You can see the city of Bologna from miles away, not only because of its red and deep orange-hued buildings (for which it is famous), but also because of the infamous two towers piercing the city skyline at a precariously crooked angle. Noteworthy, full of color, and a little crooked, these are the perfect adjectives to describe Italy’s top university city. If you are interested in studying abroad in a city far from tourists that has a little edge, where Italian student culture dominates the medieval streets, and pasta-making is treated as an art form, then study abroad programs in Bologna are right for you.
Studying Abroad in Bologna
With its namesake university ranked second overall throughout Italy, those who study abroad in Bologna are provided with an endless amount of subjects and access to high-quality education. As tradition has it, the Università di Bologna (through which most study abroad programs in Bologna are organized or affiliated with) was founded in 1088, although sources point to a much earlier start-date. Regardless, the university heralds as the oldest university in the Western world and it has earned a well-deserved reputation as an impressive academic institution. Although students can find nearly any field of study in Bologna, there are a few subjects that are unbeatable for studying abroad in this red-hued city.
Political Science. Since its early, pre-Roman days, Bologna has been a hub of political power. Today, it is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Due to its pivotal role as a key center of the Italian resistance movement of WWII as well as widespread social activism and student protests in the 1970’s, Bologna has cultivated a culture of post-war political engagement. Known for its leanings toward communism, it is not uncommon to find town-hall style meetings passionately debated by citizens in the city’s piazzas. Bologna is one of Italy’s largest and leading economic cities, which are just two reasons that it is an ideal location to study political science in Italy.
Cinema. The city of Bologna and the surrounding area of Emilia-Romagna have been the springboard for the careers of many famous post-war Italian directors, including Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Roberto Rossellini. Bologna is also home to an incredible institution called Cineteca Bologna, which is a theater and museum dedicated solely to the preservation and discussion of cinema, with a particular concentration on Italian film. Each year, Cineteca Bologna hosts Il Cinema Ritrovato, an international film festival focusing on cinematic origins and the silent movie period. Along with its close ties to the Charlie Chaplin Association, Bologna’s long history as a cultural hub of postwar Italian film has cemented its position as one of the best cities to study cinema abroad.
Italian Language. Since Bologna does not see the large numbers of English-speaking tourists that other famous Italian cities do, it is a prime location to study the Italian language. Students must be able to communicate in Italian not only to attend and understand classes, but also to buy groceries, understand the bus system, or chat with classmates. For a city bursting with so many international students, your average Bolognese citizen does not (or will refuse to) speak English, which forces English-speaking students to truly learn the language. As such, most study abroad programs in Bologna encourage full immersion, both inside and outside the classroom, often requiring students to sign a “language pledge,” promising to only speak Italian unless it is absolutely necessary not to. The best way to learn a language is to dive in headfirst!
Italian course structure is somewhat different than many universities, as it is primarily lecture style with only one final exam. Course readings are often optional and classes typically end one month before the end of the semester, providing students ample time to study all the material before their oral exam. Most courses will be taught entirely in Italian, and therefore in order to study abroad in Bologna, most students will be required to have at least some Italian language proficiency.
Life in Bologna
Bologna is perhaps one of the most university-centered cities in Italy, and maybe even Europe, making it an excellent location for those looking to truly live the life of an Italian university student. Each year, about 100,000 students overtake Bologna’s winding, cobblestoned streets, and the pulse of the city matches that of its young citizens.
Bologna itself holds most of its charm in its expansive historic center, which is still marked by original medieval walls and infamous porticoes. These covered walkways are the longest stretch of continuous porticoes in the world (over 30 miles long); aside from the constant coverage from rain, it is under these porticoes that you will find most of Bologna’s young population thrives. Those who study abroad in Bologna will find that the porticoes are a great place to meetup with friends, compare notes, or peruse the tables of antique street vendors.
The city of Bologna also happens to be the food capital of Italy, famous for its tagliatelle al ragu (a slow-cooked Bolognese sauce), cheese, and hand-folded pasta, but also for its obsession with social gatherings. Students often meet for aperitivi: a happy hour that begins just before dinner, with a few drinks and small appetizers. On a budget? Bologna caters to the struggling student in its Osteria’s, where students purchase bottles of wine from the Osteria, but bring their own food to be shared along communal tables where you may have to shout to be heard over the cheerful voices and live music.
Although Bologna has many historical sights, numerous museums, and famous Catholic churches that students may explore, it is also centrally located in Italy, making it easy to travel to rest of the country by train or to other parts of Europe; Bologna also has its own international airport.
Accommodation & Visas
Most study abroad programs in Bologna place students in shared apartments with other international and Italian students, or in Italian dormitories. Certain programs will also offer the option for students to live in a homestay. However, as study abroad programs in Bologna encourage full cultural and language immersion, apartments shared with other Italian students, often located in the heart of the historic center of the city, are the most common type of housing option.
If you are studying abroad in Bologna for a full semester, hence your stay will last longer than 90 days, or for a full year, you will be required to obtain a Schengen Student Visa. You must use the closest Italian consulate or embassy in your home country to obtain your visa and the sooner you can start your visa application, the better, as it can be a very lengthy and labor-intensive process.
Benefits & Challenges
A New System. The Italian university system is very different from those of North America and the UK, as professors have little to no hands-on experience dealing with students. Italian university courses require a large amount of independent and individual study time in order to learn the material.
Language Barrier. Very little English is spoken in Bologna and the Bolognese natives expect students to at least attempt to speak to them in Italian. Although this can be challenging when purchasing groceries, it also allows you to improve your language skills on a daily basis!
- The Real Italy. Bologna is not a touristy city and it does not cater to large crowds listening to audio headsets. It is a city that has seen millennia of history, famous academics, and prides itself on its independent nature. Although different than the gilded halls of Florence or Venice, Bologna allows you to fully experience a true slice of unfiltered Italy.