Life Abroad
10 min

Pros and Cons of Living and Studying in Italy

Maria Varvyanskaya, a mentor at StudyFree, has been living in Italy for nine years. Having graduated from Linguistics at the University of Turin and completed an MBA in Milan, she is now a senior purchasing officer.

In this article, Maria shares her experience and suggests the pros and cons of living and studying in Italy. 

What Sparked My Interest in Italy

I was born and grew up in Tolyatti, a Russian city named after the Italian communist politician Palmiro Togliatti. This is where my Italian story started. 

After school, I was enrolled in the department of oriental studies where I chose Chinese as my first language. It was a pragmatic choice. It was not so much the Eastern culture that attracted me but rather career prospects that the knowledge of Chinese could open to me. Over time, I fell in love with this language. Later on, it did help me build a career abroad. 

Once I found out that the Italian Institute of Culture (IIC) was giving Italian courses at my university. The institute facilitates Russian students to get into universities in Italy.

I had always strived to study abroad, but there was no opportunity to go to China as an exchange student in my department. The idea of ​​studying in Italy seemed like a good alternative, so I jumped at the chance and began to prepare for admission tests. 

How I Chose the City and University

Italy has many beautiful cities that are rich in history and culture and are great for tourism. To live and study though, the industrial north suited me better. This part of the country is more economically developed. Most of the trade and industry in Italy take place here.

After a while of searching and pondering, I decided on Turin, the first capital of Italy. In 2006, the Winter Olympic Games were held here, which radically changed the appearance of the city, making it a much cleaner and modern city.

After two years, I dropped my studies in Moscow and received a certificate saying I had an incomplete degree. I made up my mind to apply for a bachelor's degree at the University of Turin. It turned out that Palmiro Togliatti graduated from the University of Turin too where he obtained degrees in law and philosophy. This coincidence convinced me completely that this was where I should study.

It was not difficult to get enrolled. As an international student, I only had to take an entrance exam in Italian.

I bought a teach yourself guide in Italian and studied every day. It took me about six months of intensive self-study to prepare.

The language exam was pretty easy. It consisted of a dictation and a speaking test. I had to talk to a couple of nice professors and tell them why I had picked their university and what I liked about Italian culture.

Study Costs and Scholarships

The cost of studying at public universities in Italy depends on the student’s family income which is determined by the ISEE indicator. ISEE is calculated annually, taking into account income and real estate.

The lower the ISEE, the less you have to pay per academic year. If the ISEE is very low, the student is exempt from tuition fees. The only thing you’ll have to pay is a regional tax. That was the case for me. The amount depends on the region and ranges from 150 to 400 €.

Universities in Italy, including the University of Turin, offer scholarships and free accommodation in residence halls to those showing good academic performance. 

You can also apply for a regional scholarship that depends on the financial status of your family. To do this, you need to go to your hometown and get a household composition certificate and income certificate for all family members. After that, you need to have them attested.

If you are granted such a scholarship, you don’t even have to pay the regional tax. The regulations and deadlines differ depending on the university and the region. I’d recommend you to find out all the details by contacting the admissions committee.

Studying at the University of Turin

My curriculum consisted of general, special, and elective courses. For example, my general courses were Italian literature, linguistics, history of film, and economics. The special ones included Chinese and English, as well as the history and literature of China and England. Additionally, I could choose several electives related to history and law.

Attending lectures was not compulsory. I could plan my study schedule and decide which exams I wanted to take. In each course, I was provided a list of books to prepare for the final test.

Studying at the university wasn’t easy. However, I improved my Italian and time management skills, as well as learned how to dig deep into a subject.

Internship and Career Start

In my third year, I won a grant from the Confucius Institute, with which my department cooperated, and went to China for a year. There, I was taught Chinese by native-speaking professors. Also, I studied the Chinese economy and the basics of doing business with Chinese companies.

After graduation, I started working in procurement. The main thing in this field is to build successful and efficient communication, as well as develop commercial relationships between companies. I started as a junior employee in a chemical company.

When I realized I needed more domain expertise to work in procurement, I decided to join Executive MBA in international business (Master of International Business - MIB) at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. I was granted a scholarship that partly covered my study costs. Another good thing was that I could work part-time while studying.

I worked with Chinese suppliers and regularly visited China on business trips. Most of the factories are located in China. The country is the major supplier of raw materials for critical industries. So if you pursue a career in procurement, speaking Chinese would be a big plus for you.

Thanks to my Chinese skills, I managed to find a job soon after I finished my studies. Now I work in the Italian office of the French company ENGIE that specializes in renewable energy. I’m Senior Procurement and Supply Chain Manager.

What’s Good About Studying in Italy

  1. Affordable prices. International students have the same opportunities as Italians to be granted a scholarship and live on campus. If it doesn't work out with a scholarship, one can get a certificate of income in their home country and then get a tuition discount.

The ISEE for international students is calculated without adjusting for the cost of living in the student's home country and the exchange rate.

  1. Non-mandatory attendance and self-directed learning. Most Italian universities allow students to plan their time and organize the learning process independently. Attending lectures is recommended, but not compulsory. Studying is entirely your responsibility.
  2. Thorough testing. Freedom is good, but you have to work hard if you want to do well. To make sure you did acquire quality knowledge, the result of your work is evaluated through an extensive testing process. The exam often consists of several parts. You have to read two to five books to prepare for any exam. Instead of randomly picking a paper sheet with a question to answer you have a leisurely talk with a professor. You can be asked any question related to the learning materials you have been provided to prepare. The good news is that if you pass the exam, it means you know the subject very well.
  3. Comfortable transition from student to employee. A degree from an Italian university gives international students the right to work. You can convert a study permit into a work permit without having to apply for labor quotas.

What’s Not So Good About Studying in Italy

  1. Bureaucracy. Applying to study at an Italian university involves a lot of paperwork at all stages. Recently, the situation has improved a little. In many universities, you can handle these issues online now, without having to go to the admissions office.
  2. Poor management of the learning process. Italians are creative people who hate to be restricted by frameworks. The schedule is often built with little regard for students’ comfort. For example, you may have a long break between classes or have two lectures scheduled for the same time. Also, the number of students attending a lecture is often higher than the number of available seats.
  3. Making friends among students is a challenge. There are no set student groups in Italian universities. You study with a lot of people, but everyone has their own list of courses. Everyone decides for themselves how many years to study and when to take exams. You will hardly see a familiar face at a lecture, which can make you feel lonely sometimes. On the other hand, it’s a great impetus to meet new people and learn how to build long-term relationships.

What’s Good About Living in Italy

  1. Urban-nature balance. Soon after you leave the city, you're already admiring the rice fields in the north or the vineyards in the south. When you have a day off, you can go to the countryside to enjoy a walk near a lake or in the forest. It helps to relax and maintain your mental health. If you cannot leave the city, don’t get upset: urban areas in Italy boast a large number of parks and green spaces.
  2. Traveling. Apart from traveling around Italy, it’s good and cheap to travel from here to neighboring European countries.
  3. Italians are communication wizards. Since I started my career in procurement, I have worked with suppliers of different nationalities. Based on my experience, Italians are the best negotiators. 

In the past, Italy used to be a conglomeration of city-states and republics. To live in peace and trade successfully with neighbors, one had to have negotiation skills. Modern Italians have honed these skills to perfection. They can teach us a lot of interaction tips and strategies for effective communication.

What’s Not So Good About Living in Italy

  1. Italians are too conservative. Although they seem to be very open-hearted and are always friendly, Italians are quite conservative and even reserved in some way. They respect family values a lot. Besides, succession in a family business is very common in Italy. And, of course, Italians are famous for taking good care of history and culture.

However, sometimes their unfailing love for tradition prevents them from progressive thinking and finding alternative solutions. If you suggest doing something in a new way, your colleagues may doubt that it’s a good idea. After all, the old way works and “abbiamo sempre fatto così!”, or “we've always done it that way!”.

  1. Slow pace of life. The famous Italian “la dolce vita” (sweet life) and “il dolce far niente” (the sweetness of doing nothing) are not just catchphrases. Italians value peace and their right to have rest, so they do everything con calma and piano piano (slowly). So keep in mind that things are rarely done right away.
  2. Lack of English speakers. It's not a problem for tourists: today, you can book museum tickets online, and restaurants offer menus in English. However, if you decide to move to Italy, you will have to learn Italian to make your everyday life there comfortable.

By Maria Varvyanskaya