If you are considering studying in Italy, you might want to know a little about what you are up for. This article will try to analyze what this beautiful country has to offer to an international student, but also what challenges come with this choice.
It is widely known that Italy is the country with the largest artistic patrimony in the world. Culturally speaking, it has so much to offer that it is hard to decide which city to choose.
Geographically, it is a long and narrow country that spreads from north to south. It is divided into 20 regions, which, may I say, are in some ways 20 different countries. The reason why I’m saying this is that each region has its own dialect, its own cuisine, its own climate, its own history, its own architecture, and overall its own personality.
Deciding to study in Italy, therefore, can be very different according to where you choose to go. Universities offering English-taught courses at the bachelor’s level aren’t too many (though more and more each year). The numbers, however, increase at the master’s level. Education is usually very good throughout the country, whether you go to a public or a private university. Curious fact: Italy is home to the oldest non-religious university in the world: Alma Mater Studiorum in Bologna.
Being one of the world’s design capitals, it is not a surprise that in Italy you can find some of the best art and design schools, offering courses from vehicle and furniture design to fashion and any related marketing or business program. Private and public universities often offer English-taught programs in business, economics, architecture, as well as medical studies. On the Italian territory, there are also American universities such as John Cabot or the American University in Rome that offer the typical Liberal Arts degree.
How much does it cost to go to an Italian university? Tuitions vary a lot from public to private. Most universities in Italy are public and only cost a couple of thousand euros per year. Unfortunately, the universities that offer the most English-taught courses are private and can cost up to 15,000 – 20,000 € per year. Applications are generally rolling. Italian students apply in the summer after they have finished high school. Some schools, though, will allow you to apply way before, especially if you are an international student. On some occasions, like Bocconi, you can also apply in your second to last year. Many courses will expect you to take an entry exam, which is common for everyone: the TOLC. This is kind of an SAT exam but it is adapted to the subject you are applying to. Some private universities will have their own exams they want you to pass, though usually, they will accept SAT scores. Italy, as in most of Europe, expects students to know what subject the student is interested in graduating and doesn’t offer liberal arts programs.
The main challenge an international student faces when applying to university in Italy is that they are expected to be very autonomous. Unless it is a private university you are going to, in which case they might be more organized, universities won’t organize any orientation week. This means that you might be left on your own figuring out where everything is, what your timetable looks like, but also any practical issue such as opening a bank account, finding accommodation, and so on. This might be scary to many students that come from systems where they have been used to being more looked after. Don’t worry as you’ll get a hand of it pretty quickly. Usually, universities don’t offer proper clubs, but there are plenty of activities going on and there is always lots of sports options to choose from. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open.
Even if you are not properly introduced to your fellow students through an orientation week, don’t worry: this is Italy! Italians are welcoming people, and you will make friends in no time, just be a little patient.
As for studying, Italian students are very much used to studying on their own. Most of the work will be autonomous. Also, registering for exams is up to you. This is kind of a tricky matter. You are the one deciding when you are ready to sit your exam and when so, it is up to you to register within the time slots offered. This means that if you don’t feel you are sufficiently prepared, you can skip a session and take your exam later on. Or you might decide to focus on two exams out of three and leave the third one for another time. Also, (this is quite unique, I think), if you are not happy with your grade, you can decide not to accept it and retake the exam instead. And you can do that over and over, until you are happy with your grade! This takes away a lot of stress from students. Beware, though, that this system requires a great deal of autonomy and self-discipline. It is not rare, in fact, to find students that procrastinate stuck in their bachelor degrees after 5 years, with still some exams to take!
LIFE IN ITALY
Quite a peculiar system, as you can see. But what should you expect your life to be once you move to Italy? Let’s try and analyze some of the key aspects of life in this incredible country.
As I have mentioned above, any city you end up living in will have lovely centuries-old buildings, stunning churches, museums, and art to see. All around the medieval centers of the cities, you can find little boutiques and shops to explore and buy all sorts of things. Almost anywhere you go, you can eat wonderful meals at cheap prices, though you will also find lots of fancy restaurants to choose from and spend a fortune.
Italians are used to cooking their own meals, and they consider restaurants as a special occasion treat or for a night out with friends. Whether it is at home or at a restaurant, meals are an important social moment, and people can sit at a table for hours, enjoying each other’s company. Restaurants are okay with it, and nobody will kick you out for occupying the table all night long. In fact, they often offer you a limoncello or an amaro after you have asked for the bill and allow you to stay even longer! If you don’t come from such a food-centered culture, you should definitely take advantage of your new Italian friends and learn to cook delicious, simple, and healthy food.
If food is a social thing, so is drinking. Though you will find every now and then drunk students, drinking has the same meaning to Italians as food: it is something to appreciate, it has to be good quality, and it is a moment to share with friends. This is why it is quite normal to have some wine at lunchtime on a working day.
Though from North to South, the personality of people can be quite different (more fast-paced and work-oriented in the north and rather slow and relaxed in the south), what really unites the whole of Italy is the tendency to socialize and communicate (mostly with their hands!!!). In fact, if you don’t know any Italian when you move to Italy, you might have some difficulties communicating in stores and bars, as Italians are not very good at languages. Nevertheless, they will try to understand you and will try to make themselves understand. In any case, I strongly suggest you start learning at least the basics of the language before you move.
Italians like things to be pleasant to the palate but also to the eye. Not only in art and architecture, but in design and fashion. Comparing a walk in the streets of an American city and an Italian city can result in quite a shocking experience. Both men and women make it a point of dressing up appropriately whenever they go out. As my mother would tell me: “there is no such thing as too elegant”.
All this creativity in food, art, and fashion, though, is so deeply rooted in the DNA that Italians bring it up also in their “art” of breaking rules. Being Italian myself, it hurts to admit that we are masters at coming around any law or rule we don’t like (especially when it comes to paying taxes). Two sides of the same coin. Because of this “make your own rules” attitude, things in Italy don’t always work the way they should: bureaucracy can give you a headache, papers get delayed or lost, offices are disorganized and things can be quite disorienting for an international student that might come from a very differently organized country. My advice here is to learn the easy-going attitude from your fellow Italian friends and develop a good amount of patience.
Though sometimes this side of the Italian lifestyle may be daunting, the positive sides of living in such a unique country are way more. To sum it up, if Italy is where you want to be, though you might not be in the perfect country, you will be in a pretty awesome place!