ABOUT ERASMUS, or, why i haven’t graduated yet

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If you know me in real life, you’re probably aware that I spent the last year or so in Italy. If you know me in real life but we don’t talk ever, you might be wondering why I didn’t graduate university last year, with everyone else my age.Firstly, I went to two colleges; I did a BTec and then decided that I also wanted A-levels, so that was two years I happily delayed for the sake of getting onto an academic course (History of Art), but even then I should be graduating this year. I’m actually doing my second year of university again.

Because, let me tell you a thing, I did a year-long Erasmus placement at the University of Florence, and, much as I love the city, I did achieve very much, academically speaking.

The Italian University system is far different from that in the UK; lecture halls are packed and noisy, exams are oral, and the relationship between lecturer and student is much less like that of colleages, but like a secondary school teacher and teenager. I found this behaviour totally unprofessional, and it made me less keen to seek help when needed, as it was almost impossible for certain staff members to hide their distain for students. God forbid they should be required to do what they’re paid for…

The teaching style is different, too. There is heavy emphasis placed on memorising facts and dates, with very little room for personal interpretation or analysis. I’d go as far to agree that a lot of British students do have massive gaps in their general knowledge, but to go through a three year degree without developing critical skills just seems a waste of time to me. Students are allowed to resit exams as often as they want until they pass, provided that this is within twelve months of the original teaching, and many will fail several times. This is partly to do with the oral exam system, where the lecturer will simply call an end to the exam if a student struggles to answer the questions (in a written exam, you would just be able to return to the question later), and the fact that so many resits are permitted suggests that the university doesn’t even expect many Italian students to pass on the first go. Coming from a system where a resit is very rare, and only under extremely special circumstances, this is completely alien to me, as one would expect the teaching to be sufficient to equip the student to pass on the first try.

There’s also a lot of waiting around because of this oral system. An indefinite number of students can take a written exam at once, whereas obviously only one student can be questioned at a time. This meant that the exam I had signed up for on a Monday, I ended up sitting on Wednesday afternoon. Obviously at this point, the lecturer was sick of examining students, and decided to take it out on me by being what I can only describe as the rudest little twat I’ve ever encountered in my life. If it weren’t for that fact that I needed to stay sweet and negotiate a passing grade from him, he’d have had a verbal slap in the face after his first snarky comment.

I think the main problem was that my university had too much confidence in us, and expected us to attain a whole year’s worth of credits, just as we would in the UK. This is quite unusual for an Erasmus placement, as most sending institutions only require a certain amount of credits, then an assignment set from home to make up for the rest. This would have been better as it would have massively reduced the pressure I was under, and being pushed to do more self-directeed research would have made up for what I wasn’t getting in class.

When people ask me about it, I always tell them that they’re better off finishing their degree, and doing a gap year once they’ve graduated, completely circumventing the crappy university system. I’m glad I went to Florence, and have plans to move back ASAP, I only wish that I’d come out of it without having to appeal to my home university to continue my degree!

Has anyone else been on an Erasmus placement? How was it? Google, and the people I’ve spoken to tell me that they’ve had very similar experiences.

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