One of the most difficult decisions students will have to make while studying in Italy is which three flavors of gelato will complete the perfect afternoon of wandering through the piazza (less then three scoops is just silly). Italy offers the best study abroad programs to any student looking to enrich their knowledge of history and culture. A simple stroll through a piazza (town square) leaves visitors with a feeling of culture that cannot be read in any book or understood with a picture.
Located in south central Europe, Italy is home to some of the best cities in the world. Each has its own unique characteristic from the ruins of Ancient Rome, to the heart of the Renaissance in Florence, to the fashion capital of Milan. Studying abroad in Italy offers the opportunity to explore aspects of Italian history and culture.
Italy typically experiences four seasons. The summer months can be crowded and very hot; air conditioning is not as popular as it is in the United States. Many hotels will turn off the air conditioning during the day. Typically September to early November is the ideal time to travel to Italy, as well as in the spring months of late March through May, making either the fall or spring semester a perfect time to study abroad.
Traditional Italian meals go far beyond spaghetti and meatballs so when a fresh hot plate of squash risotto is placed on the dinner table, the first instinct is to dig in! However, there are a few traditions to do first. Be sure to flatten it with a fork, eat the edges first, and continue to flatten the risotto. Since the edges are cooled first, this ensures that each bite of the meal is hot. This can’t be learned in a dorm and it will likely be the best squash risotto to ever touch a palate. Live in an Italian home and dine on traditional foods and learn to enjoy cuisine the way the Italians do.
Students who study abroad in Italy tend to become foodies without even trying. Italian dishes focus on the miracles that can come from the right combination of simple ingredients. Less is more when it comes to many dishes but they tend to be paired with delicious wine, old cheese, and new friends. Some of the staples every student should be sure to try are:
1. Bruschetta: bread topped with a mixture of fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and other veggies
2. Stracciatella: salty broth with shreds of egg, parmesan shavings, nutmeg, salt, and pepper
3. Spaghetti alla Carbonara: a creamy sauce of romano cheese, eggs, spices, and bacon drizzled over pasta
4. Pizza Margherita: most popular of the Italian pizzas, it’s a thin crust topped with olive oil, tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, and basil
5. Saltimbocca: veal layered with prosciutto and sage, then rolled up and cooked with oil, wine, and capers
Italy is the classroom when studying any kind of history or art. The major cities of Italy are all unique and their worldwide popularity is well earned.
Florence. The city is home of the Renaissance, Michelangelo’s statue of David, and the Uffizi Gallery Museum which holds Botticelli’s most famous works of art. These works of art would not be possible without the patronage of the Medici family, a name any visitor will surely see and hear hundreds of times during a stay in Florence.
Rome. Italy’s capital and largest city, is in itself, a history lesson. From the ruins of the Roman Forum to the floors of the Coliseum, the ceiling of the Parthenon, and coins in the Trevi Fountain, there is so much to do in this ancient city. Modern life flows around and between the remnants of over 2700 years of Rome’s history. It is home to one of the most preserved ancient cities in the world and is known as “The Eternal City.”
Venice. Another place where the architecture and art of Italy shine, but in a truly unique setting. The northeastern city is a myriad of small streams, floating gondolas, and the perfect lighting. It has been called one of the most romantic cities in the world many times over and is also famous for its ornate masks.
Cinque Terre. The “Five Towns” are perfect for those looking for the beach, traditional cuisine, and natural beauty. The villages of Monterosso Al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore make up the area that is featured in endless screensavers and puzzles. Visitors can choose to take a train, ferry boat, or hike through the chiseled mountains to each of the towns. With over 200 local dishes it is the ultimate Mediterranean diet tour. Stop in any restaurant and feast on seafood dishes while visiting the towns.
Monterosso Al Mare. The first or last town depending on the starting point, is a sunbathers paradise; many go to bask in the sun, and enjoy the view. The Liguria Sea, the backdrop for the island hopping, is absolutely stunning, as is the lush plant life along the way. Rocky cliffs can make some hikes vigorous but very worth it, especially when the endpoint is a beautiful beach. Do not forget the camera, but leave the flip-flops at home.
Italy is an extremely popular location for short term programs. So if a whole year, or semester does not fit into your timeline, explore the variety of programs that are one to three weeks long. Some fit into the winter break between fall and spring semesters. Athena Study Abroad offers convenient J-Terms (January programs) in which students can earn credit and experience Florence in under one month. Sound a little too quick and chilly? John Cabot University offers the summer in Rome and since it’s a fully accredited American University, organizing credits is a breeze.
If the program offers homestay accommodation, take the chance; staying with a host family gives the most authentic experience. It helps students learn the day-to-day language and customs of the Italian people.
Whenever you go, be sure to take some time out to just stroll and people watch in the piazzas and lastly, mangia, mangia, mangia or eat, eat, eat!