A Graduate with a traditional Laurel Crown
(Photo: via John Ager)
The first thing you'll probably notice is that Italian universities don't tend to have clearly laid out welcome packs or itineraries when you arrive. You are well and truly thrown in at the deep end. Think of this as the initiation process into chaotic but ultimately entertaining Italian university life.
The process began by meeting the Erasmus liaison at the university who welcomed. We rather naively expected to be given our timetables and list of modules but instead she advised us to go away and start organizing our own timetable. This meant going online and searching the university website. No problem.
We soon discovered however that modules were scattered higgledy-piggledy all over the place with no apparent logic or system. You'd find one course you liked but then discovered it clashed with another and so on. You'd then have to sacrifice some lectures in order to attend others and hope you didn't miss anything important. So it's worth taking your time though and scouring the whole site because there are many interesting and varied modules hidden away in the nooks and crannies of the sprawling university website.
Italian vs English
As you'd expect, the majority of bachelor courses are in the native Italian. This can cause issues when it comes to choosing courses. My university, for instance, stipulated that my course had to be in Italian in order for the credits to be accepted back home (as it was an English degree). In theory this was fine, but naturally the reality was much more complicated.
This proviso meant that although I was an undergraduate, I had to do several Masters courses in order to find the ones in English. As they were at a higher level they were challenging, but were incredibly rewarding. Choosing Masters courses allows students far more freedom and so I was able to pick topics ranging between Feminist Dystopias, Technology in the Second World War and the American City in Literature. The latter was so flexible that while I was dissecting Obama's inauguration speech my friend was writing about the architecture of Las Vegas.
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Although English was the official language of the course, this was strictly true in practise. Some professors would begin lectures in English but then switch halfway through when they grew a bit tired. The switch would usually be preceded with the announcement 'Erasmus students, you can sleep now. I will speak in Italian.' I once listened to a two hour lecture and only wrote down about five basic sentences.
I remember once arriving late for a lecture where the professor was chatting away quite happily in Italian. He suddenly spotted the conspicuous group of Erasmus students shuffling in and his smile faded. He sighed, 'oh, now I must speak English'. The whole lecture theatre groaned and we had eyes drilling into the back of our heads for the whole class. I wished the earth could have swallowed me up!
The good thing is though that the more you hear Italian, the more you'll learn and be able to comprehend. So although you may not be learning about Oscar Wilde, you'll still be learning something beneficial.
Italian professors are notoriously vague when it comes to informing students what is expected of them. They are also prone to changing their mind at the last minute according to their whims. One of my Italian professors was particularly vague when it came to, well, basically everything. Here is an excerpt from such a discussion with said professor.
Students: Which novels can we choose from?
Gino: err, the ones I spoke about in class. Or any novel you want from inside the period... or outside.
Students: How long would you like the essay to be?
Gino: Anything from 3... to um... 10 pages.
Students: OK. and when would you like it in by?
Gino: Any time before Christmas. Or after. That's fine.
Chaos aside, count yourself lucky to be studying in Italy if you also want to have time to soak in as much Italian culture as possible. The workload for Erasmus students in Italy in generally far less that Erasmus students in say Germany or Holland. My university friends in Heidelberg found themselves writing the equivalent of several dissertations during their time there!
The Benefits of Studying at A Foreign University
Erasmus is a great opportunity to learn new ideas and perspectives. The extra year of study can really make a difference in terms of preparation for your final year and if you make the most of your studies during Erasmus, it can really boost your overall degree. For instance, the modules I studied in Italy really opened my mind and eventually became the basis for my final dissertation. Erasmus students are often able to incorporate different critical viewpoints and ideas which make their work stand out from the non-Erasmus students back home.
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Let me know if you have any questions about doing Erasmus or living in Italy.
Have you done Erasmus and had similar experiences?
I'd love to hear from you!
To read more about studying abroad, check out: 30 Ways to Say "Turtle"