Located in the northwest of Italy, Milan is the country’s capital of finance and one of the world’s capitals of fashion. Milan is much like Rome in its perfect mix of old and new, medieval stone palaces and modern offices buildings next door to each other. Every year Milan attracts some of the world’s most prominent businesses to open an office there. You can find businesses in every field, from Gucci to Amazon to Alfa Romeo. So you can imagine that any field you want to pursue probably has internships available.
Fashion Business or Design: Milan is one of the world’s leading capitals of fashion, so what better place to learn about the industry runs? If you enjoy the business or the public relations of fashion, there are plenty of opportunities available in fashion business with a number of the fashion houses. If you are interested in fashion design, there are dozens of fashion labels that take on interns as assistants in designing or merchandising.
Import/Export Business: Milan exports all over Europe and imports from eastern Asia, so if you have a flair for international relations or business, you might want to consider these positions. Several companies look for management, financial, or relations assistants. Language skills are very handy here.
When and Where to Look for an Internship
Internships in Milan are available year-round and vary in length. Most internship programs have final deadlines two months prior to the start of the program, but some will start assigning the internships on a rolling basis. Apply earlier rather than later to make sure you not only get in, but get the field you want.
Cost of Living in Milan
Most programs will have either a home-stay or apartment option, though you might want to hunt for an apartment anyway. Sometimes it is actually cheaper than what your program provides. Apartments in Milan can cost from €750 per month all the way up to €2250. The only problem with looking for an apartment independently is availability. If you are considering renting separately, start looking as soon as possible. Short-term rentals are very common and easy to find, but many are booked early. It is a bigger problem if you are looking for apartments in the warmer tourist months than the winter months. Thanks to Milan’s public transportation (buses and subway), it is very easy to live farther from the center to save money and find something available for your time frame.
Groceries can cost anywhere from €200 per month to €1200, depending on how often you eat out. If you decide to eat in, €200 can cover plenty of food, especially if you stick to the Italian diet. Italians only eat meat dishes once every couple days and focus instead on produce and pasta. At the market, produce, pasta, and sandwich fixings will cost you much less than meat or pre-prepared foods.
Work Culture in Milan
Etiquette: Just like anywhere else, every company is different in Milan. They each have different rules about attire, work schedule and language requirements. One thing that is fairly similar across the board is that Saturday is sometimes considered a regular work day. Some fields even work Saturday and Sunday, then take Monday and/or Tuesday off. Many small businesses take a break in the early afternoon for lunch and coffee, even sometimes a nap at home, which changes typical work hours. These small businesses are often open from 7 or 8 am until noon or 1 pm, then have an evening shift from 4 pm until 7:30. Larger businesses tend not to take this break, instead working from 8 or 9 am until 5 pm.
Italians’ attire shows the same variety as any other culture’s, but there are a few basic rules. Usually Italians do not wear any type of sandal in the city, especially not flip-flops. Sandals are strictly beach- or vacation-ware. Also shorts are not worn in the city, except by tourists. Some of the younger generation wear shorts or sandals as casual clothing items, but never in a business setting. Jackets or coats are worn even in May with a lightweight scarf. Many women wear these light scarves all day.
Language: In Italy, when first meeting someone, people say “Piacere”, meaning “Nice to meet you”. Also as an intern and probably as a younger person, you should always address others in the formal manner unless they tell you that you can be informal (‘Come sta?’ rather than ‘Come stai?’). It is the same idea most countries have of calling someone by Mr./Mrs./Dr. until they invite you to use their first name.
Business in Milan will almost certainly require some knowledge of Italian. Intermediate Italian should serve most of your daily needs, though you might need to learn some field-specific vocabulary. Most Italian businesspeople know at least a little English for their work, so communicating with your boss should not be a problem. It is good manners though to attempt part of the conversation in Italian. Don’t be afraid to kindly say ‘Non capisco. In inglese per favore?’ (I don’t understand. In English please?) after making an effort to understand Italian. You will get much more respect for attempting Italian and failing than for forcing everyone else to use English.
Networking: In the fashion world, who you know is as important as what you can do. Ask your supervisors about contacts they might be willing to introduce you to while you work for them. Also see about attending any company events or parties (they may or may not let any/all the interns attend). Italians are a very social people, so once you strike up a conversation with someone, the hardest part is over. Most importantly for fashion interns, business or design, find out what you can do at Fashion Week. Fashion Week is held twice a year and is the most important event in the industry. If someone at your office offers you a chance to go for work or play, do it. The contacts you make there will open lots of doors. For interns in finance or other fields, the advice is the same for networking with Italians. Be sociable and polite, attend as many events as you can, and you will have no issues networking with local business people.
Work and Labor Laws in Milan
An internship in Italy must be unpaid and will be less than 90 days. If you are working as an intern while you are a student, you are legally entitled to take the day off for an exam. The maximum number of work hours allowed per week is 40, so no overtime. Italian labor laws prohibit an employee being fired for discriminatory reasons. Finally, there are no Italian laws about sexual harassment; however there are laws about wrongful termination that protect the employee.
Things to Remember
- Most people over the age of 35 do not speak English in Italy, though some businesspeople will know a little if they work internationally in some way. If you do not speak any Italian, it will make life difficult. Learn at least a handful of phrases to get you through everyday life.
- Italians are a hardworking people, but they also know how to take a break. Learn the joy of sitting in a bar (an Italian bar is a coffee and sandwich place) with your coffee and sitting doing nothing for a while.
- When you get settled into your apartment, take a walk through your neighborhood to find out where everything is, like the market, pharmacy and public transit.
- Italians change from saying good day to good evening around 3 or 4 pm, so that’s the time to switch from "Buon giorno" to "Buona sera."
- You can drink the water from the tap in your kitchen or the taps on the street.