Classes in Italy vs in the US

 

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Students entering Accademia Italiana’s main entrance.

Now that I’ve started classes at Accademia Italiana (AI), a design school in Florence, Italy, I have noticed a few main differences between my classes here and classes at Drexel University. These observations include differences in class structure, teaching style, and homework. Please keep in mind that these are just my experiences, and doesn’t necessarily represent universities across Italy or every study abroad experience.

For starters, all of my classes except Italian Language meet only once a week. Classes are generally three hours, with a 10 minute break in the middle to get coffee or smoke. Our school has a coffee vending machine where you can get an espresso, cappuccino, and more for just €0.50 each! It is interesting that smoking is still quite a popular thing here in Italy, and almost everyone in the class, even the teacher, will get an espresso or smoke a cigarette outside on the terrace during break.

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Sharing cappuccino’s from the vending machine during a class break.

Since Accademia Italiana is an Italian school, as opposed to an American campus abroad, classes contain Italian students, international students, and American study abroad students. These classes are taught bilingually: professors will say everything twice, once in Italian and once in English. It is interesting for me as someone who is learning Italian, as I can try to listen to the Italian and improve my vocabulary in topics that correlate to design. Its also fun (although a bit intimidating) to meet with the local students in class and discuss the differences between or ways of life and education systems.

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Professor working with an Italian student.

Another difference between my classes at AI and Drexel is that the daily lesson structure is a bit less rigid. Class sizes are smaller, with some being as small as 6-10 people. As a result, the professor interacts more with each student. In addition, class content doesn’t seem to be as standardized, so the teachers can choose to teach lessons they believe are important and take each class pace and trajectory how they feel. They often don’t exactly follow their syllabi, and lectures are less about reading off a slideshow and more about just speaking about the subject, while still hitting certain important points. I quite like that about the courses here, as all of the classes feel relevant, important, and organic.

Another thing about the teachers is that most of them are working professionals in the design fields who later became part time teachers. As a result, they have a lot of experience and knowledge in the design industry.

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An American student between classes with student work in the background.

For homework, not all teachers give specific assignments that are collected or monitored. For my Industrial Design course, there isn’t any specified weekly deliverables. Students are expected to work on projects on their own pace and make sure they are keeping up in order to finish the assigned projects by midterm and finals. Of course, you are expected to meet with the professor occasionally to get advice and see if you’re going in the right direction. Other courses do have weekly assignments, such as my Photography and Packaging Design. However, there doesn’t seem to be such an emphasis on turning in each assignment and receiving a certain number grade, but assignments and effort is still noted and (I believe) recorded into your final grade.

Overall I get the impression that students are treated a bit more like professionals, which has its positives and negatives. On one hand you are expected to monitor your own progress and education. On the other, you have more freedom to take projects in your own direction and pace. Overall, the school seems like a great place to experience another kind of teaching style and gain enrichment with classes I wouldn’t be able to normally take.

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