Let Brad Schulze help you navigate the educational system in Italy and share his tips of being a successful student at Bocconi University, as he spends his semester on the Student Exchange Program.
Imagine having a class scheduled for an entire semester at a certain place and a certain time; for example, at 10 am on Thursdays. Now imagine having another class that is canceled and rescheduled to the exact same time as your 10 am Thursday class and you have to miss the rescheduled class BUT are unable to get the absence excused by your teacher or by the university. Welcome to Italy. Welcome to Milan; and welcome to Bocconi Univeristy. A complete 360 from what you are used to; but an experience of a lifetime.
Just a quick background on the university in which I am spending my semester. It’s called Bocconi University and is highly regarded as one of the top business and overall university’s in Italy and in all of Europe. It consists of 2 main classroom buildings, 3 or 4 other buildings, a cafeteria, a gym, dorms and a bank. THAT IS IT. It is small, no question. It was a complete 360 from Ohio State and where I had spent the last 2 years of my college career studying. There are three huge differences that I can see and those are university lifestyle, classroom and school structure and self-study and self preparation for exams. Understanding the 3 and how to adapt has been crucial for me to succeed in my classes.
First, the university lifestyle. I hate to break it to you Buckeyes but there is no college football and in that case any college sports at the universities here in Italy. You won’t see your fellow Bocconian’s traveling down the street on a Friday afternoon repping their gear for Saturday’s big game. Just won’t find it. There aren’t nearly as many clubs and organizations to get involved in and you most certainly won’t see hundreds of your classmates tossing the Frisbee or lying out studying on your way to class; as I mentioned above there really is no campus quad, etc. I definitely was not anticipating the usual US college lifestyle when preparing to attend Bocconi but I can definitely say I was very shocked at just how different the two are. Of course I am bias and believe the Buckeyes and campus lifestyle at Ohio State trumps that of Bocconi but it most certainly has not taken away from the experience at Bocconi. Here you get to work and learn with kids from all over the world; more so than Ohio State. Instead of paying $7 for lunch on high street their are many local pizzerias where you can snag lunch for less than $3. Completely different and un-comparable. A different experience to say the least.
Moving on from the lifestyle, imagine yourself sitting in a lecture on Portfolio Management; with a professor who you may not find the most interesting for three hours every Friday morning with only one five-minute break that is denote as “the smoke break”. If you have never been blessed with this experience, I am here to tell you; you are not missing out. This is quite common at Bocconi. They only offer classes in either blocks of 1.5 hours, in which you have class twice a week, and 3 hour in which you have class once a week. Aside from that each class, from my knowledge, is only offered around 3 or 4 times a week so there is very little flexibility in creating your “ideal schedule.” Finally, as far as structure goes, and what I wish I had been a little better prepared for, is the idea that your grade completely falls on the shoulders of your final exam. Most classes here have very little, if any, homework and there is no such thing as participation points. With the different structure and all the traveling I wanted to do, I really had to adapt my studying and learning habits in order to succeed here at Bocconi. There was a learning curve but I think I have finally come up with my studying techniques (which I share at the end of this post) that will help me do well on my finals coming up in November.
The first thing I learned is that buying the textbook is a must. Unlike Ohio State where for a majority of the classes the textbook is a recommended learning material; it is the learning material. Being proactive and reading the chapters and doing some practice problems ahead of class is a huge advantage. The teachers here don’t take the time to make sure you understand the material and go at a very fast pace. The fast pace also makes office hours a must but the only problem is there are very few and they change a lot. I have learned it is much better to just send the teacher an email and set up a meeting. This way you know he/she will be there and won’t waste valuable time. Lastly, and maybe the most important is just to be kind and patient with the teacher. It is a different culture here and if you show an understanding of that and are patient they are way more willing to work with you through any problems you may have.
Looking back on this; it makes me realize that had I known all this before my semester begun it would have been way smoother; but to be honest I am glad I didn’t. It really has pushed me to academic levels I would have never thought possible. It has been one of the best parts of studying abroad and as I sit here describing my experiences and giving my advice it will be different for everyone and the best advice I can give is just be ready for change. There is no right or wrong answer or right or wrong way of doing certain things; you just need to figure out what works for you. And I believe if you can do the following things you will have a great and successful semester, academically and culturally, abroad even through the highs and lows.
- Be patient. You won’t have the answer for every problem on Day 1. It takes some time.
- Be adaptable. The way things are done here will cause some differences in what you are use to on a day to day basis. Be ready to adapt to those in order to make the most out of your abroad experience.
- Take Initiative. Even more so than back home. Be on top of things. Office hours are not encouraged as much and most teachers only have them on an appointment basis. It is up to you to take advantage of these things.
- Stay on Top of Things and Find a Balance. This may be the most important tip I can give. Yes, you are a student first but studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. You will want to travel to all the top places on your bucket list, hang out with all your new worldwide friends and enjoy events hosted by your university. To be able to do all these awesome things it is very important that you do not fall behind. Create a schedule and find the right balance for you.
So even though, 2 months later, I still have not been able to get that 10 am Thursday Class absence excused; I am still here and still a student at Bocconi. Even though there are fewer office hours and teachers are less involved I am still doing just fine in all of my classes. Just because something is different doesn’t make it easier or harder or right or wrong. It just requires a little change. If studying abroad is something that interests you but the differences scare you; I promise that if you can be patient, be adaptable, take some initiative and find your balance, you will be just fine and better for it.
About the Author: Brad Schulze, Senior, Finance, Student Exchange Program- Italy.