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Studying and living in Italy: how to make it a constructive and unforgettable experience

1) BEFORE LEAVING
Are you leaving for Italy? Are you ready to live and study in Rome or in Florence or in Venice or in another of the many beautiful cities of the peninsula? If the answer is “no” or if you still have some doubts or fears about your experience abroad, I suggest you take some minutes and read the following indispensable tips:

• Try to get to know Italy through books, guides, newspapers and websites. Surf on the net and look for blogs of people living in Italy, but also read authoritative websites regarding geography, history, culture, and economy of the country, such as for example the Italian Government Tourist Board. This will help you to realize why Italy is so peculiar compared to the rest of the world, and you will also notice that many stereotypes about Italy are not always completely true.

• Are you ready to be flexible about different habits, weird traditions and odd behaviours? Culture shock is unavoidable, but get trained to cope with it. This will be quite a hard important challenge for you. A good start might be to avoid from gathering exclusively with your co-citizens throughout your stay.

• Even if you are going to learn Italian in a school or university, try to learn some basic vocabulary for surviving the first days after your arrival. Please do not forget that not many Italian speak good English and be prepared to speak English slowly if you want to make yourself understood correctly. You can also learn some Italian on the net, the following site may be for example extremely useful.

• If you are not a student carrying a European Union passport and if you are going to stay in Italy for a period of over 90 days make sure your student visa will be delivered to you before your departing. Please do not forget that in some countries visa procedures may take up to 5-6 weeks and they are usually complicated, stressful, and often unforeseenable. For more details contact directly the Italian Embassy in your country.

• Please, do not create too many expectations from your future stay. Your experience abroad does not depend on them at all, you have to make it day after day and it is going to be a mixture of ups and downs, good moments and bad moments. Do not think your stay as a holiday where everything has to be scheduled and remember that, if something does not work as you expected, the only solution is not to go back home.

• Make sure your health insurance is liable to cover medical treatments abroad. Please note, if you are a student from a European Union country you do not need a health insurance: you only have to apply for the E111 document at the national health service in your country.

Pack up your luggage accurately. Do not forget things such as first-aid medicines, an Italian dictionary, different kinds of clothing (the weather can be crazy in Italy). Do not put valuable goods in your suitcase, since they might be stolen in some Italian airports. If you wish to send over some of your belongings by mail, make sure you write down on the parcel: “vestiti usati e effetti ad uso personale” (used outfits and effects for personal use), otherwise you will have to pay duty on their delivery.

2) ACCOMMODATION
Finding good student accommodation in Italy is not always very easy. There is a wide choice of rooms and flats, but sometimes for newcomers it may be a little risky to choose their housing on their own from abroad, especially if accommodation terms and conditions are not clear before their checking in. So, Here I would like to suggest some questions students should ask to house owners, so that they can make the best decision about their lodging in Florence.

Are charges included in the rent?
Charges for electricity, water, gas and so on are quite expensive in Italy and therefore they may be subject to strong variations, so the best solution is if the answer is “yes”, if the answer is “no”, try to ask for an approximate cost of charges. Also, do not forget that gas and electricity expenses will vary considerably according to the employ and consume of them.

May I invite friends in my room?
Most of the owners are quite flexible about that during the day, but sleepover guests are normally not allowed for security reasons.

What does the rent not include?
Before signing up any contract or checking in make sure there are no extra charges, such as final cleaning or condominium expenses. If there are extra charges I suggest you should ask what they are for and how much you have to pay for them.

Can I have some pictures of the flat (bathroom included)?
This is obviously very important, because it is the only way you can have an idea of the place you are going to live.

Whom am I going to live with?
You do not need their names of course, but at least on your arrival you will feel more confident and assured in meeting them. Be ready to respect cultural differences and several habits of your flatmates which may sound strange to you.

How far is the flat from school?
Most of the cities in Italy are not very large (with the exception of Rome, Milan and Naples), so you can walk through the centre in 20-30 minutes, and even if you live in the immediate suburbs it will only take you 20-30 minutes to get to the Duomo or the the Cathedral, which is normally considered the heart of the city. So distance is not a real problem unless you are not used to walking. Consider also that the living outside the downtown has its advantages: it is generally less expensive, less touristic, and you will meet more real Italian people instead of crowds of holidaymakers eating ice-creams at every corner.

Do I need to bring sheets, blankets and towels with me?
All the bedding and towels will be normally provided by your landlady/landlord, but it is better to ask, you never know..

Finally, do not forget that:
• In the winter Italian houses are normally colder than, for example, American houses. The average temperature is around 20 centigrades during the day and 16-17 during the night.
Mosquitoes in Italy are nasty. To keep them away from home you can buy a “VAPE” machine at supermarkets or department stores.
• In the summer the heat in Italian houses is not unbearable as long as you do not open the shutters during the day and you open them after dinner. Few houses are equipped with air-condition.
• In Italy it is polite to greet next door neighbours when entering or exiting the building.

1) STUDYING ITALIAN
I am aware of the fact that it is very difficult for students who are applying for an Italian Language course in Italy to choose the school they are looking for, since there are many institutes in our country. Obviously I am eager to recommend you our Italian Language school, Accademia del Giglio, but I would also give you some piece of advice, which may be helpful for your choice. Particularly I would like to draw your attention on the importance of some questions you should ask before enrolling in a school.

When was the school founded?
The answer to this question may tell you how experienced is the school management.

What is the maximum number of students per class?
Please do not forget to ask this question. Classes should not exceed a maximum number of 8 students to maximize the learning of the language.

Where do most of the students come from?
This will tell you whether there is a predominant nationality in the school. Some schools for example have mainly English speaking students, which is not good for a student who want to practice Italian.

What is the teaching method?
This a difficult question, because you may probably receive different answers and you are not likely to be an expert in teaching methods. However, by reading the answers you may be capable to have an idea of how much each school cares about the teaching

Do the school mostly work with agents?
You find this question weird, don’t you? Well, this is not a strict rule, but schools mainly working with agents normally are more “interested” in the agents than in the students.

Where is the school located?
Ask for the exact address and check out on a map where the school premises are (for all Italian city maps please go to informadove). Just to make sure the school is located in the centre of the city or in a place which is easy to reach.

Will the course be held at school?
Yes, another weird question, but you might happen to register in a school, which is only selling the course and not organizing it in its premises, since classes will be held in another institute, which is paying a commission to the first school for selling its courses. Yes, I know, it may sound inadmissible, but we are in Italy, a country where the inadmissible is admitted or tolerated by the authorities.

Last, but not least, please do always request a written answer from the school. In Italy we use to say: fidarsi è bene non fidarsi è meglio (to trust is good, not to trust is better)…

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