‘Studying in Italy can be remarkably cheap’

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.

'Studying in Italy can be remarkably cheap'
Photos: Elizabeth Hofmaier

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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Body of missing American tourist found in Rome’s River Tiber

The body of a missing 21-year-old tourist was found in the River Tiber on Thursday morning, according to media reports.

Body of missing American tourist found in Rome's River Tiber

Elijah Oliphant, from Dallas, Texas, was on holiday with his family in Rome when he went missing several days ago.

Oliphant’s parents reported his disappearance after he left his hotel room shortly after midnight on May 24th and did not return.

Hotel security footage showed him leaving the premises wearing a white undershirt and pyjama bottoms, which he was wearing when he was found.

Oliphant’s corpse was reportedly spotted by passersby near the Ponte Sisto bridge in Rome’s Trastevere district around 10am on Thursday morning. His body was positively identified by his parents.

Members of the fire brigade and river police who recovered the body say there were no obvious signs of violence, but an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death. Trastevere police are reportedly investigating the matter.

The Oliphant family had arrived in Rome for a holiday on May 23rd. When Elijah went missing the following day, his parents launched an urgent appeal to help find their son.

His disappearance was featured on the missing persons television show, Chi l’ha visto (‘Who’s seen them?’) on May 25th.

Several foreigners have been found drowned in the Tiber in recent years, though there are no indication that any of the incidents are linked.

In 2016, the body of 19-year-old American student Beau Solomon was recovered from the river.

Rough sleeper Massimo Galioto was charged involuntary manslaughter in the case, but was ultimately acquitted in 2020.

Prosecutors said that Galioto pushed Solomon in the course of a violent argument. Galioto’s defense team acknowledged that the two had argued but said the student had accidentally slipped.

In May 2019, 37-year-old Imen Chatbouri, a former athletics champion from Tunisia, was found dead in the Tiber after a night out. CCTV footage later showed she had been pushed from the Ponte Sisto bridge.

A then-26-year-old man whose advances she had rejected earlier that evening was convicted of her murder in November 2021.