A List of Things to Expect When You Attend Italian University

Emily Falcon Universita degli Studi di Perugia, Italy


December 11, 2019
Currently Studying at: Università degli Studi di Perugia, Italy
Homeschool: Duke University 

I can’t believe my time in Perugia is coming to an end! I’ve had such a great time traveling, getting to know the city, and studying at the University of Perugia. However, there are some things I think would have been helpful to know before studying here. So, here’s a list of things you should know before coming to Italy to study at an Italian university:

  1. Registration happens ~2 weeks before classes start, NOT the semester before! I was super excited to have been admitted to the program in Perugia, and I’m assuming, like others in that position, I started searching almost immediately for the courses that would be offered in the fall. Newsflash: the courses offered in the fall won’t be up on the website until the summer. And registration doesn’t happen until the end of September. My biggest piece of advice is to look through the courses offered as soon as they’re up and start sending them to your university for approval immediately! Though you may only take 2 or 3 courses, make sure you submit at least 5 for approval because they may not all be approved for transfer credit. In my case, I sent 8 for approval and only 3 came back approved. In the end, only 2 of those fit into my schedule. 
  2. Syllabi don’t really exist in Italian Universities. My university required me to submit syllabi with each course I sent for approval, so I tried to get them from the professors here, but they simply don’t exist– which leads me to my second piece of advice: ask your university if class descriptions are enough to get courses approved. Don’t be fooled, these course descriptions are (often) basically just as detailed as a regular syllabus and should give you a pretty good idea of what the course will be about. They usually include a general description, a list of obligatory and recommended readings, and a breakdown of the topics covered. 
  3. Don’t expect a heavy workload, instead expect a heavy reading load. I am taking two courses at UniPG this semester, one on Developmental Psychology and the other on the Sociology of Education. Each course requires me to read 3 books, for a grand total of 6 books to read for the entire semester. Other than these books, which I was advised to read almost cover-to-cover, I had two assignments: one was a worksheet, and the other was a presentation—and they were both solely for my Sociology class. That’s it. The entirety of my grade for Psychology is based on the final exam, where the professor and I will meet in her office, and she will ask me questions on the material covered both in class and within the books (more on the exams in the next bit). It took me two months to get through all of the books, but by the time I had finished the fifth or sixth book, I had already forgotten the things I’d read in the first. So, I had to take the time to go back through them all. My advice? Keep a separate notebook where you take notes on the things you read; important concepts/definitions/names—it’ll save you time when you start studying near the end of the semester. 
  4. Exams are almost always oral! And that’s a good thingOne of the first things I learned about the Italian university system was that they rarely ever wrote papers or took written exams. Instead, their exams were done almost exclusively orally. Here’s how the oral exam works: they have a fixed appointment with the professor in their office that could last anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour. During this appointment, the professor and the student engage in a conversation of sorts, with the professor leading the discussion with questions from the course, often interrupting students during their answer to probe further. They do this to deduce whether you know the material or have just memorized the information. Though this sounds extremely intimidating and difficult (at least it did to me), it’s actually the more favorable option. If you write an exam, the professor cannot help you. However, if the exam is oral and the professor can tell that you’re struggling to find a word to define a concept, they can choose to help you. So, here’s my advice: take the oral exam, even if speaking seems terrifying. In the end, it’s better than completely blanking on a topic during a written exam. 

I hope this list was helpful! If you do choose to study abroad at one of these universities, get ready to be challenged. Studying at UniPG has truly been a life-changing experience, and I am so glad I came, Perugia is a beautiful city full of incredible people and opportunities. The thought of leaving this week is hard to fathom, but I know I’ll be back sooner or later!