There’s more to Italy than pizza, pasta, and museum hopping. By spending a few months in the country as a student, you’ll have a chance to live la bella vita, even if the only Italian you know is “ciao!” You might even find that a few months studying abroad in Italy turns into a lifelong love affair, like my experience did for me, leading me to now call Florence -- the city where I spent my time abroad -- my home.
I’m not alone in my passion for a lifestyle of multi-course leisurely lunches and wine served at every meal. Italy is one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world for a reason (who doesn’t want the opportunity to eat gelato at any time of the day or night?), and that means there are plenty of study abroad programs in cities like Rome, Florence, and others, that are taught in English.
Studying in your native language can help you get the most out of your time so you can absorb all that the country has to offer, without worrying about a language barrier. Keep in mind though, you’ll want to learn a few basic phrases to help you successfully mail a postcard (postage stamp is "francobollo"), or buy groceries -- so you don’t end up trying to fit packages of tortellini and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and chicken into your handbag because you didn’t realize the cashier was asking if you wanted plastic bags (sacchetti).
As you start planning for your studies -- remember that you’ll want to start that process several months to a year in advance to leave ample time for gathering visa paperwork, and other documents you might need -- first read these helpful tips about how to make that Italian dream a reality:
Find the Study Abroad Program in Italy that’s a Perfect Fit
There are plenty of programs out there for students like you, who want to take classes in English; many of them can be found on the Go Overseas guide to studying abroad in Italy.
Additionally, the international office at your home campus is another great place for resources like agreements with universities, schools, and cultural institutions, and suggestions for courses that have been successful for other students with similar interests and language requirements
If you’re not finding the exact program you want through your home university, here’s a pro-tip: many programs will accept students from other schools and can help you transfer the credits toward your degree back home (it’s called “direct enrollment”). You can also contact study abroad programs in Italy on your own. For my own study abroad experience, I didn’t find the program I wanted at my home campus, but negotiated with a university in another state that would accept me and gave me the flexibility to choose my level of language instruction and courses in art and history.
To find a study abroad program where you can learn in Italy in English, you need to decide if you’d like to learn a little Italian, or would rather focus on a purely English-language program.
There are programs with a mix of Italian classes for beginners and culturally-focused English courses, where you’ll learn about history, art, literature, or cooking. Others do not focus on the Italian language at all, and instead, you’ll select one or a few areas of interest like art restoration, tourism, or art history as you immerse yourself in the culture. As an undergraduate art history major, finding a course with an emphasis on visiting museums and historical sites was the most important to me. Be open-minded and try something new if you aren’t sure what you’d like to study.
Decide Where in Italy You Want to Study Abroad
Among the twenty regions of Italy there are vast cultural differences, so it’s important to include which part of the country you’d like to be in as part of your research.
Florence is considered among the most popular cities in Italy for students because it has so many schools to choose from that offer courses in English which are meant for Italian-speaking beginners. In Florence, museums and some of the world’s most famous works of art will be in your backyard. In many neighborhoods, particularly near Il Duomo (the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) and other popular tourist spots, you’ll hear English widely-spoken, so this can be great if you want to experience Italian culture while still using your native language.
In Rome, you’ll also find many program choices for English-speakers. There, you can explore centuries of history at sites -- like the famed Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum -- that will become your classroom. You couldn’t possibly discover them all, even during a year abroad.
For fewer crowds, consider a city like Siena, where there are English-language programs in the heart of Tuscany, exploring the area’s 17 neighborhood districts, each with unique music, traditions, and lore, which date back to the Middle Ages, and are showcased during the world-renowned Palio bareback rider horse races in July and August.
Secure Student Housing in Italy
Just like at your home university, in Italy, you’ll need to figure out where you’ll call home for the weeks or months you are gone. Finding student housing can be tricky, especially if part of your plan is to study abroad with limited local language instruction.
Once you’ve decided on a program, you’ll want to work with its administrators to select the best housing for your needs. If you’re looking to meet other students, a dormitory or group apartment is probably your best bet. The program can help you arrange accommodations that are near your school, and will pair you with other like-minded students who you can share your time and probably even some meals with. You may be living with students from your home country, or you might meet people from all over the world. Your housing situation is one of those opportunities where you may end up learning a little Italian (or other languages) based on your housemates!
Get Ready for an Unforgettable Study Abroad Experience
No matter which program you choose or what you discover in Italy, remember that your program should match your interests and long-term goals. Many students worry about language hurdles while studying abroad, and are unsure if the language barrier should stop them from studying abroad. Don’t let this be you when it comes to studying abroad in Italy! With an open mind, you might be surprised at how much you learn about your new surroundings and yourself.
Start your research well in advance to be sure that you will discover a program that helps you study abroad and still feel comfortable in your native tongue. Then, you can focus on having an immersive cultural experience, and come home with not only souvenirs, but memories that will last a lifetime. Study abroad may even influence the way you think about the world and your place in it, even if you don’t come home with a new foreign language skill or decide to move to Italy like I did.