I spent my third year of university studying at the University of Bologna. As a history student, I was required to take history courses in Italy which were all taught in Italian. I took modules in Contemporary African History, Ancient Greek History. It was certainly interesting studying African history from an Italian paradigm. Italy’s frustrated colonial past and links to Fascism certainly came across in the teaching. I also highly recommend taking art history modules as often the pieces being studied are in a church just around the corner or a thirty-minute train ride away in Florence. The faculty is also housed in a gorgeous ex-convent which is a bonus.
I was expecting to encounter a completely shambolic university system. However, you quickly realise that the system just values different characteristics and you are surrounded by incredibly engaged, intelligent and politicised Italians. Even the oral exam system nurtures those who have a voice and want to express it.
I hoped to improve my Italian to a level where I could work in the future in Italy. However, I only achieved this by being pro-active, for example by taking extra Italian lessons and forcing myself to speak Italian to my flatmates and classmates.
Bologna is the best student city in Italy without a doubt. Not only is it riotously beautiful, a description which becomes appropriate during the regular student protests, it is also absolutely buzzing. The city is large, well-connected and diverse. Although famous for its university, it is not dominated by it, unlike some other Erasmus destinations. It makes a massive difference that many Italian students live in Bologna for university, not at home with their families, which is very rare for Italy. At university, the Italians will be very keen to make Erasmus friends and are all very friendly. Italians are naturally very open people. It helps to be British because lots of Italian students want to improve their English. The Erasmus guys also realised that it also definitely helped to be blond and female, although we doubted this had much to do with Italians wanting to improve their language skills…
I never really tangibly felt that I had changed during my year abroad. I think I just became comfortable to be who I was. It is a daunting but liberating feeling to start afresh in a new country for a year knowing nobody and I certainly grew in both confidence and independence. Living with Italians and Spaniards definitely improved my languages. However, don’t expect to finish your year “fluent”. In my experience, the majority of other Erasmus students learnt very little Italian. The real value of the exchange comes from experiencing living abroad.
You will have a lot of free-time in Italy. Much more than at home generally so take advantage of it. Most nights were spent having “Aperitivo” before supper which involves an Aperol Spritz and unlimited buffet food. The unlimited food is an Erasmus interpretation of Aperitivo, Italians tend to only eat a modest amount. There are amazing clubs inside the walls in underground vaults and warehouse parties in the industrial outskirts of the city. One of my best nights was at a 60s themed Twist and Shout night which take over a tennis arena with thousands of students. Unlike Edinburgh, most nights carry on till the early hours. This is especially true as Erasmus in Bologna is dominated by Spanish students. During the weekends chill out in the Giardini Margheriti which are beautiful or take the opportunity to travel as Bologna is the best connected city in Italy. Milan, Rome, Venice and Florence are all within 2 hours with an inexpensive train. Also I definitely recommend joining the ESN Erasmus group in Bologna. It really is the centre of all the Erasmus activities. I met my closest English mates on a walking tour of the city in the first week. The trips down to Naples and up to the Alps for skiing were the definite highlights and just awesome fun.
I definitely benefitted from the experience. I now have a greater network of friends from Italy and across Europe so I can meet up with people in Copenhagen, Oslo, Munich or Barcelona.
It has certainly improved by employability as I have proven experience living abroad, especially studying at the oldest university in the world. The fact that I can now speak good French, Spanish and Italian is a huge draw for employers as English people generally have shocking foreign language skills unlike the other Erasmus students from other European countries I met for example. My most recent job with a TV production company were particularly impressed with my cultural awareness and global-mindedness which were certainly helped by the Erasmus exchange.
It was an amazing year and looking back now I’m so glad I went. I’d recommend everyone to go abroad, it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it looks great on your CV. If you get accepted for Erasmus exchange, you would be stupid not to go!