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STUDYING IN ITALY

Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Hoping to move to Italy to begin or continue your studies? If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a quick guide to the most essential things you'll need to know before applying.

Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy
The Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice. If you're moving to Italy to study, you'll need to know more than just where to find the most unusual bookstores. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.

If you’ve only just started gathering information about living and studying in Italy, there’s a lot of information to digest.

Depending on where you’ll be moving from, you may need to consider everything from visa paperwork to preparing for unusual exam methods, according to the international students we spoke to for a recent article about their experiences in Italy.

Based on their advice and personal experiences, here’s a quick rundown of the eight most important points to keep in mind if you’re planning on moving to Italy to study, as well as links to further information you may find useful.

1. Italian university teaching methods are singular to say the least. Before accepting a formal offer from an Italian university, make sure that you’re totally familiar with the structure of your chosen course. If this information is not readily available online, reach out to the university and ask for a detailed course handbook.

READ ALSO: Five things to know before you apply for an Italian student visa

2. If you’re a non-EU national, carefully read the list of official documents you’ll be required to produce in order to receive your type-D visa and, once in Italy, your permesso di soggiorno (more information available from the foreign ministry’s website here and from the University of Bologna here).

Italy is home to some of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities. Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

3. Prepare any necessary paperwork well in advance. Italian bureaucracy isn’t exactly a paradigm of administrative efficiency.

4. In Italy, university exams are for the most part conducted orally, so you might want to practise your verbal communication skills while you’re still in your home country. This will help you hit the ground running further down the stretch.

5. When it comes to finding accommodation for your first year in Italy, try your best to book a place in a university hall of residence. This will save you the trouble of dealing with letting agencies and private landlords; something students told us they found troublesome.

6. If, for whatever reason, you are not able to get yourself a place via your university’s own channels, refer to reliable student housing websites such as Uniaffitti, Affitti Studenti and Studentsville.

REVEALED: What studying in Italy is really like and what you should expect

7. Italian is by no means an easy language. However, merely having a beginner’s knowledge of the language will come in very handy when dealing with bureaucracy and interacting with local people. You can start by laying some groundwork with language-learning apps and then attend some language classes once in Italy. 

8. While in Italy, try to get out of your comfort zone and socialise with Italian students. This will help you not only immerse yourself in the local culture but also practise your Italian language skills.

See more information in The Local’s studying in Italy section.

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MOVING TO ITALY

‘Why I ditched my UK corporate career for an abandoned Italian vineyard’

Many people dream of enjoying a slower pace of life in rural Italy after decades of the 9-5. But some make the leap much earlier. One former UK professional tells Silvia Marchetti how she swapped the London office grind for winemaking and never looked back.

‘Why I ditched my UK corporate career for an abandoned Italian vineyard’

At some point in life living the dream means abandoning one’s job, and this usually happens when people retire and think about what to do next. 

But one UK professional made the opposite choice: in her early 20s, she decided to ditch a promising career in the corporate and consultancy sector to move to deepest rural Italy and recover her ancestors’ long-lost vineyard. 

Scottish-Italian Sofia di Ciacca, with two degrees in law and history of art, worked for four years at KPMG in London and Edinburgh before she took the opportunity to do something different in life.

Her ancestors, who hailed from the tiny village of Picinisco in the province of Frosinone, Lazio, had migrated to Scotland decades ago. Every time she visited Italy as a child during the holidays, Sofia would feel the pull of her roots.

READ ALSO: ‘What we learned from moving to Italy and opening a B&B’

“I found myself presented with an opportunity very young, thanks to my family’s historical connection to the area, and thought: I either take time to build a career, or I can grab this chance,” she says.

“When you’re building a career, you already know what your trajectory will be: that you’ll be in an office here, and another office there. I realised I didn’t want that.”

At 23 she asked herself: why do later in life what I can do now? 

Sofia at work. Photo credit: Sofia Di Ciacca

This awareness took a while to develop, she says.

“As a child when I returned to Italy it was only as a holiday, not my day-to-day life. Imagine a young girl from Scotland, who had to learn about wine. I never thought about it when I was young.”

“Picinisco is so real, out of my comfort zone. That fascinated me”. 

Sofia, now 33, says she decided “to create something of value, that lasts in time and memory”.

Her family had started renovating old buildings in the area, and supported her career leap, but the wine business was something she was going to personally handle and dedicate years of sacrifice, study and hard work to building.

READ ALSO: ‘Do your homework’: An American’s guide to moving to Italy

Sofia had to learn from scratch, in a job that wasn’t quite like sitting in an office in front of a computer, and that required specific physical and social skills. 

She spent around four years studying the secrets of winemaking with Italian wine consultants in other parts of Italy, mainly on vineyards in Tuscany, where she learnt how to clean tanks, press grapes, plant vines, organise and run a canteen, and do the vendemmia (grape harvest). 

“I did traineeships, met experts, other international wine students, and all this helped me to grow,” she explains.

“The wine world is very complicated, you need to learn basic principles and engineering before you can even fathom how to start anything. Only once you learn, study, then you can have your own say, go see how local farmers work, understand how deep they plough the soil”.

Almost 10 years later, her winery now produces premium wines, honey and extra virgin olive oil. The wine is from an ancient grape variety grown in the area, called Maturano, of which production had been forsaken when local families migrated. 

She says it’s all a matter of gaining self-confidence built on hard graft, and it’s best to be honest and humble about things you don’t know, and are willing to be taught. Understanding the “rural respect for farmers” was key for her.

Sofia in the vineyard. Photo credit: Sofia Di Ciacca

One challenge was figuring out how to split her life between two countries: Scotland and Italy, and deciding where to locate the sales site, whether it was best to be in the cantina in Picinisco or marketing her products in Edinburgh. She says the balance is still not perfect.

But the toughest obstacle was tackling Italian bureaucracy. 

“I shed a lot of tears. The regulations hindered the business, like getting grants. You really need to follow the rules, understand the system, get the right people to advise you,” she says.

“But above all, stay honest. People will try to befriend you pretending to help, but it’s not worth it. As foreigners at the beginning you just don’t know how things work in Italy, you need to ask a lot of questions, and don’t be afraid to do that”. 

READ ALSO:

Another feat was the practical side of wine-making itself, which requires a lot of physical work, from hand-picking the grapes in the organic vineyard to getting the winery in shape. 

“You need to get physically fit, and the machinery at first was really not for me,” Sofia says. 

“I wasn’t great at understanding how it worked but luckily I had the right people to teach me”. 

The first harvest came after years of tough vineyard revival. The six-hectare vineyard produces some 30,000 bottles a year, which have already won three international prizes. Alongside the premium white 100 percent Maturano wine, it also yields a sweet amber-coloured passito wine. 

Sofia with her children. Photo credit: Sofia Di Ciacca

“I’ve always been fascinated by grapes, passionate about how they turn into wine,” Sofia says. 

“Recovering the indigenous Maturano variety was a success, it grew well with the fertile soil and the climate. The grapes are left to do the talking, no yeasts are used.”

In the meantime, it’s become a family affair: Sofia got married – her husband, also Scottish-Italian, is a wine importer – and their two toddlers have now started taking part in the vendemmia.

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