It’s a little-known fact that the Erasmus Programme is actually a year of study. I can understand if you didn’t know that. Good men have lost their lives to keep it secret. It’s a chance to experience how other European countries shovel information into their students’ brain-baskets, and you get to judge for yourself whether the results are better, or worse, or a third option of your choosing. I can’t speak for Germany or Spain or France, but here I’ll just make a rought sketch of what I’ve seen of the Italian system so far. I’ll be focusing on English Literature, of course, but a lot of things will carry over.
The main thing that doesn’t carry over to other courses is that English Literature is taught in English. You won’t get that with History or Engineering, but it makes it a heck of a lot easier to handle. So don’t worry if your Italian isn’t fluent before leaving for Italy — on an English Literature course you can improve your language skills outside of classes without damaging your degree’s overall grade. Turin provides four hours of Italian lessons on the side a week, split into Principiante, Intermedio, and Avanzato. In the first lesson you take an exam to decide which group you should be moved into. Due to the fact that most people there aren’t English, these aren’t your old-fashioned Italian lessons taught in English. They’re Italian lessons taught in Italian, by tutors who either don’t know English or do a very good job of pretending not to do. So you’ll learn. You’ll learn.
The biggest and strangest different is the amount of hours. Two-hour lectures? Three hour lectures? 18-hour weeks for an English Literature course? Lectures and seminars are combined into a general lesson, taught in a classsroom or lecture theatre, generally with a professor talking and occasionally asking for audience participation. I was warned that Italian professors would be very formal and unwilling to chit-chat, but my experience has not yet shown this to be true at all. Despite the length, these lessons also follow the laws of the quarto d’ora accademico, by which a lesson can start or finish with fifteen minutes leeway of its official hours. In other words, they’re often considerably shorter, and usually come with an interval. In your free time you’re expected to read books at a somewhat slower rate perhaps than in the UK.
It is quite surreal for the Erasmus student to imagine what the Italians are going through. Very difficult pieces of English, such as Shakespeare, are taught to students whose English might be built around a ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ basis, and there are exams on things like English literary history which haven’t even been taught in the lessons. Students from England might not have much trouble learning about English history in their own time, but it probably doesn’t come quite as easily to Italians, or indeed non-English-speaking Erasmus students. Such a thing, admittedly, is pretty rare. Here are these Europeans having a brave go at Shakespeare’s made-up words and most English people can’t read an Italian restaurant menu without subtitles. Oh, what a world!
Also, you have to register for exams somewhere, but I won’t even pretend to have figured that out yet. And nobody seems to own a printer.