Written by Fall 2018 Alumni: Garrett Yocklin (University of Maryland)
Umbra Program: Direct Enrollment at the University of Perugia
During the Fall 2018 semester in Perugia, I had the opportunity to study through the Umbra Institute’s Direct Enrollment program at both the University for Foreigners of Perugia and the University of Perugia. As an Italian Major and a student of the language for the past three years, this was the perfect program for me. Basically, during my first month in Perugia I studied Italian intensively with students from all over the world. This period helped me to become more comfortable using my Italian while also continuing to improve my skills before I had to use it in a situation meant entirely for native speakers, and I met friends who were students of Italian from many different countries and shared my passion for the language. Next, I transferred to the university where Italian students in Perugia take classes. At the University of Perugia, I took two courses at the triennale level, which is roughly equivalent to our undergrad but lasts for three years instead of four. Through Umbra I had an apartment with Italian students, meaning that I was constantly communicating in Italian and my roommates often helped me to navigate the Italian university system.
Attending an Italian university was definitely a different experience and can be challenging for someone who, like me, was only familiar with college in America. To start, at least for the courses I was taking (Roman History and History of the Italian Language) lectures were everything. There were no PowerPoint slides or notes on what was covered each day, just the professor talking for an hour and a half and as much of their lecture as you could write down. This means that knowing someone in the class who can give you notes when you miss a lecture or explain something you didn’t catch is very important. The professor did not necessarily have a single textbook for the course but rather recommended several from which the students should choose. Then there is the exam, which was quite unlike any I had taken in America. Italian tests are generally oral exams, meaning you sit down in front of the professor and they quiz you on the relevant topics. However, in addition to the professor, several dozen of your classmates are in the room studying, waiting their turn, and listening to your exam while you take it. Having them all there during the exam can be stressful, to say the least, leaving you self-conscious not only about your answers but about your language proficiency. The number of questions varies; it could be as few as three or as many as ten, the professor continues until they believe you have demonstrated how well you understand the material. Because of this, knowing the information is not everything, it’s just as important to be able to articulate it in a coherent way and respond to the cues that the examiner gives you. At the end of the exam, the professor announces your grade out of 30, with 18 to pass and 30+ (trenta e lode) being a perfect score. There are sometimes midterm exams so that you don’t have to study the entire class at once, but most Italian students have a period of at least a few weeks between the end of classes and the exam date. Due to time restrictions, I took my exams right after the course ended, but my roommates would stay up all night studying for weeks before an exam to prepare.
Overall, university in Italy is a more independent experience, where time management is incredibly important. The lack of grades for homework, classwork, projects, or participation means that the exam is everything, and students need to know how and when to study the material throughout the semester so as not to be overwhelmed come the final exam. As a student of Italian, I’m glad I got to study at the University of Perugia because it helped me better understand what my peers in Italy go through, an important part of studying the culture of any country. At the same time, I experienced the pros and cons of both styles of higher learning, giving me a more critical eye towards how I view our own educational system. Luckily, the staff at Umbra were always available to bridge the cultural gap between the two systems and help me navigate the Italian bureaucracy. For students who wish to immerse themselves more deeply in Italian society and learn more about Italy, I would definitely recommend they consider direct enrollment at the University through the Umbra Institute. It won’t be easy, but in the end, I think you’ll find you learn much more than just what’s taught in class.