One of the most interesting parts of studying abroad here in Milan is taking courses at partner institutions. This means that, in addition to my IES Abroad courses, I go to L’università Cattolica a few times a week for my course on aesthetics (aesthetics, or estetica here in Italy, is essentially the philosophical study of how we perceive beauty and develop our personalized tastes). The glaring difference between courses here in Italy compared to those in the United States in the language, of course—the aesthetics class is taught solely in Italian and aside from my friend and I, the class comprises entirely native Italian students.
Language differences aside, Italian courses and universities are quite different from what I am used to at my university classes in the states. The first is the distribution of classwork: in Italy, your grades are determined by your final exams (primarily oral, though at times written) at the end of the semester. Generally, there are no problem sets, papers, or midterms throughout the course of the semester like I’m used to having. Once the class period is over and “reading period” begins, students have at least a few weeks to study all of the material and textbooks in preparation for the final exam. I anticipate that studying for the final exam will be very interesting for me, as I am used to having multiple midterms throughout the semester that give me feedback as to how I understand the class material.
Because the format of the exams tends to be oral rather than written, students here in Italy also take notes in a very different way. Rather than writing bullet points or taking down the major concepts, students tend to write down everything the professor says in paragraph form. This could be because many professors lecture without using PowerPoint slides or outlines, but it also could be because memorizing material for an oral exam is easier if the notes are already in paragraph form much like a speech, rather than a bulleted list. This is surprisingly one of the most difficult differences for me to get used to—my Italian is not yet fast enough to write down every word the professor says and I haven’t really worked out my Italian shorthand yet, so I normally stick with a bulleted outline of notes. Hopefully this will be sufficient by the time the exams come around!
I would have to say my favorite difference between the two systems is how the timing of the class is controlled. On Wednesdays, my aesthetics course starts at 8:30 in the morning (and if you think that’s early in the states, remember that that time seems even earlier in Italy, where the daily schedule is generally pushed back a few hours) but the blow is tempered by the fact that most classes at universities start at 15 minutes back the written time. Those 15 minutes are a welcome buffer at such an early hour and make the early time slot a little more bearable.
Taking a class with Italians in an Italian university is a really unique, incredible experience that I am lucky take part in while I’m here with IES Abroad. To those of you taking classes in Italy now or in the future, buon lavoro, buon studio e in bocca al lupo!
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<p>Kinsey is a Biochemistry major and Italian minor from Tufts University near Boston, MA studying in Milan for Fall 2016. Everything she does is to learn more about food; catch her studying cheese microbes by day and reading cookbooks by night. She caught the travel bug the minute she tasted her first crepe in Paris way back in 2006, and hasn't looked back since.</p>