Time is flying by so much faster than I thought it would; I am already a quarter of the way done with my abroad experience, which is insane. I am so adjusted to my life here that sometimes I forget how incredible this opportunity is, but every once in a while I’ll be walking down the street and am struck once again (strana la vita- life is strange!).
An example of my cultural adjustment: my Italian roommate had requested that my other American roommate and I make tacos for dinner one night. We happened to find salsa and tortillas on the international shelf in our grocery store, but could not find an appropriate type of cheese anywhere (only mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta, and the like). Upon our roommate’s suggestion, we headed outside the city walls to a German grocery store in search of Cheddar or some type of Mexican blend. We were amazed by the variety of different foods offered, compared to the markets we frequent in Bologna for produce, or the tiny grocery store down the street for staple items, and continuously commented on the size of the store. Later that night while talking to my dad on the phone, I came to realize (after doing a little research) that this German grocery store (that I was thinking was huge) is only about 20% of the size of the grocery store I go to in Maine. I have become so accustomed to the Italian style of buying a small amount of fresh produce at the market every day or so (as opposed to the US, where we typically stock up for a week at a time) that I cannot even imagine how we fill up a grocery store of about 50,000 square feet.
In other news, my orientation classes finished, and we had a meeting about the differences between the university teaching styles in Italy compared to the United States, before heading into the “shopping” period we’re in now, where we can try out classes before making any commitments. The most remarkable difference is that the students at Italian universities are expected to sit quietly and take notes while the professor talks; they are not to ask questions, share their own opinions, and especially never to challenge anything the professor says. This is wildly different than the university system in the US, especially at a liberal arts college like Colby, where we are taught to think critically and encouraged to consider different perspectives. The relationship between the student and the professor is much more formal here as well.
Other differences include:
- students have no feedback whatsoever during the semester. They sit and take notes for 6 hours/week for each class (though they typically only take 2-3 classes per semester), and their grade depends entirely on the final exam score. This seems ineffective to me because since there is no opportunity to test learning along the way, students may not even know that they had misunderstood a concept until they get to the exam and get it wrong. However, if you fail the exam the professors usually just let you retake it until you pass.
- a full year of tuition is about 4,000 euros (translating to about $4,400!!!!!)
- students attend high schools with specialized curriculum (ie. there are schools for languages, STEM, art, etc.) and choose their career path immediately in college (ie. there is no “undergrad” for med or law students, they immediately begin taking classes in their discipline)
- A Bachelor’s degree is obtained in 3 years and then they can stay for one to two more years to obtain a Master’s degree.
I am trying to think about the Italian university system as different than ours, rather than worse. It is difficult though, as (according to this informational meeting) students play such a passive role in their education. My next blog post will cover my own experiences as I continue with this 3 week “shopping” period!