Italian School System

First of all, let me say that I do enjoy the classes here in Italy. I just think their school system is one of the most unorganized I have ever seen, and most Italians agree with me. It could be different at the other schools, but from my experience with the Universita’ di Bologna’s webpage, it is far more difficult to navigate than UW’s.

During the spring at UW I kept getting asked the same question, “What courses are you taking in Bologna?” I didn’t have an answer to that question until the last weekend in September, three days before classes actually started. The reason was because the class schedule isn’t posted until Mid August for the upcoming school year. Also, even if the classes are published, it does not necessarily mean that the hours are published. Here is where it got tricky though. Each department has their own webpage for classes and a separate webpage for hours. I was interested in taking class in the facolta’ di Economia and the facolta’ di Lettere e Filosofia. I had to go to both faculties websites to look for the classes, and to this day I have never found the page where the hours for i corsi di Economia are.

Once you find your classes you then have to attend them. Here is a brief over view of their system of attending classes. Attending classes is not mandatory. Teachers do not expect you to come, they’ve even provided an option for the student’s that “Non frequentatori” (those that do not frequent the course). I think the only students that show up in my classes are the Erasmus students and a few dedicated Italians. You also do not sign up for the class, but for the exam. The funny thing about that is that you can take the exam anytime you want, and as many times as you want. I am signed up for 3 courses at the moment, one which ends on the 8th of November, the other two end at the beginning of January. The exams for all of these classes do not start until Mid Janaury, and even then you do not have to take them. You can take them at any point in the following months. It is nice and it is frustrating at the same time. Italians are amazed when I tell them that you cannot retake exams back in the states. They just do not understand the concept. There also amazed that we have a thing called homework. It just does not exist here!

Their learning style is a bit different as well. They focus more on self directed studies. The teachers do not provide a syllabus that tells you which chapters to read at night. The classes are often two hours long and you do not receive a break. I also did not realize how much I depended on other learning materials that are provided in the US, like PowerPoints, notes, overheads, or any sort of interaction with the teacher. Here in Italy the teachers sit there and talk for two straight hours, sometimes never even getting up out of their chair. I have gotten used to it after about 3 weeks, but it is hard to pay attention sometimes. They never call on students, and if you want to address the teacher after class be sure to use the “Lei” form (The Lei form is the formal way of addressing a person).

All in all, I find the classes are not incredibly difficult to follow. The fact that Italian is my second language does get in the way sometimes, but after three weeks my listening comprehension has improved a tremendous amount. The difficult part is keeping up with all of the reading. It takes such a long time to read in Italian since my vocabulary is not that big. Usually if you explain to the teacher that you are a foreign exchange student they give you a lighter reading load. Another problem is that I do not have the background information for what I am studying. I have never taken an Italian literature course before, and in one of my classes the teacher makes references to Italian writers and films that most Italians know. The internet has become my best friend because during class I will write down important names and dates and research them on my own. This helps a lot, but takes up a lot of time. Studying Italian literature has been a change of pace for me from my Business School classes, and even though the work load is a bit more, it has been one of the most interesting experiences that I’ve had so far!