Best year of my life! Past Review

By (PSYCHOLOGY., Tufts University) - abroad from 08/27/2011 to 06/22/2012 with

Brown University: Bologna - Brown in Italy at University of Bologna

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Where to begin! It was so much more than worthwhile. There are some things that I can't really put into words, they haven't even quite realized themselves yet. The immediate thing I feel is a wonderful sensation of being grounded and humble and curious about the world. Obviously learning a language in such a short amount of time was fantastic. Experiencing how another part of the world exists, how they think of where you come from, what they eat, how they talk and dress and think - these are all things that you can only truly understand from having an experience like this. There is no comparison to studying it from the outside. I know it's cliché, but being immersed is completely unique and stimulating like nothing else.

Review Photos

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Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The courses at Unibo meet for about twice as many semester hours as courses at most US universities (three days a week, two hours each). It takes a while to get used to but in the end I found it more engaging, whereas sometimes in the US it feels like there's not enough class time to enter a subject at such a deep level. Course difficulty fluctuates wildly, especially for foreign students. For example, some teachers will treat you as they would an Italian student (talking very fast, asking highly complex questions, not reducing the course load), whereas others will treat you as almost a child (talking slowly, very short exams, simple questions, reduced course load). You can't always tell how they will be, but it definitely doesn't hurt to ask - and ask early because often the professors' attitude can make or break your decision. For example, one of my professors was very strict and stoic during lecture, but gave me a very easy exam that really surprised me (and if you don't know already, the courses are in Italian and almost all the exams will be oral exams of about 15-20 minutes with the professor or a TA, and usually 100% of your grade is based on this one final oral exam. Be prepared, though it's not as bad as it sounds). I had some fascinating and wonderful professors and some quite the opposite, do your research online and drop in on as many courses as you can to figure it out. The only major downside to the university, in my opinion, is the disorganization. The resources are there (many great libraries, professors have office hours, etc.), but it is very hard to find the right information about how to use them. Do your best to double check things, though the websites are not often reliable (ex. building closed when schedule says open). It can be frustrating at times, but just speak to one of your professors or, better yet, the directors of the program. They're all there to help you, you just have to go find them first. There is a lot less hand-holding in comparison to most US universities. Little points of frustration aside, the very different teaching style and organization make it such an interesting and engaging experience, you'll love it no matter what you take.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Massimo, Anna Maria, and Lilia are all wonderful people, though unfortunately Lilia just retired after 30 years with the program. They were very helpful in doing all the necessary paperwork and informing us early about events and meetings etc. Any questions were answered very quickly and explained thoroughly. They organized many splendid day trips to towns and museums, take advantage of them!

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The apartments are spread out throughout the city, some inside the walls and some not, so it can be a little bit of a commute for some students. However, the places are all nice and the program supplies the basics and takes care of any problems that may occur. They try to assign you with as many Italian student roommates as possible, and they are for the most part very nice and responsible people. It's so nice to have the apartments already rented by the program because it can be a pain trying to find one by yourself!

* Food:

Being one of the greatest cities and regions for food in Italy, it goes without saying that there is an abundance of fantastic food. We were discovering great restaurants and markets during the entire time, it never gets boring. The only negative is that the food of this region is very heavy and can be a little much, but it's just so good you'll probably just eat it anyway. Also, the supermarkets like Coop and Pam are great and not too expensive, and if you're looking for more traditional/local stuff, there are plenty of shops around the city that you'll run into. Via Pescherie Vecchie is very cute but it's a bit of a tourist spot and can be expensive.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I couldn't have asked for a better interaction with the locals and students. The program sets you up at the beginning of the semester with a language partner who takes you out with them to museums and bars or on walks etc. They are a great resource, and you can get to know their friends and learn lots of Italian really fast. You'll also probably meet other students during class and at parties or clubs. The city is absolutely full of them. And even the local shopkeepers, once you become a regular, will probably befriend you and give you free loaves of bread or whatever it is they sell. They may be cold at first but they warm up to you quickly!

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I had no problems with healthcare, but I did make one visit to the American doctor there who is like a gateway to the Italian healthcare system. He's on call most of the time and even likes to text, so you won't have to wait long.

* Safety:

Bologna is a well-run and somewhat wealthy city, and this attracts the good as well as the bad. There are a good number of homeless people, 'barboni', who are basically what we have in the US, typical beggars. There are also 'punkabestie' who may look like homeless people (and in some cases they are), but they aren't usually beggars. They most usually have dogs, do/sell drugs, and hang out in Piazza Verdi. The good thing is, they pretty much mind their own business. If you walk around late at night (after 2 or 3) you might see some more sketchy people but there are very few scary encounters. Travel in groups, especially if you're a girl.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

You can really get carried away spending lots of money (especially on food and drink), but once I started paying more attention to my spending habits, I was able to reduce unnecessary purchases and extend the life of each euro. If you cook at home then you'll definitely save a lot, the only problem is you just want to go out and try all the restaurants! Other living expenses aren't so bad, most museums are free, buses are reasonable if you buy tickets in bulk, and trains are fairly priced (unless you take the high speed 'freccia' lines, very expensive). Make sure you have enough money to bring some wonderful gifts home!

* Was housing included in your program cost? Yes
* Was food included in your program cost? No
Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Probably around 150 euros, though I was going out often.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Buy household items (towels, clothes, cleaning supplies) at the big outdoor market near the 'montagnola' park, they're much cheaper than in the stores. There are also plenty of reasonable and delicious restaurants, don't think price always correlates with quality (as it more often does in the US). In order to spend less, I usually just carry cash with me and less than 20 euros each time unless I need to buy something in particular.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

They never spoke a word of English to us and you don't hear much of it from the students or locals either, Bologna isn't as popular among tourists as Milan or Rome (though you will hear more English in the springtime). We picked up Italian extremely fast, I don't think there was a better or quicker way to learn.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Fluent
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Italian 4
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Talk to your Italian roommates, visit the program office and chat with the directors, talk to professors after class or during office hours, go out with your language partner and other Italian friends. You might start off trying to speak Italian with the other English speakers on the program, but you soon learn that it can be quite tiring speaking another language all day and you end up speaking English with them. It's actually a great relief and helps you feel less homesick if that's the case. Comprehension goes up very rapidly, then speaking skills. Don't be afraid to speak! The Italians are (generally) very nice and patient and have always encouraged me to speak. Make mistakes! I don't know how many times I used incorrect grammar or put the accent in the wrong place, but they don't judge you and will only help you. Once you get over the hump, it starts flowing out quickly and smoothly, and one day you'll realize that you just had an in-depth three hour conversation about philosophy in Italian and you'll be mighty proud of yourself. Go out and walk into shops, talk to people, and enjoy yourself! It's by far the most fun way to learn.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The city - not too big, not too small. You have time to get to know it well and still discover new things right on through the end.
  • The program was very helpful but also knew when to stay out of the way and let us be independent and explore.
  • They made us take courses with all the other students instead of with just the program which was a fantastic way to learn and to dive into the culture.
* What could be improved?
  • Paperwork for the university and for the government can be a hassle and is not always clear, there could be a manual or instruction book that has it all in writing so we don't have to bother the program workers so much to figure things out!
  • The price is one of the main deterring factors, though I do have to say from what I have heard and seen it is the best program out there (worth the money).
  • More group day trips to nearby towns! They are well-organized and really fun.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I actually wouldn't want to know anything more than I knew because it was such an adventure learning everything! There is so much to learn about the differences between cultures and the most exciting way to do it is to be there. It wouldn't have been as fun if I knew what to expect!

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

History of Photography

Course Department: Lettere e Filosofia
Instructor: Claudio Marra
Instruction Language: Italian
Comments: It was a perfect medium for study abroad students, challenging enough but not overwhelming. It combined technical and art history looking through the lens (sorry about the pun) of photography. It was much more interesting to see the world through one medium for a change as opposed to a movement or a period. The teacher was lively, funny, and very knowledgeable. He captured our attention every time (even though there were over 300 students!) and he gave a very fair exam, not too easy and not too hard. Definitely recommended.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Italian Language and Linguistics

Course Department: Lettere e Filosofia
Instructor: Fabrizio Frasnedi
Instruction Language: Italian
Comments: Probably the best professor I had there, witty and clear and thorough. He has such a great relaxed way of teaching that makes you feel comfortable and welcome to learn and has the ability to make everything relevant. We read texts together in class and analyzed them, and it was amazing to see the evolution of the Italian language with the help of his expertise and wonderful attitude. He may look and sound scary, but he's really very nice.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Documentary and Experimental Filmmaking

Course Department: DAMS
Instructor: Giacomo Manzoli
Instruction Language: Italian
Comments: We learned a lot in a short amount of time (it was a 30 hour course), but in a very enthralling fashion. Instead of rote memorization, we had long class discussions on what it means to be a documentary etc., and learned much about theory through our own debates. The professor is a great mediator and knows how to provoke curiosity and passion in the students. Very interesting material that I would not have normally taken!
Credit Transfer Issues: