If you’re planning to study abroad in Italy, you’ll need to adjust your expectations. Italians do things differently, so don’t try to fight it. Go with the flow and experience the famous dolce vita for yourself. While there are plenty of places to visit and attractions to see, there are a list of thing you shouldn’t do during your time in Italy.
Plan on staying home alone
Italians are sociable and if you’re seeking solitude, you’ll be met with curious expressions and genuine confusion. Step outside your front door at the end of the working day and you’ll encounter the whole town. Regardless of the time of year, the passeggiata is a time to catch up with friends and family and take a stroll. From the smallest villages to the largest cities, this is what Italians do. Put your books aside and go out and join them.
Expect to maintain some personal space
Italians are a warm, extrovert bunch and as such, personal space is an alien concept. Take greetings, for instance. Two kisses on the cheek is considered acceptable, and anything less would be the height of rudeness. Standing in line is a cosy affair, whether at the grocery store or in the line to buy a bus ticket. There’s no point moving away to give yourself a bit more room. They’ll just come with you.
Insist on speaking English
If you’ve come to Italy to learn Italian, that’s not going to happen if you speak English every time you open your mouth. At the start, you’ll probably feel like a bit of a muppet, punctuating every sentence with “molto bene” and “grazie mille” but persevere and you’ll be surprised by how quickly your grasp of Italian improves.
Ask for milk in your after dinner coffee
To drink coffee in Italy requires an understanding of certain rituals and conventions. Milky coffee (cappuccino, caffè latte, latte macchiatos, etc.) should only be consumed in the morning and never after a meal. Italians cringe at the thought of all that hot milk hitting a full stomach. If you need an energy boost after dinner, order an “un caffè”, aka a single “espresso”. But remember never, ever, ask for an “expresso”. You’ll be laughed out of town. Also, don’t expect to sit down and leisurely sip your cappuccino. Coffee is to be downed in small doses and in one, standing; it’s much like cough medicine, though admittedly it tastes considerably better.
Look around you. The young and active are slim but middle age in Italy brings with it a rounding of the waistline. That’s because the food is so good! Intertwined with love and passion, eating plays such an important role in Italy’s culture; everything else – the Roman Empire, Renaissance art, active volcanoes – pales in significance. Forget deep pan pizza and embrace hand crafted ravioli, braised veal shanks so tender the meat falls off the bone and the smoothest, creamiest gelato on the planet. That diet can wait till you get back home.
Expect buildings to be clean and perfectly maintained
Graffiti and a certain level of dilapidation are par for the course in Italy but that’s all part of its charm. Wander the back streets of Bologna or Pisa, perhaps Italy’s most enchanting student cities, and you’ll find the buildings need a good clean and a coat of paint. And don’t even think about expecting air conditioning. Yet after a while, you’ll hope that no one notices enough to make that happen, because you’ve grown to love them just the way they are.
Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country, beating China into second place with Spain and France taking third and fourth. To study in Italy and not go and visit any of these rather special places would be like visiting New York and dismissing the Statue of Liberty as “just some woman carrying a torch”. Whether it’s the treasures of ancient Rome, the city of Venice and its lagoon, the towers of San Gimignano or natural wonders like The Dolomites and Mount Etna, there’s likely to be a UNESCO site on your doorstep wherever in Italy you choose to study.
Always take the cheapest seat on the train
Booked in advance, the business class seats on Italy’s magnificent high speed trains are surprisingly affordable. Recline in comfort into the black leather seats of the Frecciarossa trains as you whizz between Italy’s great cities. Even on a student budget it’s worth splurging once for this lesson in Italian style and engineering.
Though the thought of studying in Italy might be worrying, with a little advice from the experts, you can allay those fears. Hire the services of a specialist security company such as Salus Security Services and they can help with everything from etiquette to staying out of danger, leaving you to focus on the more important things, like which flavor gelato to try first.
Carlos J. Barron
Salus Security Services