What I Know Now About Studying Abroad in Italy

What I Know Now About Studying Abroad in Italy

Your decision to study abroad in Italy will likely be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. I know firsthand how amazing it is to take off and live in Italy for weeks on end, immersing yourself in the culture, traveling, studying, and eating lots of gelato. Before you book your ticket, you need to make sure studying abroad in Italy is the right decision for you.

Moving to a new country, even temporarily, is a huge decision. You need to consider the cultural differences between what you are used to in the U.S. and what to expect in Italy. College life in Italy is not the same as college life in the U.S. 

There may be cultural differences you do not understand or you find frustrating. On the other hand, you might find differences that are fascinating and interesting! When I studied abroad in Italy, I experienced lots of ups and downs from culture shock and the stress that came with adjusting to a new way of living. Now I am going to share with you my experiences and what I learned while studying abroad. 

Photo by Doug Davey, made available by Flickr-Biblioteca dell'Instituto delle ScienceUniversità di Bologna-study abroad in Italy

1. There’s More Than One Way to Study Abroad in Italy

First off, let’s talk about college life in Italy. There are three ways American students can study abroad in Italy. American students can study abroad in Italy via a faculty-led, exchange, or provider program. Each type of program will give you a different study abroad experience.

For my first study abroad experience, I went on a short-term faculty-led program with my university. This means that the faculty members and students went abroad together in the program. Also, it means the faculty and students worked at or attended my home university. It was a great first step into the study abroad field. I had a bit of a safety net but still had plenty of independence.

My second time studying abroad was through a third-party provider with other American students, but not necessarily students from my home university. This is a great option to meet more people from all over the country and the world. There is more independence and more opportunities if you go this route. 

While I did not go on an exchange program, I think this is a great option for students ready to push themselves and be more independent. You will live like an international student in Italy, meeting locals and people from all over the world. You will need to adapt to the Italian style of education unlike the other two programs, but that’s part of the fun of immersing yourself in Italian culture!

Photo by Sailko, made available by Wikimedia-Villa La Pietra, Home to NYU Florence - Study Abroad in Italy

2. Culture Shock Can Be Confusing

For many students who study abroad, it is the first big international trip they will take on their own. In my personal experience, I found this both exciting and a bit intimidating. You won’t be able to research everything before you go. To be successful abroad, you need to expect the unexpected.

There will probably be some level of culture shock when you can’t seem to find anyone who understands you or speaks English. You may be frustrated when you want to go shopping but the stores are closed in the middle of the day so the workers can relax. Similarly, you might feel out of place in your jeans and flip-flops, when Italians are wearing slacks and stilettos. 

Safety needs to be a priority when you are studying abroad in Italy. Generally, Italy is a safe country, but you should be aware of petty theft. Pickpockets are common in all major cities, and will grab items from your purse, bag, or back pocket without you even noticing. 

Also, make sure to travel in groups at night if you are going to an unknown area. Use your common sense and instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your gut.   

Cultural differences may be discombobulating and hard to keep track of, but make sure you process what you are feeling. This is all part of the growing process when studying abroad. You will soon be able to compare the culture with your own and realize how one is not better than the other, just different! 

Photo by RG TLV, made available by Flickr-A Busy City Street in Rome, Italy - Study Abroad in Italy

3. Think Carefully About Which City You Choose

I’d say the two most popular cities in Italy to study in are Rome and Florence. Both cities offer a unique Italian adventure for American students. There are so many famous and important sites in each city. From the Roman Colosseum to Michelangelo’s David, you will never run out of things to see and do. 

Keep in mind peak travel season is in the summer months. If you’re studying in a city like Rome or Florence, expect large crowds around then. When I was studying in Italy, it was during peak travel time in June. If you want to avoid the onslaught of tourists that create long lines, busy streets, and more expensive prices, I recommend looking at study abroad programs in Italy during the fall, spring, or even winter semester.    

Rome is an obvious choice when considering study abroad in Italy. It is the capital of the country, has historical ruins scattered throughout the city, and offers access to Vatican City. Rome is one of the best places to study religion, history, and politics. Also, art museums are not to be missed in Rome. They have pieces and sculptures from the early Roman Empire to more modern and contemporary artwork. 

The birth of the Renaissance happened in Florence. It’s the perfect city to study the arts, politics, and humanities. This city is not huge and spread out like Rome. Instead, it’s a very walkable city and pretty easy to get around. Living in this city, students are surrounded by art on the streets, in museums like the Uffizi Gallery, and in its famous architectural accomplishments like the Duomo. 

It’s also a great city to try some of the best food and drinks you will ever taste, in my opinion. Seriously, I had amazing pizza and the best lasagna I’ve ever had in this city. Also, some iconic Italian vineyards are only a quick bus ride away from Florence. This means you can enjoy a bottle of Chianti under the Tuscan sun.

Photo by Bruno Rijsman, made available by Flickr-An Aerial View of the Duomo and Florence - Study Abroad in Italy

4. There Is a Lot of Work to Do Before You Arrive in Italy

You need to figure out where exactly you want to go, pick a program, research visa and passport requirements, arrange for accommodations, and of course, book your flight. Before you take off, there are several crucial steps to take.

At Your University

  • Determine what type of classes you want and need to take. Do you want to take general education courses abroad or focus solely on your major? Are you interested in taking language courses or completing an internship? Reflect on your answers.
  • After pondering what classes you want to take, it’s time to seek out some help. Make an appointment with a study abroad adviser. I did not do this before studying in Italy and I really wish I would have. The advisers can help with scholarship information, answer questions about life abroad, and help you figure out what program(s) are best for you.
  • Compare programs and apply! Use suggestions from your study abroad advisors and start looking at the details of each program you might be interested in. Don’t forget to look at the eligibility section. Usually there is a GPA requirement and sometimes only sophomores and up can apply to certain programs.

At Your University

  • Get a passport and visa. A passport is essential, so you should get one now if you haven’t already. The processing time takes several weeks. Your study abroad program provider will be able to tell you if you need a visa or not. Another resource you can use is via the Italian embassy or through the U.S. Department of State website. Most likely, you will need a student visa if you are staying during the fall or spring semesters. If you do a short-term program in Italy like me, then you won’t need a visa.
  • Arrange housing ASAP. Housing can be difficult to come by in Italy. Luckily, many programs do the hard work for you and give you a designated temporary living space while you study abroad. It can vary from a dorm, apartment, or even a homestay. If the study abroad program provider or university you will be attending does not provide housing, contact the provider or university for tips and leads on housing in the area.
  • Book your flight! Once you have applied and been accepted, it’s time to book your flight and jet off to Italy! Sometimes providers include flights in their budgets and sometimes they do not. Make sure you check as soon as possible.

Photo by Alan Wilson, made available by Flickr-An ITA Airways Plane En Route to Rome - Study Abroad in Italy

5. Studying Abroad Will Change Your Worldview

Studying abroad will change you. You’ll taste food unlike any you have ever had before in the United States. You will feel like you are traveling back in time while exploring ruins and ancient cultural artifacts. 

Living in Italy will force you to throw away your preconceived notions about the country and the world. From a basic understanding like how “soccer” should really be called “football,” to a deeper understanding of personal values and how to live. For example, many Italians (and Europeans) work to live, but American values dictate you live to work. In my experience, my worldview changed and I was challenged on a personal and educational level. 

Photo by Dale Cruse, made available by Flickr-A Plate of Bucatini all'amatriciana in Rome - Study Abroad in Italy

Start Planning Your Italian Adventure!

Deciding to study abroad in Italy will be one of the best decisions you make in college. Studying abroad is glamorized on social media and is looked at as an amazing time all the time. In reality, it’s a mix of challenges and confusing at times. However, it is also filled with fun adventures and eye-opening experiences. I encourage you to give it a shot and push yourself out of your bubble and go live and study abroad!

Interested in learning more about studying abroad? Check out this article about studying abroad in Spain next.

20 thoughts on “What I Know Now About Studying Abroad in Italy

  1. I have a relative living in Italy right now, and she keeps saying it’s the most beautiful place she’s ever been. My kids are talking about studying there, and I am fully behind it!

  2. What a wonderful experience you had by living and studying abroad. This article is a must-read for anyone considering this adventure whether it be in Italy or elsewhere.

  3. Your reflection on studying abroad in Italy is truly insightful and inspiring. It’s clear that your experience has been transformative, offering valuable lessons and memories that will last a lifetime. Your advice on embracing the culture, language, and opportunities for personal growth resonates deeply with anyone considering studying abroad. Thank you for sharing your journey and offering guidance to those embarking on similar adventures.

  4. My kids are definitely interested in study abroad programs. We recently traveled to Italy and now it’s all they can talk about. Thanks for this helpful article to get me started in the process of making that happen for them.

  5. What a great resource, I there are so many things I never thought about for studying abroad that you covered. I can only imagine the hiccups people experience when they go to do this, having a guide like this is going to make it so much more smooth for so many people.

  6. Moving to a different country can be challenging, but it could also be fun. The challenges of adapting to a new culture and language scare me, but I would definitely visit for a while before making the decision to move there for a while.

  7. I imagine that visiting or moving to another country can be difficult. Never left the states myself. But I think it would be challenging.

  8. This sounds like the perfect way to see the world and further your studies. I love that experiences like this exist for young people.

  9. Italy is one of my dream countries. ANd all these tips you shared with us are very helpful to us.

  10. Beautiful post. I am very interested in learning about other countries. And you do your sharing so well!

  11. I have family in Italy. It’s a bit late to study abroad but I will keep this in mind for my daughter. I would want her to travel the world when she’s older.

  12. Being prepared before you move to another country, even just to study, is so important. Thank you for all of these tips.

  13. Italy seems to be a perfect place to study as an international student. Love your honest in narrating your experience studying in the country.

  14. I never studied abroad when I was in university, but Europe would have been an obvious choice for me being from the UK. I love the idea of Italy as it’s one of my favourite countries. Some great tips here x

  15. Wow…. to study abroad in Italy would be an amazing thing for sure. These are great tips and I will share them with my sister 😉

  16. I have been to Italy several times, and whenever I thought about the country, it was majorly for food and travel. Never have I ever considered studying abroad. But your article is such a wonderful source of information. Thanks for sharing.

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