The Florentine School Environment

Now that I have gone through almost two months of classes here in Florence, I can finally say that I feel like I have assimilated to the way of teaching and learning in this wonderful city.  I am quite comfortable here in Italy at this point, but it hasn’t always been this sunny.

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On day one of classes, I was pretty intimidated – all of my professors had thick Italian accents, and made sure to warn us heavily that study abroad is in fact that – studying.  They harped on the stereotypical nature of many American students who come abroad and immediately push their schoolwork aside in order to spend all of their time exploring and traveling to different countries.  This lifestyle always catches up to that type of student in the end; we were advised to spend our semester finding the balance between work and play, which I believe I have done a pretty decent job of.

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From the start, there have been obvious differences between the culture of teaching between Italy and the United States.  It is important to note that the school I am studying at is Richmond, which is based in London, so our grading system and criteria all follow their policies.  Here in Florence, my entire grade for each class consists of three essays: the midterm, a 2500-word research paper, and the final.  Upon hearing this on the first day of classes, I was pretty nervous – my skill set doesn’t prioritize my ability to write.  As a business student, almost all of my exams are multiple-choice or mathematical word problems, and the projects I complete are usually group cases, so it was definitely a large adjustment, but I appreciate this different approach to learning new material.

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As well as a large difference in the grading system I have become accustomed to, the style and length of lectures differ themselves.  Each lecture I have is an hour and forty minutes (twice a week), which the exception of my introductory Italian course, which runs for two full hours.  Back at Pitt, the longest lecture I had was an hour and fifteen minutes.  In addition to this, the professors in my classes simply lecture to the students for the entire duration during every session, sometimes with the use of a visual aid.  In Pittsburgh, I was constantly completing in-class exercises or math problems, and utilized my laptop in multiple classes every day.  However, I have happily learned to simply sit back and just take notes in a spiral notebook on what I am learning instead.  An added bonus is the fact that there are no classes held at my school on Fridays, so there is an extra day completely open to explore new places every week!

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In terms of the classes I’m actually enrolled in here in Florence, I absolutely love them.  In my Italian Food and Culture class, we have taken trips to two different local, authentic food markets that sell everything from bananas and strawberries to cow stomach and rabbit, as well as visiting a genuine pasta factory located 10 minutes from our school!  In my literature class, we went on a walking tour throughout the streets of Florence that explained the life events of Dante Alighieri, perhaps the most famous Italian poet of all time.  In my Mysticism and Magic in Medieval and Renaissance Italy class, we have explored the intense connection between magic and society in early modern Europe.  And, finally, in my Italian class, I have learned many keys words and phrases that have helped me get around the city and interact with locals!  For someone who is used to classes in Finance and Business Information Systems, it has been amazing to expand my educational horizons.

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Tips for those planning to take courses abroad:

  1. Be prepared for a class setting that is quite different from that back at your home university, but also be excited to learn in an entirely new way!!
  2. You probably won’t need notebooks or folders for every class, or even a computer! All I have is a 5-subject notebook and a pen and pencil, and I’ve been getting along just fine.
  3. If you plan to study through a Pitt-Recognized Provider rather than through a Pitt program, make sure to save general education/elective classes for your time abroad.  It can be difficult to find classes that will correspond to upper level major/minor classes!!

Ciao for now!

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