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EDUCATION

Suicide bid sparks fresh calls for Italy cyberbullying law

Fresh calls have been made for Italy to rush though legislation to combat cyberbullying following the attempted suicide of a 12-year-old girl who was insulted and abused by her peers online

Suicide bid sparks fresh calls for Italy cyberbullying law
Italy has been asked to speed up legislation to combat cyberbullying. Photo: SummerSkyes11/Flickr

The girl leaped from the window of her home on Sunday, leaving a note addressed to the classmates who had allegedly hounded her online.

It was far from an isolated incident – cyberbullying is a rampant, silent epidemic in Italy, and one which mostly affects young people.

But despite its widespread nature, cyberbullying – and bullying in general – is not considered a crime in Italy. As such, bullying is only reported to the police in cases where the abusive behaviour takes a criminal form such as stalking or physical abuse – by which time it is often too late.

In May last year, Italy's Senate unanimously approved a draft bill to criminalize forms of cyberbullying and take measures to stamp it out in schools.

But the slow pace of legislation means that the final hearing of the bill in the House of Representatives is not planned until March, at the earliest.

“There is no more time to waste,” Paola Ferrari, spokesperson for the National Observatory on Bullying, told Today.it. “The bill needs to be approved as soon as possible.”

Donatella Ferranti, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, promised the new laws would be brought in, but gave no hint as to when they would arrive.

“We hope to get to work on a final version of the bill as soon as possible,” she told Today. “It's a phenomenon which is sadly on the rise and involves victims and aggressors who are often younger than 14.”

According to the most recent figures by the national statistics agency, Istat, 5.9 percent of all youngsters are subject to some form of cyberbullying. Typical behaviours include threatening or offensive messages and social media posts, but more sinister acts like online stalking and digital identity theft are not uncommon.

Pietro Grasso, the president of the Senate, suggested new legislation should enable schools to do more to counteract the phenomenon.

“Above all else, in our schools we need to create a safety net for our most vulnerable children. We need to educate them on how much damage you can do with words and actions that might seem harmless.” 

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STUDYING IN ITALY

REVEALED: What studying in Italy is really like and what you should expect

If you're planning to study in Italy, there's a lot to consider. We asked international students about their experiences of everything from finding accommodation to navigating unusual exam methods.

REVEALED: What studying in Italy is really like and what you should expect

What student hasn’t at least once thought about moving to a foreign country and enjoying life away from home in a new environment? For many, the object of such daydreaming is Italy.

The bel paese is known for the quality of its higher education system and its relatively low tuition fees, which range from a minimum of €900 to a maximum of €4,000 per year at public universities. 

Ranked: Italy’s best universities and how they compare worldwide

Factor in Italy’s culinary culture, picturesque landscapes and warm weather and it’s easy to see why nearly 90,000 foreign nationals move to Italy for educational reasons every year. 

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. A number of hurdles can turn studying in Italy into a far-from-idyllic experience: snail-paced bureaucracy, accommodation-related trials and tribulations, and locals’ often poor command of English are just some of the problems international students told us they’ve faced.

So, what exactly do prospective students need to know about living and studying in Italy and, above all, how can they prepare for the challenges that lie ahead? The Local asked current and former international students about their experiences to find out.

What to expect from your course

First things first, you should be aware of Italian universities’ teaching and assessment methods. If you’ve never studied in the country before, the chances of you being familiar with the country’s education system are close to zero. That’s because Italian universities have unique teaching methods, replicated hardly anywhere else in the world. 

Most of the teaching is delivered through frontal lecture-style instruction, with hardly any room for seminars or other forms of in-class interaction. Secondly, exams are for the most part conducted orally, with students asked a number of questions (usually around five) about the relevant subject.

Adjusting to this system isn’t always a walk in the park. In fact, some students say they never fully got to grips with it.

“I did my triennale [undergraduate course] at Cà Foscari [University of Venice] and I didn’t like it at all,” says Evelina Gorbacova, a Latvian national who is now doing an MA in Digital and Public Humanities at the same university.

“The system was such that you had to learn everything by heart,” she explains. “You would just go to class, write down some things and then repeat those things at the exam. That was very frustrating.”

Thankfully, Gorbacova says the postgraduate course she is currently on is significantly more practical than her triennale was, and allows for a greater level of interaction between students. 

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, students are advised to pore over the teaching structure of their chosen course before formally accepting a university offer. Usually, such information is readily available online. Should that not be the case, reach out to the university directly and ask for a detailed course handbook.

A student walks outside Milan’s Bicocca University. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Once you have officially accepted your university offer, how should you then prepare for your upcoming encounter with Italian academia?

One thing students recommend is to start practicing your oral presentation skills early on, ideally prior to moving to Italy, and, if possible, in front of a friend or a family member.

“There’s a certain technique that you need to apply to do well in Italian exams,” says Ibrahim Issa, a British medicine student at the University of Pavia. 

“You need to have this skill whereby you can just keep on talking about a subject at will or move the conversation into an area where you’re more comfortable and confident. That’s something that people looking to study in Italy should try to get used to before moving.”

While that might be easier said than done, even a small amount of practice will save you from problems down the line – whether or not you have a natural fear of public speaking.

What paperwork will you need?

For non-EU students, this is the very first stumbling block you’ll come across.

Unlike students from within the European Union, who enjoy freedom of movement across the entire bloc, non-EU students are required to obtain a student visa (also known as type-D visa) prior to entering the country.

The application for said visa, which you will have to submit to the Italian consulate in your own home country, generally entails producing a number of official documents including proof of pre-enrollment in an Italian university course, proof of sufficient financial means, and valid medical insurance.

READ ALSO: Five things to know before you apply for an Italian student visa

Owing to the rather lethargic pace of Italian bureaucracy, the biggest piece of advice students give is to apply long before the start of the academic year. 

“Bureaucracy is a bit of a nightmare,” says Issa. “Any type of paperwork or governmental process takes so long.”

“When you’re pressed for time, as an international student, it can be a really big headache.”

In concrete terms, converting the necessary documents from your native language to Italian might be the most irksome procedure you’ll face. 

“In my experience, the most difficult thing was getting my documents translated and apostilled,” Issa explains.

“That really takes ages and, if you’re trying to do everything within a specific timeframe, which I was at the time, it can be really difficult. Luckily, my dad helped me out a lot. I wouldn’t have made it without him.” 

So, in short, give yourself plenty of time and, if necessary, seek the assistance of family and friends to steer clear of trouble.

A type-D visa isn’t the only certificate you’ll need if you want to live in Italy, however. 

After entering Italy, non-EU nationals have eight days to apply for a valid residence permit, or permesso di soggiorno. The application, which usually costs around €100, must be submitted at a local post office. 

A statue of the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, outside Rome’s Sapienza University. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Students are required to submit a number of documents including a copy of their passport, visa, proof of medical insurance and university enrollment letter. 

This stage is followed by an interview and fingerprint registration at the local Questura (police precinct). Finally, after a three- to six-month ‘processing period’ (yes, we know…), students should receive their permesso, giving them full access to public healthcare, social security and education. 

While the previous piece of advice applies here too – always prep the required paperwork in advance – familiarising yourself with the Italian language, or, at the very least, Italian legalese, is the smartest course of action here. ​​

Italy’s English proficiency is second to last in the European Union, which means that many public officials are not as fluent in the language as might be hoped.

READ ALSO: Why Italians have a hard time learning English – and how things could improve

“Learning Italian will save you so much time and effort when you’re dealing with bureaucracy,” Issa says. “Going to public offices like the post office or the comune without knowing a little bit of Italian can be really, really difficult for newcomers.”

If, for whatever reason, you’re not able to acquaint yourself with the relevant Italian jargon prior to your permesso-seeking quest, you might want to ask someone you know to help you. 

“During my first year, I often had people from my collegio [hall of residence] come with me to the comune or other public offices,” says Issa. “That helped me out quite a lot, even in terms of confidence.”

If necessary, you could also ask your university’s international admissions office for guidance.

What about accommodation?

This is usually challenge numero due for non-EU nationals – and the first one for European citizens. 

According to Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index, Italy sits in the middle of the European pack with respect to rental costs. On average, renting a flat in Italy is cheaper than in the UK, Germany and France, but more expensive than in Greece, Croatia and Poland.

Monthly rent can range from €300 to €600 a month depending on the flat’s location, considering distance from the city centre and the university campus. On average, the monthly rent for a three-bedroom flat close to the city centre is around €1400, whereas renting the same type of flat in the city outskirts would set the tenants back around €900.

When it comes to finding a rental the safest available option for foreign students, and especially for first-year students, is to go for university accommodation

Mauricio Benitez, a Honduras national who recently graduated from Milan’s Bocconi University with a Master of Science in International Management, lived in a hall of residence throughout the first year of his course.

He says: “It was a great deal. Rent was 650 per month but everything – and I mean everything – was included, even cleaning services twice a week.” 

“On top of that, dealing with the university directly was much more convenient and secure than dealing with letting agencies.”

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

If university accommodation ends up being your choice, the best way to go about renting is through the university’s own channels. Keep in mind that the online registration process usually opens in late spring/early summer.

If you would rather go solo and rent a room privately (or just haven’t been able to book a place in a student hall of residence), there are a number of alternatives you can explore. University bulletin boards, student groups on social media, and student-housing websites like Uniaffitti, Affitti Studenti e Studentsville are all viable options.

However, keep in mind that dealing with Italian letting agencies and private landlords can be incredibly frustrating.

Gorbacova was accepted into Cà Foscari in the summer of 2017, but says relocating to Venice in time for the start of the academic year was no easy feat for her. 

“Finding a flat was hard. I had no knowledge of Italian at that point and a lot of people didn’t even bother to reply to my emails,” she says. 

“Sometimes, they wouldn’t even reply to my calls because they just saw a foreign number on their phone screen. I really don’t want to generalise but I think that most landlords actually prefer Italian students over foreign ones.” 

Besides having a rather ambiguous disposition towards foreign students, most Italian agencies and landlords also often require an Italian-born guarantor, making renting an arduous task for international students.

“I think that, whichever way you look at it, renting is just much, much easier for Italian students,” says Gorbacova. “When they [Italian students] are asked for a guarantor, they can just provide the details of one of their parents, whereas when we’re asked for one, our parents can’t really help much unfortunately.”

Social life and the language barrier

Before you plunge into Italian culture, you’ll need some basic knowledge of the language.

As previously mentioned, Italy is one of the worst-scoring European countries when it comes to English proficiency. In fact, it is one of just two countries (the other one is Spain) where English-language skills are classed as “moderate” rather than “high”. This means that most Italians, and especially those over 40, are not exactly fluent in English. 

While at university you will hardly need to speak any Italian – academic staff and local students generally have a good command of English – you will need to have at least some knowledge of the language to fully enjoy all the perks of Italian life.

Jeremias Finster, a 25-year-old from Nuremberg, Germany, recently graduated from Milan’s prestigious Bocconi University with a Master of Science in International Management

“Language matters,” says Jeremias Finster, a recent Bocconi graduate originally from Nuremberg, Germany. “It’s not just about becoming friends with local students. If you’re going to the supermarket or to a restaurant, or if you’re just interacting with the neighbours, being able to speak the local language improves your experience so much. It really allows you to have a different type of connection with the surrounding environment.” 

Your university will surely offer language classes, but all of the students we spoke to strongly recommend laying some groundwork before moving. This can easily be done with free online courses or language-learning mobile apps.

READ ALSO:

Once you’re in Italy, strive to be around local students as much as you can. Although it might feel quite natural for you to hang out with fellow foreign students, try to socialise with Italian nationals as doing so will greatly help you practice and improve your language skills.

“During my time in the country, I really tried to get out of my comfort zone and make friends with Italian students,” says Finster. 

“On lunch breaks, I would often join the ‘Italian group’ in the canteen. That was a great opportunity for me to not only get to know the local people but also practice my speaking.” 

If you’re not the type to bond with others over a risotto, bear in mind that there are also many university societies and activities that you can join in order to get yourself involved with local student life. Buona fortuna.

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