Adjusting to studying at UniFi

By Gemma Sturt, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy

With lectures now in full swing, this month I wanted to write a few words on settling into life at Università degli Studi di Firenze (UniFi) and some of the major academic differences I have already experienced between studying in Italy and the UK.

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View from the ‘Biblioteca delle Oblate’ – my closest public library in the historic center

….a far cry from the view of Oxford Road from the Ali G!!

Like many others, UniFi is consists of a few campuses spread out across the city which are largely split into departmental subject areas however I was completely unprepared to discover that all of my courses would be in a different town altogether, and that I would have to leave Florence each morning to attend my lectures!

Sesto Fiorentino is a small town reachable by train and then bus from the city centre, in total around a 45-60 min commute, and is the nearest residential area to the university’s scientific campus (“Polo Scientifico”). The area accommodates buildings for lectures and lab classes for most natural sciences subjects (Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Astrophysics, Biotechnology..etc) in addition to several research labs and conference centres – in short, it’s absolutely huge.

To make a stark contrast with Manchester the campus really is out in the middle of nowhere (30 mins drive from the historic center of Florence), nestled in the hills of the Tuscan countryside. Whilst it’s a pain to travel to each day, the location makes for beautiful views and also some surprises – more than once in the past few weeks I have glanced out of the window during a lecture, only to see a herd of sheep crossing just outside the window!!

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Apparently the local farmers have an understanding with the university that the cattle graze on the campus lawns instead of paying groundskeepers to mow the grass…. bizarre

 

Since the campus is so far from the center most students drive each day (by car or motorbike/moped) – for some the commute is as long as an hour each way, as the majority of students still live in their parent’s home which is not necessarily near Florence.

This is one of the main cultural differences of university life between Italy and Manchester: whilst in the UK it is very common to move out at 18 to live independently, many Italian students still live in the family home and this is absolutely the norm as many chose to study in the same city or region where they have grown up. This means there is no particular ‘student area’ that might be analogous to names like Fallowfield or Withington, as even those people who live alone or with friends are scattered around different suburbs – and for the reasons above it isn’t too surprising that the university doesn’t provide halls of residence to freshers or incoming international students.

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The campus in Sesto F. also has a few other cute little quirks, like a cat shelter near the bus stop for those that roam around the site during the day

I have also noticed the spread of students around the suburbs and other peripheral towns leads to a different student culture and way of socializing outside of uni – people often arrange to see their peers over a large meal at someone’s house or in a restaurant, rather than quickly catching up at the pub or popping round to a friend’s house  for a brew.

 

To explain in detail the main academic differences between UniFi and UoManchester I decided to make the following short video. Please give it a watch if you’re interested in studying at an Italian university or learning about how academic arrangements can differ from the norm in the UK – however if you’re short for time I’ve also provided a short written summary below.

 

Class structure:

  • Lectures are timetabled for 2 hours, but the lecturer will only teach for 90 minutes for whenever in the allotted period
  • Number of taught hours are much higher than Manchester (some finishing as late as 6.30 pm, days are often 9.00 – 4.30)
  • Comparatively very little personal face-to-face contact with your lecturers
  • No tutorials or seminars

Exams & workload:

  • No other work except to learn & expand on the material covered in lecturers (no essays, reports, presentations, online tests, maths exams etc)
  • MUCH smaller classes
  • Extremely flexible approach to retakes and taking courses primarily meant for different years – you don’t need to fulfil a set number of credits per year
  • You can decide which day you take your exam within a set 6 week period
  • All exams are oral and held in a lecture theater with all the other students from your class watching/waiting their turn (maths questions are done on a blackboard)
  • It’s possible to ‘reject’ your grade and re-take within the same exam period

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