'Studying in Italy can be remarkably cheap'

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Sophie Inge - [email protected]
'Studying in Italy can be remarkably cheap'
Photos: Elizabeth Hofmaier

Attracted by the idea of studying abroad, 21-year-old Elizabeth Hofmaier moved to Rome two years ago from Boston to enroll at the John Cabot University. She tells The Local why Rome is one of the best – and cheapest – places to study.


Why did you decide to study in Rome?

When I was a child, my parents used to host a lot of exchange students - and later, while I was in high school, I won a scholarship for a trip to Rome. At the end of high school, we had a college fair and the representatives from John Cabot University seemed very interested in me because I’d already been to Rome. It just seemed like the perfect fit. The application took just half an hour to fill in, and I managed to get a good scholarship.Within five days, my application was accepted.

What about the dreaded visa process?

Getting a visa and applying for financial aid was the biggest pain in the world - it took me about a week to get through the paperwork. There are only a few consulates in the US and, luckily, it was only a 45-minute drive to the one nearest me. But in other states, people often have to drive for up to eight hours to get to one. In some cases, universities sort out all the paperwork for you.

Is it expensive studying in Italy?

A friend of mine goes to a state-run university here and she pays about $7,000 a year, whereas I have to pay about $20,000 a year. But in the United States, you’d be looking at paying around $50,000 - so for me, it actually seemed remarkably cheap.

There are also scholarships available - for example, because of family circumstances or if you’re an exceptional student. I got one because I’m one of six children and five of us are in university. Of course, a scholarship can also depend on how much your parents earn.

What are you studying?

I’m majoring in mass communications, and doing a minor in art history – a perfect subject to study in Rome. I also study Italian on the side.

You’re expected to work hard here but the workload is manageable.

Is it mandatory to study Italian?

It depends on the university. Some universities don’t insist on it and others prefer you to have a year of Italian before you come here. Full-time students - like me - are required to do language courses while they’re here. You don’t necessarily have to study Italian, though – we also have the option to take other languages such as Spanish and Latin.

But in my opinion, it’s more practical to take at least two semesters of Italian so that you can get the basics and don’t look like a buffoon! Making Italian friends or even dating an Italian definitely helps you to become more fluent. Refusing to learn the language is just plain rude, I think.

Do you have any tips about student life in Rome?

A lot of students come here and treat Rome as a place to leave their bags while they check out the rest of Europe. I know that they may be here only for a few months and therefore want to explore other European countries, but it’s such a shame because they never see the real Rome.

All they see is a couple of old Roman sites and the American bars that they can only get to using their iPhones. So I’d definitely advise against going away every weekend.

My second tip would be to expect to spend a lot of money on food - so make sure you set aside enough money. I used to babysit for four hours a week and then use my earnings to buy groceries. Babysitting was also a great way to improve my Italian - and it looks good on your CV.

You should also expect to live somewhere modest and usually very small. Where I live, we don’t even have an oven or a dryer.

Is there anything you’d suggest bringing in your suitcase?

If you’re coming from the US, you should definitely bring zip-lock bags, peanut butter and toiletries from American brands because you won’t find them here.

What’s your favourite student hangout?

Around Piazza Navona in the historic centre, there are lots of good restaurants and bars. They tend to attract more Italians than tourists - but if you’re struggling with the menu, then the waiter will almost always speak English. My favourite wine bar and restaurant is Mimi & Coco - on Via del Governo Vecchio - where they serve authentic pasta and pizza.

Do you think you’ll ever return to Rome, after you graduate?

Definitely. One day I’d love to come back with my future spouse and children. There’s never going to be a last time.


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