THINKING OF STUDYING abroad in Italy but not sure where? Whether choosing a university-based program or an independent experience, here is a roundup of the best programs plus several important considertions before immersing yourself in the Bel Paese.
Set your study abroad objectives
First ask yourself why you’re going to study abroad in Italy. Is it to spend some time with a fellow classmate or boyfriend? To learn the language? To study a specialized subject or a specific region? To see as much of Italy as possible and/or travel to other countries?
Pick a location in Italy that fits your needs. A fashion designer might find it more advantageous to study in Milan even though the Tuscan hills are breathtaking. An architectural student may benefit more from being in Rome than a small town.
Shelley Ruelle, former Director of the Accent International Rome Study Center, believes the students who enjoy their time best in Italy “keep their expectations fairly neutral, meaning that rather than trying to adapt the experience to what they might have expected, they accept the experience.”
Italy is unashamedly itself and changes for no one. The little quirks and traditions that might have been amusing to you as a tourist in Italy can be frustrating to a resident. It is best to pick a place where you’ll benefit the most and adapt yourself rather than ask Italy to change while you are studying there.
Immerse yourself in the country and the language
Once you’re there, you will have to seek out opportunities to learn and enjoy your new country. You may not have had a choice where to study, but wherever you are in Italy, you can really immerse yourself in the la dolce vita.
Have Italian at Hand.
Bring a small dictionary with you and keep it in your pocket wherever you go. Try to speak the language and you will see that people will respond to you. Be patient when someone doesn’t understand you the first or second time you say something. Keep trying and speak Italian. YOU are the guest in their country.
Don’t always rely on fellow classmates to explore the city or where you’re studying. Strike out on your own sometimes. Not only will you discover new things, you’ll rely only on yourself to comprehend and be understood. Gather knowledge and experiences by yourself and then seek to share with others what you learn during your stay.
Live like a local.
Italians like seeing a familiar face. If you enjoy a morning cappuccino, take an extra few minutes to ask a question or two to the barista. Buy your bus ticket from the same Tabaccheria or fruit from the same fruttivendolo so you can start a relationship with some of the locals. Every phrase you offer, even if incorrect, will open up a new conversation and opportunity to speak the language and learn. Click here for more tips on living like a local.
Ask your professors or check English language publications and websites for opportunities to volunteer, meet people or join a sports group. Even watching the game every Wednesday or Sunday may open you up to a new group of people. Taking part in local celebrations and holidays is also a great way to show you’re interested and meet locals.
Make an Exchange.
Find a language exchange with an Italian. Many schools will have Italian teachers that they recommend, or you can put up some flyers at the local high school or university for a language exchange, or answer an ad yourself. English language publications are again a great source of exchange requests for finding someone in your area.
A sure way to get a lot of conversation and opinions is to ask questions about the town itself – favorite places to eat, information about historical landmarks. Italians love to talk and complaining is sometimes considered a national pastime.
Where to Study
Home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, Bologna is considered THE Italian university town by Italians. A constant flow of Italian and international students keeps the city young and vibrant, while its size remains small enough so that you’re not fighting for sidewalk space with the tourists. English will be useful for you to interact with international students, but you’ll need to use Italian when off the main streets of the city. You’ll find plenty of language exchange partners as students in Italy are really interested in learning and speaking English.
Food is wonderful in the Emilia-Romagna region, home of tortellini, prosciutto di Parma and many other delicious Italian essentials. Bologna’s position in Italy is central and you’re only a direct train ride away from most of Italy as well as Europe.
Romans are notoriously proud of their city. Living there, you too will become proud of the vast amount of architectural history and beauty that surrounds you. Ancient ruins are tucked back in alleyways and the very cobblestones the Vespas bounce over have a story of their own. English is spoken widely enough that you’ll be able to get by with basic Italian and a mix of English, but there are many areas of the city where only Italian is spoken and they should be discovered!
If you’re not used to big city life, you may feel a bit lost in Rome, which has several million people moving in and around it daily. There is a lot of traffic and getting around the city can sometimes be unpredictable and time-consuming. If you go out in the center, you may find more tourists and students than Italians. Rome is closer to very interesting parts of the country like Puglia, Campania, and Sicily.
Universities / Programs in Rome:
La Sapienza (Italian only)
Torre Vergata (appears Italian only)
Florence is the most popular destination for students and it’s obvious why. It has the right combination of natural beauty, rich history and a small-town feeling that remains quintessentially Italy. You’ll meet a lot of fellow students as potential partners for exploring the city and you can share that cappuccino after 11am without any reproving glances.
Other Study Abroad Options in Italy
Milan is best known as being the fashion capital of Italy, and according to some, the world. While it’s not renown for lush green hills or sunny coasts, it has its own appeal, especially for fashion or design students and is well-connected to explore the rest of Europe.
Siena and Perugia are both small yet charming little towns in central Italy that have international student populations and many specializing in language. Pavia is located just outside of Milan and students make up almost 1/3 of the population. Arezzo is a small town close enough to Florence to return often, and far enough away that you feel you’re deep in Tuscany. Genova is along the beautiful Italian Riviera and you can make weekend trips to Cinque Terre or Nice. Naples, a large coastal town is a favorite for students but chronic bureaucracy and mafia problems make it a choice for the not faint-of-heart.
Final Preparation Tips
Wherever you stay you’ll have Italy’s train system available to you, which means that you’re never without a means to see the country. Explore and map out potential trips online before leaving since train schedules in Italy are set for an entire calendar year.
Get a head start on your study abroad and familiarize yourself with basic Italian phrases and start making lists of what to do and see before you leave. Browse as many guide books in bookstores and websites as you can for ideas and make a master list to consult when you need inspiration.
Before you go, connect with these matador community members. Katiebas is in Rome, along with Fillipo, who can help you organize tours. Julianne is in Venice. And you can find many more matador travelers in other places around Italy by visiting here
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Sara Rosso works full-time in advertising, and is a freelance writer and photographer based in Italy since 2003. She has traveled to over 25 countries she regularly posts her recipes and photos on her food and travel blog, Ms. Adventures in Italy.