While I’ve been living in Florence, I have received countless comments from friends and family asking me; “are you actually studying while you’re abroad?” The simple answer would of course be yes. However, the way in which I study here is definitely different from the way I study at Pitt. Thus far in the semester I have learned how to manage my time carefully because between exploring Florence, going out with friends, and travelling to new places on the weekends, I have to be very mindful with what free time I have to do homework.
I was fortunate enough to be able to take twelve credits through the CAPA program, rather than my busy fifteen to eighteen credit schedule back at Pitt. Taking four classes rather than five or six is much more managable. With that being said, anyone who is studying abroad because they want an “easy” semester will be surprised that the classes offered by CAPA are taught at the same caliber as they are at Pitt. There are weekly readings and assignments, papers, group projects, and exams in all of my classes. In fact, the classes here are taught in three-hour lectures, which can make the lecture itself more challenging because it can be difficult to focus for that long. The professors are very understanding of this, though, as they give the class one to two breaks throughout the three hours.
Beyond the adjustment to three-hour lectures, there were some cultural differences in the classroom that were difficult to get used to at first. In my international marketing class, we learned about the cultural differences between Italy and the United States. For example, Italian culture is typically described as being high context, in which individuals communicate implicitly through the use of non-verbal cues. This also means that conversations are seen as a way to engage someone, rather than as a way to exchange information with someone, which is true in low context cultures. The US is typified by a low context culture, in which explicit and verbally expressed statements set the standards. When we learned about this dimension in class, I realized that it could explain why a lot of students initially misunderstood certain expectations set by the Italian professors at CAPA. American students are used to explicit directions and explanations, meanwhile here, our professor’s lectures are freer flowing, and they expect students to use context clues to pick up on things.
While it did take some adjusting to, I think that being able to adapt to various cultural dimensions will prove to be a very useful skill to have. Regardless of these differences, all of the professors here at CAPA are very friendly and always willing to help their students.