Saturday, 22 September 2012

Study Abroad in Italy: University Chaos

A Graduate with a traditional Laurel Crown 
(Photo: via John Ager)

Organisation (Or lack thereof!) 

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. 

★  ★  

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. 

General Confusion 

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. 

★  ★  

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" 


  1. Assalamualaikum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatu my lovely sister!

    I am currently looking for REVERT and "GUIDED-AGAIN" Muslims (sorry, I couldn't really find a better word lol).

    I am conducting a serious of interviews to share on my blog for dawah purposes for non-Muslims and Muslims. You will not be exposed to anybody as your real identity ( I swear by Allah, and thats a HUGE promise), you will only be known as "ANONYMOUS" (unless you request to be known).

    The reason for this project:

    I want Muslims and non-Muslims to be able to see the true beauty of Islam through personal experiences. Personally, when I read about reverts and their stories, they inspire me and even with Muslims who were once misguided, and by Allah guided again. These stories are meant to uplift, inspire, and educate each other and hopes that it will open their mind and hearts by the permission of Allah, to be guided back to this beautiful, peaceful religion, Islam.

    If you are interested, please contact me @ .

    You can set up an e-mail account as "ANONYMOUS" so I won't even have to know who you are (for those with trust issues, which I completely understand) BUT do remember, this is for the sake of Allah and the purposes of doing dawah. Since it is our duty to convey the message, even if it is by one verse from the Qur'an, it's the least we can do. Also, I know many sisters want to do dawah but don't know where to start, or how to start and here is your chance! What better way to spread Islam through personal experiences and letting the outside world connect with your journey !

    I pray that there will be at least a few sisters who are willing to help. Your story can be the one that encourages others to take shahadah! You never know.

  2. Salam, wow that sounds amazing mashAllah, im considering doing a exchange progamme too, but im a little scared ill be the only muslim in sight anywhere and wont enjoy my experience as much based on the social differences .. ie no pubs and that. Was that a problem for you at all? x (BTW im also a girl)

    1. Salaam! I wasn't actually Muslim when I did Erasmus 3 years ago so it's hard to say but I didn't drink alcohol for part of that time. There are Erasmus students who don't necessarily want to go out & drink every evening - you just have to find them - join societies or attend language classes. Throw yourself into daytime activities like day trips, galleries, museums, sit in cafes & visit public parks where you can absorb the atmosphere of a foreign city. European cities usually have a cafe culture rather than just a drink culture. Bars & outdoor cafes serve food late into the evening & are great for socialising (without pressure to go to a club later). I also found that I was visiting people's houses to eat meals or help prepare food - there was a focus on being with people & learning about different cultures & languages. I think the pressure to drink is worse in UK universities actually. It's such an opportunity to learn about new cultures & grow as a person. hope this helps x x

  3. hey. your experiences are quite interesting. thanks for sharing.

    EducStudy Abroad in US

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Your point of view on Italian culture is very interesting! Here's some useful information for those interested in studying Italian in Italy, the best way to learn the real language (and not the books' one) and to meet the culture where it comes from: Italian language courses in Rome

  6. This brought back some excellent memories, I would love to be back in Bo again.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Thank you for taking the time to publish this information very useful! I've been looking for books of this nature for a way too long. I'm just glad that I found yours. Looking forward for your next post. Thanks :)

    Distance Education Institute in Gurgaon


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...