Let me summarize this article for you real quick: some professors are awesome and others… Not so much. It’s a fact of life and it’s a given in college. You’ll gel with some, and might lose sleep over others. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not a slight to any of my professors that I’ve had both with IES Rome and at Hope.
So, disclaimer: I’m not here to bad-mouth my professors. Nor am I here to assume that how I learn is exactly how you learn. I AM here, on the other hand, to give you a quick heads up on some stuff you might not have considered yet.
So let’s get into it.
- Cultural learning differences might not be explained to you.
I have multiple professors here that teach very similarly to the style I get at Hope. There are lectures, we take notes. We write papers and give presentations. It’s pretty straightforward what their expectations are for these things, because they directly communicate them with us. However, most of these professors also teach at one or more other universities and institutions. Some of them teach other American students and others teach Italian students.
If you didn’t know, Italian universities are run very differently from the American university norm. Those professors that teach mainly Italians teach their IES American students with the exact same standards… And those standards are usually expected without explanation or acclimation. Going in between these two learning environments can sometimes feel like whiplash. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself in your abroad classrooms and always ask questions, even if they seem stupid. (Believe me, they will seem stupid sometimes.)
- The language barrier.
Yes, yes I know there are plenty of more sensical students than I who travel to countries where they at the very least have a baseline understanding of the language. I know for many Spanish majors and minors––or even just language enthusiasts in general––this might seem naive. However, I’m friends with people who have been students of the Italian language for as far back as middle school. Believe me when I tell you, unless you’re wonderfully fluent, the language barrier will still be a hurdle in one way or another.
The understanding of the English language among my professors really varies. One of my professors went to college in New York, and her English-speaking accent is almost completely undetectable. However, another one of my professors is a much better English reader and writer than he is a speaker. At times, this can slow down classes and even leave students in the dust if they have a hard time understanding accents. (Which, as horrible as it sounds, is natural. Italians have a hard time understanding my accented Italian sometimes and vice versa.)
For me personally, it only really becomes an issue on days where I’m extra tired and a two hour lecture is extra difficult to make it through. But, it’s not really something I encountered when talking about studying abroad, so I wanted to at least stick it on your radar.
- Field studies change the landscape of learning.
I can’t speak to how other IES programs are set up, because I don’t know. But, most IES Rome area study courses function like this: On Monday you have a one-hour lecture. Then, on another day of the week you have a two hour period that is usually dedicated to what is called a field study. This usually means meeting your professor somewhere around Rome (for me, usually a museum) and spending those two hours touring the place. There, students give researched presentations and professors relate artifacts and whatnot to the class.
Is it fun? Absolutely. But, it can also be difficult. Having an in person frame of reference for the things you’re studying is really helpful. However, at times you might be going to three different churches in one period, making all of them begin to blend together. By the time it comes to an exam, you suddenly only remember a handful of the pieces or places you’ve seen and been to.
Overall, you can do it. You’ve made it through all the other difficult profs you’ve had. This will really be no different, aside from the new barriers you might have to conquer. I just wanted to give students a little heads up on some of the things they might not have considered yet!