A Semester in Italy – Florence University – by Sara Desrocher. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

A Semester in Italy – Florence University – by Sara Desrocher. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports


Buonasera, I am reaching the halfway point of my semester here in Montespertoli, Italy. Time is flying by! My classes are a little different from back home; I am taking a couple 4 credit classes, an Italian course, an Independent Study Project, an internship and field trips every once in a while. Last week our field trip was to the University of Florence where we got to sit in on an Economics class. I enjoyed this because I could experience what an Italian college class is like; turns out that it is very similar to my classes at St. Scholastica. The classroom was equipped with a projector, used for a PowerPoint to go along with the lecture. I noted some differences with the classroom in itself. The chairs are connected behind the table, condensing them so that more rows can fit into the room. This means that in order to get into middle seats, the students on the outside all have to move to let people in and out. You want to make sure you use the restroom before this class so you don’t have to make half of the row stand up for you! There are coat hangers on the wall so that you don’t have to try to keep your coat at your feet.

Another difference within the classroom at Florence is the large doors leading outside. There doors are emergency exits but they are used by students during the break, which is about 20 minutes long. Students and professors take advantage of this break to either go to the cafe for an espresso or take a smoke break. The picture features students from multiple classes smoking outside of the classrooms during the break. The class in itself is very similar to other classes that I have taken. The professor gave a lecture while students took notes on the PowerPoint. One thing that I noticed is that many of the students spent the first 15 minutes of the lecture on their phones. I chuckled at the familiarity of seeing the girl in front of me scroll through her Instagram.


I take my classes in a room at the residence that I am staying at; two different professors come here to teach us. One thing that I noticed right away that I was not used to is the flexibility with class time. Class starts at 9:30 but it usually doesn’t actually start until 9:40 or so, as students make their way in. The professors tend to run past the end of class as well, it is not uncommon for class to get out 10-15 minutes past the end of the hour so that they can finish their lesson. After this, we have a large lunch break. It is usually around two and a half hours. This is the universal lunchtime throughout the city, nearly all of the shops and stores will be closed. The people of the town all return home to spend time preparing and eating lunch while leaving time for naps or anything that they need to do before headed back to work.

About our special correspondent Sara Desrocher: I am a junior at St. Scholastica majoring in Computer Science with a concentration of Software Engineering. I am staying in a small town about 25 minutes outside of Florence, Italy with a HECUA program. My current studies are focused on Agriculture and Sustainability, which is very interesting to learn about in Europe. I chose this program because Italy has always been a place that I wanted to visit, mainly due to the fact that my great-grandfather came here from southern Italy. This is my first time in Europe and it has been quite the experience so far. I am excited for even more experiences as I gain a better understanding of the community!

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu


Filed under Professor Hong-Ming Liang

16 responses to “A Semester in Italy – Florence University – by Sara Desrocher. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Sofia Pineda

    I really appreciate the fact that lunch breaks are longer. I think that in the United States, just like in other nations around the world, people rarely enjoy they lunch break because they are either too short or people are too busy that they simply eat at their desk. Having longer lunch breaks allows people to eat healthier because they can head home and eat a home-cooked meal and they also have time to socialize with family and even rest for a couple minutes before going back to work. This nap may make a big difference for getting things done in a more timely and productive way.

  2. Michaela Campbell

    I always enjoy being able to hear about how education varies in other countries. I remembering learning in a class in high school about how many countries such as Spain and Italy have these extended lunch breaks. It is great to hear from someone firsthand that this is still practiced! It is always interesting to compare and contrast the cultural norms in differing countries, and it would be interesting to see the reactions of people in the US if we tried to temporarily enact a similar extended lunch here in the states. I also enjoyed hearing about your experience in a college class in Italy. It is different to imagine students casually walking in late, and the professor finishing class late compared to how strict we appear to be in the US regarding class time.

  3. McKenna Holman

    Its interesting that you say classes are relatively similar to your classes her at CSS. I wonder how similar college classes are across the globe? It is also interesting to hear about lunch time. Everything is so fast passed in the U.S. I think having that time to unwind is important. Usually people take their lunch break to run errands and such, but considering many shops closing they cannot. I wonder what would happen if that were to happen in the U.S.? I think people would probably just be besides themselves!

  4. Thomas Landgren

    Sara thank you for sharing yet another addition to your study abroad experience. I find it fascinating that professors are very flexible with class and that class is done when the lesson is done. It is interesting to see that there are some similarities with your classes at Scholastica. I could really appreciate a two and a half hour long lunch some days. What does a lunch in Italy usually look like? Are people usually just eating or do people tend to multitask and work on their homework? Also the idea of adding naps to a typical day seems to be the healthier option. I feel like most college kids in the US are always tired. Great Article!

  5. Abigail DeLisle

    Thank you for sharing, Sara! I have noticed the flexibility that other cultures have with time. I would not have expected it to be so prominent in European higher education but I find that interesting. Have you noticed this type of behavior while in the US among international students or other cultures? I am glad that you find many similarities within the college despite the differences. I hope that you can take note of the unique and desirable aspects from the Italian culture and bring them home with you at the end of the semester!

  6. After reading your article it made me realize that I should have taken the opportunity and studied abroad. Now that I am a senior I kind of wish I would have traveled and studied in another country maybe for a semester or even for j-term. I thought it was interesting that the professor gives the students a 20 minute break during class to smoke or get a coffee because here in the states a professor either gives a class no breaks or literally 5 minutes. I think the flexibility with time is another aspect that is very different from American culture because Americans are taught that being on time is respectful and the right thing to do. But in Florence it is normal for people to not run exactly on time because it’s more flexible and apart of their culture. I think it is nice that the professors have the students stay 10-20 minutes after the class was suppose to end because it gives the professor and students time to wrap up the lesson and discussion without having to finish it the next class meeting. Lastly I think it would be cool if here in the states there was a 2 ½ hour lunch break because it would give people time to eat and spend time with their families, plus you could take a quick nap. I think it’s effective that the shops close down to do this it nice that the well being of the citizens is being put into consideration. Overall your article was wonderful to read and I hope you enjoy the rest of your semester studying in Italy.

  7. Ian Havlick

    It’s nice to hear a different perspective of the college experience. I love Italy. I spent two weeks in Sicily while I was in the Navy and the wine, food, architecture, and culture are wonderful. While we were there some college students asked to get a picture of us who were doing a study on fashion.

  8. Mary Tran

    It’s interesting to hear about how the classes in Italy is quite similar to the classes here at CSS. I thought it was fascinating to hear about the differences you spotted in the classroom, especially how the chairs are connected to the tables so more rows can fit in them. What is the average class size that you’ve noticed in some of your classes? I also found it interesting to learning about universal lunch time in Italy and how nearly all the shops are closed. I think it’d be nice to have that long of a lunch break to relax with family, have enough time to eat, and take a nap before heading back to work. Do you think the United States should have something like this? Great article, Sara!

  9. Cassie Mahlberg

    I found it interesting that you were able to find similarities between the University in Florence and our college here in Duluth. I am always excited to see what ways places far away are similar to our homeland. Even more than this, I appreciate the subtle differences that one may not even realize while they explore the new country, such as the commonality of the students smoking on their break compared to our home campus which is tobacco free. Also, time across the world is so different than our own construct of time here; it sounds like they value their time even more than we do here. So often we are busy and rushing to do everything at once that we don’t give ourselves a lunch break at all, and it definitely isn’t 2 hours long if we do. It is incredible that even though we know our work style, lack of eating time (fast eating), and lack of sleep are making us sick, we continue to live this way when there are examples all over the world like this one, where just taking the extra time can indeed improve productivity and happiness.

  10. Amanda Sullivan

    It is interesting that you could find so many similarities and differences during your study abroad program. The universal two and a half hour lunch break is surprising to me, but makes so much sense. Family is so important to those in Italy, and this time that allows them to spend it will their family helps better understand why family is so important. Also, the twenty minute break during a lecture is different than many of the classes here at St. Scholastica. I know in my experience here I have never had more than a 10 minute break, and that was in a three hour long class.

  11. Sarah Plankers

    I relate to your experience a lot! I studied abroad in South America and was sometimes shocked at how similar classes and students seemed in comparison to life on campus at CSS. Also, I like that the lunch breaks there are longer so that everyone can go home, eat a great meal, spend time with family, relax, etc. It’s similar to Latino culture as well, so I’m used to having a long lunch break and I really miss that aspect of life here in the states. HECUA is an incredible program and I found that the way they combine real life experiences with things they teach you in the classroom is what makes the study abroad experience so memorable.

  12. Kendra Trudeau

    It is truly eye opening that while in other cultures a lot of things are done the same as they are in America, but yet a lot of things are still different. The one thing that was the same was the way that we learn, which is not all that surprising. Learning is a very similar experience across all cultures. What really amazed me is that everyone in the city takes two and a half hours out of their day to go home, eat lunch or take a nap. That would simply never happen in America, because our culture is one that is very fast paced. I just wonder what America would be like if we were able to slow down for 2 hours a day also.

  13. Sara,

    How lucky you were to study in such a beautiful country! I became close friends with an Italian foreign exchange student in high school, and it has been on the top of my long list of places to go ever since.

    The laid back nature of the class you sat in on is very interesting. Even my most relaxed professors have never started 10 full minutes late! It’s fascinating to me that even time can be interpreted differently across different cultures. It seems the U.S. is known more so for being obsessed with time and very fast paced, while many other places tend to tone it down a bit. Did you have other time-related experiences similar to this one?

    Thanks for sharing!


  14. Shelby Olson

    Thank you for sharing about your experience studying at a University in Italy. I find it very interesting to learn about other countries education systems because it can show a lot about their culture. When I studied abroad in Ecuador, a similar thing happened to me where we would almost always start our classes late. I thought of this as something more connected to the aspect of Ecuadorian culture known as Ecuadorian time, where everything would almost always be later than planned by about a half hour to an hour. Did you notice if your classes starting late was connected to an aspect similar to this in Italian culture? Or did you only experience this in University?
    Thanks for sharing

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