apartment. To get an apartment you need funds. To have funds, you need a bank account with money in it. To open a bank account, you need to be registered at an apartment (you need an address). You also need to be working to have funds. Like I said, to start working you need a visa. It’s a headache that no one fully understands. In practical terms, the flow chart I created last year is still pretty accurate (replacing the school enrollment documents with a signed work contract instead).

The boss at my new company was under the optimistic impression that I could get all of the documents and appointments completed in around 2 weeks in November, and/or that we might be able to skip a step here or there. I was also being optimistic when I estimated that, with the backing of my company, we could get it done in around 4 weeks, before I left for the holidays at the end of December. In the end, it did take right around 4 weeks, so my optimism was not misplaced.

Unlike last time, when I had to figure all this stuff out mostly on my own, this time, my company helped me with filling out and collecting many of the documents, signing me and my husband up for national health insurance (this time with TK, but it’s similar to the AOK I had before), and they even came along with me to the appointments at the Ausländerbehörde (immigration office).

Finding an Apartment

The main task that was left to us was to find an apartment. There are a number of websites available, but I found Immobilien Scout to be the most useful in this task, whereas, if I was searching for a WG (shared flat), I would have probably looked on WG-gesucht, like I did last time in Saarland. Temporary places and shared housing can also be found on Facebook groups (e.g. this one), but you just have to be extra vigilant for bullshit. To apply for apartments, we needed a number of documents proving that we would be good renters, including:

  • A positive SCHUFA (German credit check). It costs around 30 euro to get from the official website, but there are some possible hidden fees on there. If you get it from Immobilien Scout, you get a premium account for a month which helps in the apartment search (just cancel it immediately), and you get an option to download and print a PDF immediately, which you don’t get from the official website.
  • A work contract or pay slips with your net income, which must be 3x the monthly net Kaltmiete (cold rent, which excludes heating/utilities).
  • A letter from your previous landlord stating that you don’t owe them any rent. We were able to use the receipts from our AirBnB, combined with a bank account statement instead (since our last landlord didn’t speak German or that much English). 
  • A Selbstauskunft (typical application form, which the landlords will provide you). 
  • Your passport for identification.

People say that Berlin is cheap, and maybe it is cheaper than cities like NY, Paris, London, SF, etc., but I think people underestimate how much costs have risen. The market is definitely not in favour of renters at the moment either. Basically, any apartment that is reasonably priced is besieged by 30 or more people (literally– there was one we visited, where there were 30 people there on that day alone). Berlin is also separated into different districts, which makes it quite difficult to figure out where to live. I don’t know the city that well, but it seems like Prenzlauer Berg and Charlottenburg have a lot of families, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are nice for young professionals (and may be undergoing gentrification), and Neukölln is the more gritty immigrant/artists area. I’ve only been here a few weeks though, so I can’t talk too much about these and the other areas.

Another peculiarity of looking at apartments in Germany, is that many of them don’t come with kitchens. Essentially, renters tend to buy their own kitchen (such as at Ikea), and then move it around from apartment to apartment, so when a renter leaves, they often take their kitchen with them. Some may try to sell their kitchen (and other apartment “upgrades”) to the next owner, or at least to get the owner to accept the state of the apartment as it is (i.e. with the upgrades). They have to do this, because otherwise, they need to revert the apartment to the state it was in before they began renting it. We really didn’t want to deal with the hassle of buying and installing our own kitchen, so we only looked at apartments with an Einbauküche (built-in kitchen). 

We ended up looking at 20 apartments in the span of around five days, 15 of which we viewed in just three of the days. Our top choice of the ones we saw was apparently everyone’s top choice, because it got snatched up by someone who had probably already had the application in before we even went to the viewing. It makes sense, since this apartment was cheap, at around 800 euro Warmmiete (rent with heating costs), in a good location, and only missing a fridge.

Our second and third choices were both renovated apartments with a Kaltmiete (rent without heating/utilities) of around 1100 euro. One was in a fancy new sky-rise building, literally across the street from Ostbahnhof train station. There’s nothing in the direct neighbourhood except the stores in the station (which includes a nice Rewe grocery store), but getting to my work is incredibly fast. The other was a bit cheaper, and in a neighbourhood with schools and families, but far away from transport and grocery stores. The second choice had the closer location to my work and Rewe. Since I had to travel one hour on multiple transports each way last year,  I’ve gotten really fed up with commuting. We also liked the kitchen at the second place better, since it was much bigger and opened up to the living room, in a more typical American style (in Germany, many apartments have the kitchen in a separate small room). Although the second choice was missing a washing machine (which is also pretty typical here), we still decided to go for it based on the other factors. We signed the lease a week later, and another week after that, I am happy to say, that we have a place to rest our heads now!

Unfortunately, we failed to understand one more thing the second choice was missing– light fixtures. Yes, apparently light fixtures, like washing machines and kitchens, are considered “upgrades,” which don’t come pre-installed. Actually, we did notice that there were no lights in the apartment when we saw the place, but we figured that since it was a new building this was something that was still being worked on. We asked the person showing us the apartment about that, and she said “they will install that.” We assumed that meant that the building company would do this. It was only after we signed the lease that we realized we were wrong (and/or she said a small lie to get us to sign). We did try to install one of the easy-to-reach light fixtures ourselves at first, but we quickly realized we’d need a lot more tools and time to do the job properly. This is obviously rather infuriating. In the end, we decided to contact the Hausmeister, and ask them to come in to install lights. The cost of the light fixtures and the installation will probably total around 100 euro more. Obviously, this is infuriating. On top of that, we still need to buy the washing machine, all the furniture and all the stuff a livable place needs, that people tend to forget about (cleaning supplies, trash cans, kitchen supplies, etc.). Fortunately, I’e found that sleeping on a semi-firm mattress on the floor is actually my preferred sleeping situation in terms of comfort (we did it this way for 3.5 years in Portland too, and it was really the best sleep I’ve ever gotten), so at least my bed is cheap. But in the end, this is becoming a very expensive apartment.

To be honest, in retrospect, I think we might have done this whole move wrong. The better way might have been to rent a short term (1-3 months) place, and look for a more permanent place in the meanwhile. However, I’ve heard that Berliners themselves have been having trouble finding a good place, with some people spending even up to a year searching (at their leisure though). In addition, in order to get a work visa before the end of the year and be able to start working in January, we needed to have registered our apartment at the Bürgeramt (administrative citizen’s office). We could have done this with some temporary apartments, but felt it would be easier to be done with as much bureaucracy as possible early on. So I think we should be happy that we did find something suitable after all, and even managed to get our visas done before the holidays. (I actually have one more step left, where I have to renew my expiring passport, so I can get the final Blue Card, but I already have an appointment to do this set up.)

At the end of the day, what helped us the most in being able to make this sudden move was having liquid cash ready to be used. I’m not the biggest saver, and I tend to splurge on expensive things now and then, but I still try to keep a saving mindset when I can. I’ve also been lucky to have a lot of parental guidance and help over the years. These factors have allowed me to have a small bit of cash saved up for these situations. I know many other people would be in a much more difficult situation. I guess that’s partly why I feel a bit uncertain about our decision to go with a somewhat more expensive apartment– I don’t like cutting into that hard-earned cash that I have, for fear of not being as prepared in the future; in particular, in case things don’t work out here, and I just have to move again. Nevertheless, I hope that, in the end, it will pay off in sanity and a convenient living arrangement, leaving me to focus on improving my skills in my new job. Time will tell. 

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Year 2 Retrospective

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Rovereto, outside my window.

So here I am, at the end of the LCT program. Things are nearly wrapped up, but not quite over yet. My stay permit in Italy runs out December 31st, and before then, I hope to figure out what comes next! In the meanwhile, a lot happened this year, so like last year, I’d like to provide a summary of my experiences. I feel like the LCT experience is really unique for each person, especially during the second year, so take this all with a huge grain of salt, as being very much my subjective opinion.

Contents

  1. Bureaucracy
  2. Accommodation & Costs
  3. Getting Around
  4. Food
  5. Weather/Activities
  6. The University System
  7. CIMeC
  8. Internships
  9. Final thoughts (TL;DR)

Bureaucracy

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Colosseum in Rome.

Oh boy. Where do I start? Italian bureaucracy is famed for being bad, and rightfully so. I’m sure it’s not the worst, but it’s not the best. You will go to many offices, many times, and many people will tell you many things. They will tell you those things in Italian. Many times you will either fail to understand those things, or those things will be contradictory, so you won’t know which one to believe. Deadlines are important, when they pertain to you. They are unimportant when they pertain to others.

Although much in the bureaucracy is annoying to deal with, two big points jump out: the stay permit, and thesis submission at the uni.

The process of getting the stay permit was very tiresome. All in all, if you are in Rovereto and you get it expedited, you should still expect it to take 4-5 months, assuming everything goes smoothly (in Trento, I heard it could take longer). For significant others… well, my husband still doesn’t have his, 14 months later. This means he was unable to travel around the Shengen Zone (since his 3 month US citizen visa waiver ran out early on). As long as he stayed in Italy and/or traveled through ports of Italy, it was fine, but the whole thing was just a bummer.

In terms of thesis submission, there are a series of deadlines that you will need to meet, and a number of small document submissions that will need to be made along the way. No one will let you know about these deadlines or the requirements, but they may be posted on the CIMeC website (or they may not, if it’s not updated for whatever reason). It’s something you just need to watch for on your own.

My suggestion would be to ask around from the other students at the start of the semester about any deadlines, to check the websites, and then to email the coordinators to confirm with them that you understood everything. There were many times that I thought I had read about all the deadlines correctly, but after an email, I realized that I had missed something. Expect to get some flack for this, like “you should know your own deadlines,” but do it anyway. It’s worth it to take the flack, rather than deal with the issues after the fact.

Accommodation & Costs

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The view from my window in summer.

The cost of living in Trentino is a little higher than in Saarland (which was extremely cheap), but the quality of life is much much higher. The 1000 euro a month stipend from Erasmus Mundus is still quite alright in terms of living a student life, but it’d be nice to have a bit extra for travel, especially. With that said, paid jobs are much harder to find than in Saarland. It seems to be expected that you won’t get pay for an internship, which I feel is a bit silly, since by now, you can probably consider yourself a programmer. As such, I would say start looking for paid internships in companies (nearby or abroad) right away. I lucked into one at FBK, but they don’t seem that common there either.

In terms of rent, the uni has some housing, but they do this thing, where they put two people in one bedroom (“doppia”), like in the days of undergraduate dorms in the US. Normal (“singola”) rooms in shared apartments are not too difficult to find though. Expect to pay a little over 300 euro per month, plus the extra costs of heating and such.

If you are looking for a proper apartment (like I was, since I had a significant other and a cat with me), the most efficient way is to walk around town (either in Rovereto or Trento) and go to an “agenzia immobiliare.” You will have to pay around 1 months rent as a fee to the agency for hooking you up with an apartment (you won’t get this back, it’s just a horrible fee). Then, expect to put down at least 2 months rent at the start for the apartment. You can probably find an apartment without an agency as well, but since I was under a time pressure, this was what I found to be the quickest method.

Getting Around

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The view from the bus on the way to Povo.

Getting out of Rovereto, in particular, is just super annoying. The last train to Trento in the morning is at 9:37am, and there’s nothing until 11:50. The last train from Trento back to Rovereto is at around 21:30 or sometimes 22:30. This means that if you want to go watch a movie, have a nice dinner, or just hang out with friends in Trento, it’s basically not going to happen if you live in Rovereto. On the other hand, the last train from Rovereto to Trento is at around 11:30, which is a bit better, but still not great.

The computer science courses and the FBK research institute (where a lot of internships for computational linguistics take place) is located in yet another town called Povo, which is an additional 20 minute bus ride from Trento. By the way, the language courses also take place at the campus in Trento, a short walk from the train station. Therefore, unless you are interested in more of the cognitive neuroscience courses/internships from CIMeC in particular, I would probably recommend you to live in Trento. You can always travel to Rovereto if there’s really a course you would be interested in, since it’s just a 15 minute train ride, but traveling in the other direction is much harder. To me, Trento seems more fun and vibrant of a city, and it’s a little bigger as well.

Finally, as a student, you can apply for the Libera Circolazione travel pass, which is only 50 euro for the whole year, and absolutely wonderful. With Libera Cirolazione, you can take busses and trains not just to Trento/Povo, but all around Trentino. In the summer, the lakes (e.g. Lago di Garda, Lago di Lamar, Lago di Caldonazzo) are great to visit, and you can take the cable car to the top of the mountain in Trento as well.

Until you get the travel pass (or for visiting friends), you can use the app called OpenMove to buy bus and train tickets in Trentino. I find this to be the easiest way, and the cheapest way as well, since you can oftentimes combine bus/train tickets into a single “trip” on the app for cheaper. Barring this, bus tickets can be bought at Tabacchi shops, and train tickets from the machines or counter at the train station. Bus tickets can’t always be bought in the bus, so it’s much better to get them ahead of time. You can ask the Tabacchi for “bus urbano” within the city, or “bus extraurbano” for outside the city.

By the way, you can assume that the trains will be at least 5 minutes late. They don’t even announce it at the station if that’s the case. Once they start announcing that the train is 5 minutes late, that actually means the train is already 10 minutes late. For this reason, it’s nice to be able to keep track of train times, platforms, and how late they are. For that I think the TrainTimetable app is pretty good.

In terms of traveling farther away, you will probably need to fly out of Milan or Venice, meaning you may need to stay there the night before, if your flight is early in the morning, since there aren’t a lot of trains going there very early. Otherwise, there may be flights out of  Verona, but I don’t think that airport connects with as many international airports.

Long story short, travel is going to be a pain.

Food

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Korallo pizza.

If you don’t like pizza or pasta you will be in trouble. These are the staples. But after being here for a year, you will probably come to like pizza and pasta, because it’s very good. Cheese and cured meat (coming from all over Italy) are also fantastic. White bread, on the other hand, is mostly useless, unless you can find some of the tasty Germanic bread more particular to the north. This region is influenced a lot by Germanic culture as well. Some regional foods include spätzle, canederli, and speck. Good places in Rovereto include Bar Christian (Germanic, good, and cheap), Pizza al Volo (good and cheap), Osteria di Pettirosso (fancy), Al Silenzio (hip), Drago d’Oro (Chinese, and cheap), and actually, the student mensa is quite good, though it isn’t as cheap as one would like. I didn’t get to go out very often in Trento, but one of the best pizza places is on the way to Povo. It’s called Korallo, and it is an absolute must (it won a prize for 33rd out of 500 in all of Italy for pizza).

Trentino is also an amazing wine region. I don’t actually know a lot about wines, but I never had a bad wine the entire time I’ve been here. I particularly enjoyed Marzemino, Lagrein, and Muller Thurgau. You will definitely notice this, because there are vinyards growing on every single spot of available land (except where there are apple trees, which is another thing the region is known for). You will ride the train past vinyards, you can ride your bike alongside them, and you can walk right through the middle of them too. It’s quite lovely.

Finally, before I came here, I thought I disliked coffee. I was wrong. The coffee in Italy is not like the coffee in other places, and you should give it a chance, at least once or twice, even if you have sworn off of coffee in the past. The coffee bar is a huge part of Italian culture. Italians might go for a coffee as many as 5 times a day (although I think 2-3 might be more common), but they don’t linger there. They typically order their coffee at the bar, and then just stand at the bar and inhale it on the spot, before getting back to work.

Gelato is the other thing that’s worth trying, even if you aren’t a big fan of ice cream, just to give it a chance. It’s really good, because in many shops it is actually handmade from local cow milk and fresh fruit, which is also why each shop has its own flavours.

In terms of meals, they will be typically split into strict categories and go in this very specific order:

  1. Antipasto (appetizers) — optional
  2. Primo (first dish: pasta or rice)
  3. Secondo (second dish: meat, fish, etc.)* + Contorno (sides: potatoes, veggies, etc.)
  4. Dolce (sweets) — optional
  5. Caffe (coffee) and/or Aperitivo (sweet wine)

*Pizza is considered secondo, but it usually replaces primo+secondo.

Personally, when I have the option, such as at the mensa (cafeteria), I prefer to eat my meal all at once, taking a bit from each dish. Whenever I did this, Italians that I would be sitting next to, would comment saying, “Italians would think it weird that you don’t eat your primo first.”

When you enter a restaurant, you may have to wait to be seated, but often, when you enter a cafe or bar (which can be an alcoholic bar or a coffee bar), you just go pick a table yourself. To pay for food you usually (but not always) do it at the counter after your meal, and you don’t give any tip.

Weather/Activities

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Rotwand via ferrata.

The weather in Trentino is fairly moderate. It doesn’t get too hot or too cold. In the summer, it will be around 30 degrees Celsius most of the time, and in the winter, it will hover above freezing. It might snow once or twice, which is always fun, but it probably won’t stick for long.

I really got into aerial silks (a type of acrobatics). There are a few different places that do it. A.S.D. Punto Fitness in Rovereto is just wonderful, although it’s a little bit hard to reach without a bike since it’s about 3.5km from the city center. La Bolla di Sapone in Trento is also a nice one. I think there might be one or two other groups but I haven’t tried them.

This area has so much to do if you enjoy the outdoors. You can hike all year round, but when the snows come to the mountaintops, it might not be the best idea unless you are very hard core. It seemed like the best hiking season was something like April through late October or mid-November. Before April it’s still a bit cold in my opinion, and after November the snows come. July and August are also way too hot to hike in certain places, but if you go to high elevation then it’s noticeably cooler up there.

If you are into mountain climbing, bouldering, and via ferrata, you will be very happy here, since it’s one of the best places for this as well.

In the winter, you can go skiing/snowboarding at a few different places nearby. There should be public transport that takes you to the well known spots, with areas for beginners and experts. I didn’t get the chance to go, so I can’t recommend any particular places, but I know that it’s a well-known area for this as well.

In the summer, there are many different lakes to go swimming at, which is one of my favorite things to do. Lago di Lamar (my favorite), Lago di Caldonazzo, and of course, the famous Lago di Garda are all just an hour away by bus and very easy to make connections to.

If you are into castles, there’s a ton of them all over the place around here. My favorite one was Castel Beseno, which is very medieval and well preserved on top of a beautiful hill looking out over the entire Adige valley. It’s just a short bus ride (and 45 minute walk up a hill) away from Rovereto and Trento. The castle in Arco was another favorite of mine, since you walk up to it through a lovely olive grove, and it is also very well preserved. There are many more as well… if you shoot an arrow you will hit a castle here! If you are into churches, there are even more of those. A new church is hiding around every corner, and each little village has it’s own little steeple poking up above the rooftops.

If you are more into city travel, it’s not too difficult to make connections to all the well known tourist cities like Venice, Florence, Verona, Bologna, Bolzano, Rome (which is a 4 hour high-speed train ride away), Innsbruck, and even Munich. For the most part, it makes more sense to plan these as overnight weekend trips, since they are far enough away that a day trip would make it a bit stressful. Genova and the beautiful Cinque Terre are also close enough, that you can plan a long weekend around them. Unfortunately, travel to more distant areas takes a bit more planning, due to the difficulty of flying.

The University System

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Cathedral in Trento.

The university system at Trento (maybe in Italy as a whole?) seems to be about giving you some 4 hours of lecture per week, and then telling you to pass an exam. There are few exercises, if any, few opportunities to meet with professors, unless you really go out of your way, few required textbooks, and few mock exams. In short, you just learn on your own.

Like in Germany, you don’t have to sign up for finals until closer to the end of the semester, and if you fail the final, you get one or two more chances to retake it. If you never pass, you can somehow “reject” your grade, and pretend the whole thing never happened. That part is kind of nice I guess.

The grading system is between 18 and 30L. The top grade is 30, but the L means “honours.” I think lower than a 25 is already getting to be not that great, and many people start rejecting their grade at that point (depending on their level of perfectionism).

Overall, personally, I hate this system. I prefer exercises to gauge my progress along the way, accessible professors who don’t force me to make multiple emails to arrange meetings that they end up missing due to their other obligations, and mid-term exams along the way to practice, if possible.  So the learning style didn’t mesh with my learning style, but since I only needed to take 2 courses after my first year at Saarland to meet the requirements to graduate, it wasn’t that big a deal.

CIMeC

CIMeC is a cognitive neuroscience department. The “Language and Multimodal Interaction (LMI)” track that is available within CIMeC is the one that LCT technically falls under, but there are way fewer students and professors teaching this bit of it. LMI is on the periphery of CIMeC and LCT is even more on the periphery. All in all, for computational linguistics it certainly doesn’t come near the quality of education that you get in Saarland. (If you recall, my opinion of the teaching methods at Saarland was already mediocre, and CIMeC is definitely worse.) On the other hand, if you are into cog neuro, CIMeC seems to be very good.

For those who are less interested in cog neuro, and are rather specializing more in computational linguistics, I would recommend enrolling in the computer science courses in Povo. I have a background in linguistics, and I found some of those lectures to be very useful to fill in some of the holes I had (although you will still have to teach yourself a lot, including calculus, linear algebra, and more than a little programming, if you didn’t have that in your prior education).

In general, the fact that over the course of these two years calculus and linear algebra (at least) was not required by the curriculum for those who didn’t have it in their bachelor is a bit ridiculous.

Internships

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Grape-laden vines in Povo near the CS campus and FBK.

You need a 15 credit internship during your studies at UniTN. While courses are very lacking at CIMeC, there is an ok sized group of comp ling researchers at the associated CLIC lab, who seem to work a lot with semantics, so an internship with them might work well.

For me, I lucked into a paid position at FBK, the local research institute. This institute is huge, and includes computational linguistics groups working on machine translation, natural language processing, and speech recognition, as well as all manner of other topics like physics, chemistry, social sciences, and so on. The environment is pretty nice, with many young people from different fields working on their PhDs, masters, and bachelors theses or internships, and visiting researchers coming in to give talks every now and then. Overall, I can recommend FBK.

However, you probably won’t get paid at these places. Therefore, I would say, first try to apply to positions in other companies around Italy or abroad, since you deserve to be paid what you are worth.

Final Thoughts (TL;DR)

  • Each person’s experience in this program is unique, so take all of this with a grain of salt.
  • Bureaucracy is painful. It takes 5 months for you to get your stay permit, during which time you cannot go to the rest of the Shengen Zone.
  • Food is great (except for white bread). If you like pasta and pizza, even better. Give the coffee and gelato a chance, even if you didn’t like it in the past, because it’s really artisanal here, and at least worth a try.
  • The climate is fairly temperate. Winter gets a bit cold and summer gets a bit hot, but it’s not awful.
  • There are many outdoor activities. Hiking and other mountain sports are breathtaking.
  • You will be teaching yourself everything.
  • Travel is annoying. Live in Trento and study at the CS campus in Povo if you are more into computational linguistics. Live in Rovereto for cognitive neuroscience.
  • Use the OpenMove app to buy tickets since it’s a bit cheaper, and get a Libera Circolazione pass once you have enrolled in the uni for extra cheap. The TrainTimetable app is good for seeing when your trains are late, by the way.
  • Don’t take train transfers of less than 20 minutes trains are late more often than not.
  • The university system is just you going to lectures for a couple months, and then studying like mad for a single final at the end.
  • Take the initiative when searching for internships. Find yourself something paid (will probably be abroad in that case). FBK in Povo is a good option (though most of their internships aren’t paid).
  • Before coming, try to take calculus, linear algebra, and python, plus statistics/probability if there’s time, and at least an introductory linguistics course
  • The scholarship is enough to cover a frugal cost of living in a shared flat, but costs are higher than in Saarland at least.

Overall, I enjoyed my second year for the experiences. I learned Italian to the point that I could get around (after having started from only knowing some French), I hiked some of the most beautiful hiking paths in the world, swam in some of the nicest lakes, and learned to do aerial silks. I didn’t learn much NLP though, because of the limited selection of courses, so I am quite far behind now, and will have to teach myself even more. Now that I am trying to apply to jobs, I know just how patchy my education has been. But for that, I should write another post.

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I’ll miss the view outside my window.

Costs for the year:

These costs are from the beginning of Sept. 2017 through the end of Oct. 2018 (so actually 13 months). I wrote monthly costs over the course of the year, but those were estimated and probably a bit off. These numbers should be more accurate for the entire period.

I spent €19587. It was good that I got a nice paid internship to supplement the scholarship, since the scholarship alone would have made this year a lot less fun. I spent a little less than last year, over a longer period of time, and I feel like the money went a further way… but that’s because a lot of the lowered costs can be attributed to living with my husband, and having him split half of it, since actually, the cost of living in Trentino is higher than in Saarland. This can easily be seen in the fact that I spent almost only around 30% of my income on rent/bills last year, as compared to 45% this year. Groceries, dining out, and clothes were definitely more expensive too, although it’s poorly reflected in the values below, since I just ate out less, bought few clothes, and my husband helped a lot with groceries.

  • 44.95% rent and bills (incl. internet and phone)
  • 21.98% travel
  • 9.79% groceries
  • 8.09% dining out
  • 3.29% medical expenses
  • 2.46% sports (mainly aerial silks)
  • 2.07% clothes
  • 2.00% public transportation
  • 1.22% education
  • 4.15% misc (gifts, entertainment, video games, etc.)

I met some of my financial goes from last year, and failed to meet others:

  1. Goal: not have more tech break (not entirely in my control obviously)
    • Failed. My work laptop broke 3 weeks before my thesis was due. I have yet to buy a new one.
  2. Goal: be smarter about ordering travel tickets ahead of time
    • Failed. If anything, I got more spontaneous and worse at this! Oops!
  3. Goal: go out less and/or cook wisely
    • Succeeded. Mostly thanks to my amazing husband.
  4. Goal: spend more time/money on sports
    • Succeeded. And spectacularly! Thanks to aerial silks.

My goals for the next year include:

  1. Find a good job and and a new place to live!
  2. Really have no more tech break on me… is this possible at all?
  3. Again, be smarter about travel. If I find a good job, I probably won’t have as much opportunity to be spontaneous so I will really have to plan ahead I think.
  4. Increase time spent on sports (and therefore money), because it’s fun.

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Getting actually lost amongst the vines somewhere near Rovereto.

Officialization 14: Getting a travel pass

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Limone sul Garda

Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment
  3. Officialization 3: Internet
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II
  7. Officialization 7: TV Tax
  8. Officialization 8: Stay Permit, part III
  9. Officialization 9: Residenzia
  10. Officialization 10: Health Insurance
  11. Officialization 11: Thesis Registration
  12. Officialization 12: Stay Permit, part IV
  13. Officialization 13: Going to the doctors
  14. Officialization 14: Getting a travel pass  <– You are here

Getting a travel pass

As a student, at the start of last year, I was able to get a Libera Circolazione (free movement) pass for the entirety of Trentino for just 50 Euros. Now, since I have already submitted my intention to graduate, I am no longer eligible for this awesome deal. So instead, I had to get an “abbonamento” (monthly pass) from the normal railway and bus system, Trentino Trasporti. Weirdly, I could still get the student version of this pass, and they used a grainy image of my student id mug shot for the card.

Anyways, the process for getting this was a minor hassle. First, I went to the train station, and asked them what to do. They gave me a form to fill out and said to come back in a week for the card. Like most offices here, they can’t call my US-based number, and don’t send emails, so I had to come in physically (I do recommend getting an Italian number at some point, although I never did).

I came back in a week, and they told me that they needed another form from me. The second one seemed to be a student related form. The funny thing is it had literally the exact same info on it as the first form. I had to fill everything in exactly the same. But for whatever reason, it was a separate form. I filled it out, and they told me to come back in a week.

I came back to pick up my card, which cost 4 euros. I asked to pay for the monthly pass. They said that they didn’t do that, and I had to go to Trentino Trasporti. The guy tried to explain to me where that was in Rovereto, but when I looked at Google maps, I didn’t see it there. I never went there in the end. Instead, I went to the one in Trento. In fact, this is actually the same office as the Autostazione (bus station), and in Trento, it’s located right next to the train station. I pass by there often, so it made sense to stop by at some point.

I bought the monthly train pass to travel between Rovereto and Trento, and a monthly bus pass to get to Povo, where FBK is located. This cost me 54 Euro– for one month– more expensive than the entire school year with Libera Circolazione.

In the meantime, I had to buy a bunch of train and bus tickets, so I spent a ton of money. Actually, I sort of messed that up, because I didn’t realize at first that using the OpenMove app, you can buy a combined train+bus ticket from Rovereto to Povo, and it’s cheaper than buying a separate Rovereto->Trento train ticket and Trento->Povo bus ticket. So yea, the cost of work travel this month has far far exceeded the cost of work travel for the entire year prior.

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Officialization 13: Going to the doctors

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They were randomly giving out free watermelon in Rovereto the other night (no strings attached, not even an advertisement), and storing the watermelons in the fountain!

Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment
  3. Officialization 3: Internet
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II
  7. Officialization 7: TV Tax
  8. Officialization 8: Stay Permit, part III
  9. Officialization 9: Residenzia
  10. Officialization 10: Health Insurance
  11. Officialization 11: Thesis Registration
  12. Officialization 12: Stay Permit, part IV
  13. Officialization 13: Going to the doctors <– You are here

TL;DR

The process for getting national health service benefits is a hassle. The fees are pretty low though, even compared to the ones in Germany, and certainly compared to the fees in the US.

  • Process:
    1. Get your stay permit (i.e. at least 4-5 months after arriving in Italy), so you can sign up at Anagrafe with a general practitioner, and receive your “tessera sanitaria” (national health insurance card)
    2. Show up at the GPs office hours exactly when they open or you’ll have to wait. There’s no formal queue– ask who is waiting for your doctor; you are behind the last person.
    3. Get a normal medication prescription if needed, and pick it up at a pharmacy.
    4. Take initiative to request a prescription for special tests if needed.
      1. Show up at the hospital exactly when they open.
      2. Wait in one line to pay. Wait in a second line to get the test.
      3. Go back to the hospital/ your doctor after a week or so to receive your results. (They can only call you to tell you that they’re ready if you have an Italian phone number.)
      4. N.B.: Blood work can be scheduled via Telegram (info here) so you don’t have to wait.
  •  Insurance Fees:
    • US: $10-15 / month (but my employer paid the larger share, otherwise it’s hundreds of dollars per month)
    • Germany: €90 / month
    • Italy: €150 for the calendar year
  • Synthetic thyroxine medication:
    • US: $10-15 / month
    • Germany: €5 / three months
    • Italy: €15 / three months
  • Doctor’s appointment with blood work:
    • US: $100-150
    • Germany: €0
    • Italy: €35

Going to the doctors

I’ve had to go to the doctor a few times now in Italy. The process has not been as smooth as last year in Germany. I admit that after all this time, I still haven’t fully understood how the health system is supposed to work here. There seem to be two classes of health care, public and private. As I understand it, though I haven’t tried, for the private health care, you can call any doctor you want directly, and set up an appointment, and just pay for the meeting out-of-pocket. However, so far, I have used the public services, using the “tessera sanitaria” (national health care card) that I received earlier in the year.

The way the public services work is first you pay for the insurance and then you sign up with a general practitioner who will be your doctor. They will be the person you first visit for any issue, and they can send you along to further specialists. The way you visit with them is just the same as the way you do anything in Italy… by getting to their office before everyone else. All the public doctors seem to have open office hours on a first-come first-served basis. I cannot stress enough that you need to arrive immediately as they open, or a couple minutes before, in order to get to see them in an expedient way.

So you arrive as they open, and just walk into the doctor’s office. In terms of the queue, if there are already people waiting, you should try to ask who is waiting for your doctor; some may be waiting for other doctors who share the office (if you don’t speak Italian well, you can just say your doctor’s name, and people will probably understand your question). Then, remember who you are behind, and take a position in front of the doctor’s door after they go in.

You tell them your problem. If you have pain or something that requires antibiotics, they write you out a prescription for ibuprofen or antiobiotics or cream or whatever, and you take it to the pharmacy. Otherwise, they tell you to wait and see. Usually, that’s your entire appointment. It’s rarely very helpful. By the way, if you don’t have a tessera sanitaria, they aren’t supposed to write you a prescription, but my doctor seems to be pretty willing to bend those rules.

If you actually know what your problem is, you can ask the doctor to request tests to be done if you need them. In my case, I am hypothyroid. The first few times I went, I just asked for the same medication that I always take, and my doctor just wrote me a prescription (the very first time I didn’t even have my tessera sanitaria yet, but he just said not to worry about it). Recently, though, I decided I should check my blood levels again, to make sure everything is still on track, since it’s been a while. Note, that I decided this. In the US, my doctors would know me as a patient and they would know my history, so they would occasionally suggest that I get such tests done, in particular if I had other problems going on as well, or if it’s been the requisite amount of time since the last one. Here, although I have been with this doctor since the start, he doesn’t suggest such tests at all. It’s up to me.

So I asked him how to get the blood work done. My doctor doesn’t have a lab in his office and I believe most public doctors don’t, at least in small towns like Rovereto. So he gave me a prescription and told me to go to the hospital for this, where they have the labs to do it. You can apparently schedule blood work appointments via Telegram (info here), but I didn’t know about that at the time.

Thus, I went to the hospital in person. The procedure there was not at all straight forward. The first day I went, I couldn’t find the correct place to go. I entered through the main entrance and tried to understand the signs for the departments (things like gynecology, cancer, and so on). None of them suggested to me that they did blood work for normal issues. I went to the Segreteria (secretary’s office) to ask them. The lady there was one of the first people I’ve met in Rovereto/Trento that didn’t make much of an effort to make herself understood. If I can’t understand someone right away, I always tell them that I don’t speak Italian that well, and this usually gets them to speak slower or use simpler words. This lady really didn’t care about that. It took me more running around, and asking of other workers (at random) to finally understand that the office was only open from 7:30 till 9:30am, but I still didn’t fully understand its location. In any case, I had to come back another morning.

When I came back, I very fortunately ran into a friend coming out of the hospital. She explained to me that the entry for the blood work was in a different place on the side of the building. I finally found and entered the secretary’s office for outpatient procedures such as blood work (“prelievi del sangue”) around 8:15am. As soon as I entered that room, I realized I had come too late. I knew right away that I would miss the last train to work before the morning break, which comes at 9:37am. This is because the room was filled with people waiting in seats. A number queue monitor called numbers from different needs categories, and the blood draw category was definitely low priority (I think pregnancy-related issues were highest priority). Still, I was already here, so I decided to wait.

Around 45 minutes later, I guess, my number was called. I went up to the secretary, and found out I would have to pay around 35 euro for the blood draw, before getting it done. I did this, and received my receipt. She sent me along to the next room. To my chagrin, I realized that all those people that had just waited in front of me, were now seated in this second room, awaiting their blood draw appointments. I would have to wait again. Not only that, but if I left, I would have to get a refund for the cost of the blood draw, and then re-do this whole process later. So I decided to wait.

Maybe half an hour later, I was finally called in. The blood draw was done by a skilled nurse, and it took all of 1-2 minutes, as usual. Nice and fast.

For getting the blood work results, the hospital will call you– that is, unless you don’t have an Italian phone number, in which case, like most government offices, they can’t understand how to call you. In my case though, the results were thankfully sent to my doctor electronically. He also doesn’t seem to be able to call non-Italian numbers, so I still had to go to him another morning to find out the results. Why not use E-mail you ask? Good question; I have no answer.

By the way, I didn’t manage to catch my 9:37 train, however, there was one more train coming at 9:43. This was the German train going up to Munich, and it would cost me some 6.30 euro or so, if I could catch it. However, by the time I got to the platform, I couldn’t pay for the train anymore, neither at the machine, nor on the train apps, nor at the counter, because the hour the train should arrive was past– even though the train itself was also late (fortunately for me). The lady at the counter told me to pay on board, which I’m sure would have been pretty expensive. Still, I decided to risk it. Sometimes they don’t check tickets. I caught the train, and indeed, no one checked tickets that day.

What a hassle this day was!

 

 

Officialization 12: Stay Permit, part IV

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View from La Sacra di San Michele, near Torino.

Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment
  3. Officialization 3: Internet
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II
  7. Officialization 7: TV Tax
  8. Officialization 8: Stay Permit, part III
  9. Officialization 9: Residenzia
  10. Officialization 10: Health Insurance
  11. Officialization 11: Thesis Registration
  12. Officialization 12: Stay Permit, part IV <– You are here
  13. Officialization 13: Going to the doctors

Stay Permit, part IV

It’s been 11 months since we arrived in Italy. You might be wondering why I am writing about stay permits now, so much later. Yeeaaa. It’s because my husband still hasn’t gotten his.

Last I wrote about this, a lady at Cinformi helped us submit his documents to Questura, even without the  proof that our apartment was larger than the minimum for two people of 45 meters squared. We did eventually need to get that proof. We had to walk up a hill a kilometer to the east, to a municipal office different from the main municipal office, which was located in a very strange place. It was near a fish hatchery, and after a very creepy parking lot… a place that is very difficult to find, even with the address, because Google doesn’t even send you to the right spot. Inside the building, it was also difficult to find the correct office. I had to ask a random worker to help me find the “segreteria” (secretary’s office), who was then able to assist me with my issue.

The secretary was able to look up our apartment in the archives, where they had a physical repository of apartment architectural specifications. We had to come back a couple days later to pick up the documents, and we had to pay another 32 or so euro for the tax stamps (marche da bollo). We submitted these documents to Questura (immigration) many months ago, and waited.

Questura had to send police officers to our house to ensure that my husband was, in fact, living here. They decided to do this on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. We were gone on vacation that weekend, and it took months for them to send more officers. They wouldn’t tell us when the officers were coming, I guess so we couldn’t fake anything.

In the meanwhile, Questura lost that apartment document.

Since Questura apparently can’t figure out how to call non-Italian phone numbers (in fact, most government offices here can’t), we didn’t find out about this for a little while. When we went back to them to ask what was up, we were pretty annoyed, but there wasn’t much we could do. So we had to go back to the weird place to get another copy and resubmit it (paying all the costs again), and now we are waiting on Questura again.

I’ll be done with my master’s thesis soon (in October if all goes well), and we had wanted to go traveling around Europe for a few months, but if the stay permit doesn’t come through, that might not be possible. Looking at the time we have left and how long each of these steps seems to take, I don’t think my husband is going to get his stay permit before I’m done.

Ridiculous.

The Accident

I vaguely remember going down the sidewalk on the street to aerial. I guess I was trying to catch up to my friend ahead, and didn’t see the car as I went through an intersection. Thankfully, I always wear a helmet (Europeans don’t always do this and I think it’s insane), and thankfully, my friend heard the accident. She called the ambulance. They put my neck in a brace and I have a funny picture of that, but I don’t remember any of it. From my perspective, I woke up around 1am with my husband next to me and my friend at the foot of the bed. They told me I had been in an accident. It turns out, I had been awake the whole time asking the same questions over and over, unable to keep the answers in my head. Some pieces of memories have returned, but in the end, I still  remember very little. My head and neck hurt (my husband said I had whiplash) and I had some bad bruises where I must have fallen.

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Hospital lunch.

I slept badly– they kept waking me up to do various tests throughout the night and morning: blood pressure, cardiogram, and maybe more. The paperwork says they did a CAT scan when I came in, which showed negative for brain injuries. In the morning, they offered me a tiny breakfast of biscuits with jam and tea, and at lunch I got a small helping of plain oriechietti pasta with olive oil and parmesan, and a baked apple (safe foods I suppose). My husband kept me company the whole time, only leaving to get a few supplies, and my Italian friends came while he was out, so I never had to be alone. It was really nice knowing that there were people looking out for me.

I was afraid of the cost of all of this, but at the start of the year, I paid around 300 euro for a bunch of bureaucracy, including health insurance. Since I now have the usual national Italian health insurance, the healthcare was entirely free.

On the other hand, car repairs aren’t free. I met with the woman from the accident yesterday evening, and had a rather long conversation in mostly Italian with her and her husband. They didn’t quite believe that I didn’t remember what happened. I understand why that might sound fishy, but it’s true in this case.

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The dent my head made in the car.

Anyways, the lady seemed mostly like a reasonable person trying to get paid for car fixes. Her husband, on the other hand, was kind of a dick. He wasn’t there during the accident, and he spoke very poor English compared to the lady, and yet he felt the need control the conversation from the outset and to ‘splain to me everything that happened there, in particular underscoring the importance of the giant dent my head made in the car (nevermind about my head, by the way). He further proceeded to ‘splain to me how American insurance works and that it would pay for the accident– even after I said multiple times that I do not have American insurance, and that even if I did, it wouldn’t work the way he thought. Perhaps he was under the mistaken impression that I was a frightened American college student willing to write a blank check to make the situation go away? That is not the case. He obviously thought he deserved to be in control of this situation, which he had literally nothing to do with. It took me some 10 repetitions of “I need documentation of the incident before I can do anything,” to shut him down. I was only polite, but I was willing to repeat the same thing a million times if that’s what it took. He eventually gave up and started smoking like a chimney instead.

After that, I was finally able to talk to the actual adult in the room (the lady from the accident), and we figured out what we have to do next, starting with her calling the police to get information about the documents I need. It also helped that one of my friends who was at the accident showed up at just the end of the conversation by complete luck (it’s a small town). My friend and the lady talked in Italian and came to much the same conclusions that had already been decided upon. Although no new information had been exchanged, the lady and her condescending husband seemed to finally accept that they were probably going to get what they wanted and we parted ways.

It’s possible I was in the wrong (though once again, I don’t actually remember anything at all), in which case, I might have to pay, but I’m waiting for all the police statements now. Hopefully some impartial passersby saw what actually happened. I do have some personal liability insurance through LCT (Dr. Walter travel insurance), and my hope is that this gets reimbursed, if I do have to pay. The dent my head made in the car was huge, and the repairs will likely be expensive.

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The memory of the beautiful visage of the lizard from Trieste keeps me going.

Update (12.04.2018):

Today was stressful in many ways. I want to describe my day just a little, so as to set the scene for what is to come. Firstly, I realized yesterday that my bike wheel had been bent in the accident, and I had to pick it up from repairs today (annoying errand number one). Also, I got the most terrible rope burn on the back of my knee from learning a new aerial drop, and didn’t get much sleep last night from the pain, which also makes walking difficult. I did have some American disinfectant cream (Neosporin) lying around, but this morning I had to go to a pharmacy to pick up other wound dressings (annoying, and painful, errand number two). Finally, my glasses also broke the day before yesterday, and my backup pair actually give me some headaches, as do contacts when working in front of the computer. So I’m struggling against that, while also trying to find time to go to an optometrist (another thing I have to learn to do in Italian now). So with all of these small annoyances going on in my life, I needed to brace myself to face the Italian bureaucratic system, yet again. Today, I would be dealing with the carabinieri (military trained police, as opposed to polizia di stato, who are the civilian state police– I’m not entirely sure where their duties overlap or diverge).

Friday of last week, I went to the carabinieri to try to get a statement of what happened during the accident. I had to wait an hour (which made me miss the last train before the 2hr morning break in trains) to receive a piece of paper stating that there was an accident and who was involved. This was not a statement of what actually happened though. I was told to return today at 18:00 for that.

So today I went to pick up the statement of what happened. I arrived at 18:00, as I was told, but of course, I expected things to not be ready. Indeed, I ended up waiting around an hour in the office of who I assume might be an important head guy, because he had the nicer jacket with the most number of stripes. There were 3 people dealing with me. This head guy, another lower ranking guy, and an English-speaking one. That was nice of them to provide the English speaking one, because he was able to more quickly make me understand what they wanted from me, namely, a copy of my insurance.

The head guy was pretty outgoing, and talked to me at length about his home, Licata, Sicilia– the warm weather, the lovely beaches, the food. He asked me a bit about myself, and talked a bit about his take on Italian culture vs. German culture (since the North used to be a primarily Germanic region, people tend to have strong opinions about this). However, his home seemed to be the only thing he was really interested in talking about. With nothing much else to do while waiting, I did my best to engage him in my mediocre Italian; I guess it made a good practice session. In the end I ventured to ask “Lei piace vivere qui? (Do you like living here?)” He considered this question for a moment and answered with some lamentation “Ti abitui (You get used to it).” Clearly, he had not really gotten used to it.

Finally, almost an hour later, the other guys came back with the statement I had been waiting for. They told me that in order to receive it, I needed to go to the tabacchi to buy five marche da bollo for 0.26 euro each. By the way, these are some sort of revenue stamp that makes documents official, though I have no idea what the cost and amount you need are based off of, and I also couldn’t tell you why the tabacchi are the ones to sell them (just as the tabacchi are the ones to sell bus passes). I went to the tabacchi, but the guy there told me that their Internet was down, meaning they couldn’t create the stamps for me. He told me I would have to go to another tabacchi about 5 minutes away to do it. I walked there slowly, dealing with the stinging pain from the abrasion on my leg, but they told me they can’t give me marche da bollo for a lesser value than 1 euro. They realized, before I mentioned it, that it was the carabinieri who sent me on this mission, and expressed their frustration that the carabinieri don’t know by now that no one sells marche da bollo for less than 1 euro. I really didn’t want to argue over a few bucks at this point (and my Italian isn’t good enough to do so anyway), so I just asked them to give me five 1 euro ones.

I returned to the carabinieri, with hope in my heart that this horrible process would soon come to an end, only to find that everyone who had helped me earlier seemed to have vanished. The head person who was on duty now didn’t know anything about me, and was much less friendly than the Sicilian. He told me the office was closed. Apparently, the office closes at 19:00 and no one who had been working with me before had thought to mention this neither to me, nor to the people who would relieve them at their posts. I tried explaining the situation, but I speak Italian slowly, and I kept getting interrupted (frustratingly, this happens a lot to me in general, since Italians tend to have a short pause indicating turn-taking in conversations). I must have seemed really desperate, because finally, he told me to wait while he yelled to the back office. Luckily, one of the guys who had helped me earlier was still there after all, and he was able to finally get me sorted out, though not before I requested he correct my residency information on the paperwork, for which he needed to contact Anagrafe (the municipal bureaucratic office).

One and a half hours later, I could finally go home. I had missed stopping by the optometrist’s office since they were closed by now, and I couldn’t bear to walk anymore, so I failed to complete some other smaller errands I wanted to do today.

Update (11.06.2018):

So I’ve been meaning to update for a while about this. I submitted a claim to the LCT Dr. Walter liability insurance about the crash, and I have to say, the process wasn’t too bad. The LCT coordinator found their contact information for me, and surprisingly, I was able to do everything in English and by email (yes, the latter is also surprising, given my previous experience here in Europe). They are a German insurance company, so they speak German best, but nevertheless, they found someone who spoke good English when I called them, and the forms I needed to fill out were in English.

The forms were all quite logical. The police report was the hardest to get (as mentioned above), but that’s because of Italy craziness. In total, I needed to attach to the email:

  • Completed damage report
  • Photos of the damage
  • Calculation for a possible repair
  • Purchase receipt/invoice of the damaged object
  • Police report

Once I did this, they emailed me back a confirmation with the amount that they would pay directly into the other lady’s bank account. At first, this amount didn’t include the VAT, but when I alerted them to that fact, they said they would pay that as well. To be honest, I still have some confusion as to whether they actually paid the lady or not… I only had a quote for the purchase receipt from the lady, and I think she actually needed to have the work done before getting the money. She contact me, asking for their contact info, and I passed it along. It’s been a while now, so I assume she either got it sorted out, or I won’t hear from her again until a very long time from now. In any case, given the insurer’s correspondence with me, I feel pretty confident that they will take care of things now, once they have the proper documentation from the lady. I am honestly shocked as to how apparently easy this was.

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Hiking through vineyards. A glass of wine sounds good right about now.

 

Officialization 10: Health Insurance

Antifa street art in Bologna.

Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment
  3. Officialization 3: Internet
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II
  7. Officialization 7: TV Tax
  8. Officialization 8: Stay Permit, part III
  9. Officialization 9: Residenzia
  10. Officialization 10: Health Insurance <– You are here
  11. Officialization 11: Thesis Registration
  12. Officialization 12: Stay Permit, part IV

Health Insurance

I paid for the Italian national health insurance for 2018 when I was first applying for my stay permit. Now that I received my stay permit, it was time to actually sign up for the insurance.

This is done at yet another government office, separate from the others, called the Agenzia Sanitaria. I received a copy of the form that said at the top of it “Azendia Provinciale per i Servizi Sanitari”, which I had to fill out from the Welcome Office at school. At the time, I didn’t understand that that phrase at the top of the form was the name of the office and the uni neglected to give me the full address of the office. Therefore, I had some trouble googling the location of the office, but I finally found it at Via S. Giovanni Bosco 6 in Rovereto.

Upon arrival, I found the Anagrafe Sanitaria in the Segreteria’s office on the left hand side. It’s good that I came right as they opened because the line grew very quickly behind me. Once I got to the window, the lady asked me for my documents:

  • passport
  • permesso di soggiorno (stay permit)
  • proof of payment of health insurance (long top of a paper from the post office)
  • codice fiscale
  • iscrizione (proof of university enrollment)
  • the name of a local general practitioner doctor that will become your main doctor (if you don’t know one, I think they provide you with some options, but it’s better to find someone who speaks English ahead of time)

I had to scramble for some of the items, but since I have taken to carrying all of my documents to every government office every time, I ended up having everything with me. As for the name of the doctor, I got that from a friend who had been to one that apparently speaks English. I have never been there before, so I hope that when I have to go for my thyroxine medication, it all goes smoothly.

However, as the lady started to look up my information from the codice fiscale, something went wrong with her system. She started talking to her colleague, who pulled in another colleague, and another, and soon, everyone was all in a flurry, trying to help this lady figure out her system. I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but apparently the problem had to do with the fact that I was born in the Soviet Union (before its collapse), but my passport and documents all say I was born in Russia. Somehow, this impeded the creation of some sort of internal code or something like that. A frustrating 15 minutes later, they had finally figured out how to reconcile the difference. They gave me a certificate confirming my enrollment and a paper with the doctor’s hours, and I was done. However, because of this slowdown, I missed my last train to work before the 2 hour break in trains.

I would like to point out that it has been 5 months out of the 12 that I intend to stay here, and I am only now finishing some of this process for myself, and I still have follow ups to do with my husband. By the way, my permesso di soggiorno was actually expedited so 5 months should actually be considered faster than normal.