When researching which cities to study abroad in Italy, you are bound to come across a repetition of a few big names: Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice. Although all of these cities are exciting cultural capitals of Italy, students often overlook other areas of the country that offer a much different but equally rewarding (and adventurous) study abroad experience. If you are looking for an authentic, unfiltered glimpse into Italy, then take the train past Rome and head south. You’ll soon see why Southern Italy is one of the best places to study abroad in all of Italy.
Southern Italian Lifestyle
What makes studying abroad in Southern Italy truly distinct is the loud, welcoming culture that is so common, even its largest cities. There is less widespread tourism in these regions, making studying abroad an incredible opportunity for students who aim to become immersed in a community-based culture that is fiercely proud of its traditions and identity. Locals are typically hospitable and less likely to dismiss you as a simple tourist.
With less tourism, the local Italians speak less English—you can take advantage of this chance to improve on your Italian language skills and maybe pick up a little bit of that Neapolitan dialect. Southern Italians are usually very eager to learn more about newcomers and to help them learn the Italian language and customs. The cost of living in Southern Italy is also much more affordable than northern Italian regions.
Southern Italy moves at a slower pace: you’ll find that stores open later in the morning and that the cities essentially shut down from around one o’clock in the afternoon until about three or four. During this time, Italians eat lunch and take a riposo (a rest) with their families. In these quiet hours of the afternoon, it is difficult to find any establishment open. The only sounds emerging from open windows are those of the passing of plates, voices chattering, and the futbol (soccer) game on tv. Stores will later reopen until late into the evening, most southern Italians eat dinner at around eight or nine at night.
Due to this emphasis on family, life in Southern Italy is very focused on the community and enjoying the simple things in life—such as a four-hour, five-course meal. Studying abroad in Sicily or the Amalfi Coast can also be challenging, as southern Italians go on strikes often and it is very possible to find yourself without public transportation on certain days. However, these extra challenges only ensure that you will learn more about yourself, the city you study abroad in, and how to handle yourself while abroad.
Geography & Climate
Most study abroad programs in Southern Italy are located along the Amalfi Coast in the city of Sorrento, or on the island of Sicily, just off the tip of Italy’s boot, in cities such as Taormina or Catania.
The terrain of southern Italy is drastically different from the rest of the country. Rather than the rolling hills of Tuscany, Southern Italy is lined with rugged cliffs from which pastel-colored towns cling to the edge, overlooking the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. The surrounding countryside is more arid and filled with olive and lemon trees.
You’ll find the climate in Southern Italy much milder and warmer than the regions to the north; the climate is perfect for days at the many beaches along the coastline. These areas are also home to world-famous volcanoes, such as Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna. With the Mediterranean Sea and these still-active volcanoes, Southern Italy is an excellent location to study marine biology and geology.
Southern Italy is located within easy traveling distance of Central and Eastern Europe, and North Africa. The city of Naples houses one of the largest and most-frequented ports in Europe, making the region one of the largest urban economies in Italy. There are major airports throughout the region and many trains connecting Sicily to the mainland.
The regions of Southern Italy lay claim to a completely different history than northern Italy, which saw a great deal of Germanic and Papal influence. The influence of Turkish and Spanish invaders is still present in the region, visible in the architecture of the cities and in the dialects of the people. Sicily alone has been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, Byzantines, Turks, Normans, and Spaniards. Much of the area surrounding Naples and the Amalfi coast was once the vacation destination of Roman emperors and the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum offer travelers an amazing glimpse into Roman life during the 1st century.
Southern Italy and its various kingdoms were important figures in medieval and Renaissance times as well. There are many UNESCO World Heritage sites in the area that range from the pre-Roman era to the nineteenth century. As such, Southern Italy is an excellent location to study archaeology, history, and architecture.
Each region of Italy is known for particular types of food and Southern Italy is no different. Although individual cities may vary in their traditional food, the diet of southern Italians is typically much lighter than the stereotypical meat sauces and lasagnas found in the north. Instead, the food in southern Italy tends to emphasize seafood, vegetables, light pasta, and of course the specialty cheeses of the region, such as buffalo mozzarella, which is made from wild buffalo’s milk. Sicily has its own very distinct food culture with a North African and Middle Eastern influence, of which one of its most famous contributions are cannoli pastries.
A More Authentically Italian Experience
Studying abroad in Southern Italy provides you with the opportunity to truly live as an Italian in regions that represent Italy at its most authentic and honest state. There is no denying that studying abroad in Southern Italy can be challenging and may require a greater adjustment from culture shock. However, the southern Italian lifestyle is incredibly vibrant and the views of the Mediterranean are unparalleled. If you want to have a more adventurous and immersive study abroad experience in Italy, don’t be afraid to take a step off the well-worn, guidebook path into the beautiful and culturally diverse region that is Southern Italy.