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Law Plus Student's Experience of Erasmus

26.01.2016
Law Plus Student's Experience of Erasmus

“Erasmus is truly is a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience for university students which should not be missed”

Cormac McGuiness, Year 4 Law Plus Mature student, provides a very useful guide for students thinking of going on Erasmus to Bologna.

"I was anxious to learn Italian while in Bologna so decided to take a course. By taking the language course, I met another nine (9) international students from Portugal, France, Sweden, Holland and China. As I learnt basic Italian, albeit with a foreign accent and mispronunciation, I found it easier to start speaking with Italians socially, in bars, cafes and restaurants. The local Italians were wonderful once you made the effort to speak and communicate.

There is a university administered accommodation office at the Porta san Donato end of Via Zamboni (the main faculty-of-law street in Bologna). The SAIS accommodation office should be contacted as soon as any student decides on Erasmus in Bologna as it operates on a “first come first served” basis. The staff are friendly and helpful. I had travelled to Bologna for a week in July 2014 with accommodation in mind. I found a two-bedroom apartment with a spacious entrance hall, large sitting room, kitchen cum dining room, shower / toilet, and two bedrooms. The rent was €700.00 per month. However, this could have been shared between 3 students. Utility bills were extra, gas being the most expensive commodity. The location was a 5 minute stroll from the old city walls. All lectures for the second semester were based in Via Belmeloro which was 7 minutes on foot from the apartment. The area was known as San Donato, which is a large urban area. However, I was close to the old city near Porta san Donato. The streets were tree-lined with a bank, doctor’s surgery, supermarket, bar and local restaurants within minutes on foot. The area was beautifully maintained with public rubbish bins on the corner. I never, at any time, felt unsafe and never witnessed a single scuffle.

Getting to and from Bologna is easy for UL students. Ryanair fly from Shannon to Beauvais (Paris) with an onward connecting flight to Bologna. There is a stop-over in Beauvais which varies in length every second day. The average cost of a Shannon / Bologna return flight is €86.00 including taxes and charges, suitcases being extra. On arrival in Bologna there is a direct bus service from the airport to Stazione Centrale in the city centre for €6.00 one way.

On my arrival in Bologna, I had to register in Via Filippo Rei, which was easy once I found it! A passport photograph was required for registration. (I would recommend that any Erasmus student bring three passport photographs). A University of Bologna student card was then processed from the application, which provides all students with a “Matricola No.” and must be presented as proof of I.D. for all exams. It is also required for entrance to the computer lab building, which is very large, and is located on the corner of Via Zamboni and Piazza Verdi. Approximately a week later, there was an orientation session, which was basically an explanation of how the university operated. It was not a geographical tour of the university. There are many orientation sessions to suit the different arrival dates of the international students. The orientation session was conducted through English, as English is considered the international language for all International students. Lectures for the chosen modules were conducted through English, and all the Professors were proficient in the language. Our orientation sessions were attended by a Miss Gaia Fanelli who ran the international student academic office. She was outstanding at her job, truly excellent, and way ahead of any computer system. I would strongly recommend that any Irish student attending Bologna should meet with Gaia personally, develop a relationship with her, and consult with her on any academic difficulties or problems, relating to all aspects of university life from proper registration to all matters academic.

Given the fact that I was a mature student, it was somewhat more difficult to mix with both the local and international students. However, both the resident Italian students and the international students from non-English speaking countries were anxious to speak and communicate through English and this helped me personally. They wanted to improve their English by speaking with a native English speaker. My attendance at the language course also provided the opportunity to meet other international Erasmus students and we got on very well as there were only nine (9) of us on the course.

Because of my age, I did not join the Erasmus clubs and societies, and I believe that I lost out on another opportunity to meet international students.

Before going to Bologna, I had a few meetings with my Erasmus professor in UL, Dr. Andrea Ryan. Dr. Ryan advised on the courses / modules which would be beneficial to my ongoing studies. I found all the selected modules very interesting and enjoyable. For any student interested in business, economics or industry, I would strongly recommend Competition & International Trade Law. It was interesting, stimulating and enjoyable. I was not able to sit EU Law, as it is obligatory to take the same module in UL. However, I attended the lectures in Bologna and the professor was delighted with my voluntary attendance. Lectures were small groups of 22 to 26 students on average. The Italian lecturing system / method is more like a UL tutorial. Every student is expected to do the recommended readings in advance. After 2 or 3 lectures, one quickly learns that course material is expected to be known and active discussion and participation is virtually demanded. In 99% of cases, no answer or opinion was dismissed. The views of other students were both informative and educational.

There is one (1) very significant difference between Bologna and UL, namely IT. Very few lecture notes are available on line. In Bologna, the student is expected to route and dig out the information from the university web site. Reading material must be sourced by the individual student. It is easier to buy books than try to find them in the library. All Erasmus students are given a free print allocation of approximately 600 pages. Thereafter, all printing must be paid for. Surprisingly, most students are not aware of the free print allocation.
There are approximately 86,000 students attending the University of Bologna in any one year. This is a staggering number. Consequently, the different faculties do not overlap. The modern buildings in Via Belmeloro have become the main block for law students, together with the buildings in Via Zamboni, which is also the law administrative area. It can be confusing for the first couple of weeks. Registration and de-registration, which is required in order to obtain a copy of one’s transcript, takes place in Via Filippo Rei.

The city centre of Bologna within the old walls, and the university buildings, are best accessed on foot. One can walk across the old city, from one side to the other, in 30 to 40 minutes. There is an extensive bus network covering both the old and new city urban areas. A 24 hour monthly bus pass covering every area costs €36.00 and must be purchased on the first day of each month (an Italian peculiarity). Individual bus tickets can be purchased in any “Tabacchi” (cigarette) shop and cost €1.40. Piazza Verdi on Via Zamboni is an extremely busy night time venue, with most students sitting out in the square drinking outside the bars. There are numerous night clubs. City centre bars stay open late. However, with the exception of themed bars, they are not as we know them in Ireland. Most Italians will eat out in the evenings, particularly at the weekends. There is a huge number of restaurants in Bologna, which is currently the “gourmet capital” of Europe.

Before concluding, exams must be mentioned. The most striking difference between exams in UL and Bologna is that most exams in Italy are oral. Exam registration takes place on line and is on a “first come first served” basis. To obtain an early exam place, it is advised to log on after midnight when the list opens. Each exam is allocated three (3) separate dates, and each exam can be taken three (3) times. The exam is graded out of 30. A student may reject the mark awarded at the end of the exam and request a re-sit at a later date (if the final date has not been booked). The exam is oral and lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. In fairness, most professors ask an easy opening question to test the student’s basic understanding. This will be followed by more varied and detailed questions. However, the student may lead the topic or subject by introducing a different element or additional reading. The student’s ID card must be placed on the table, and if the result is acceptable (out of 30), the professor will enter the module code, module name, mark awarded and his / her signature with the date on the student’s exam score card. The student cannot enter any detail what so ever on the card. On completion of all exams, the student must check out by presenting the original completed exam card to the Admissions Office (Via Filippo Rei). It is only then that a verified transcript of results will be forwarded to UL.

My advice is:
Read the information pack carefully
Register correctly on line
Take two (2) weeks to familiarise with the chosen Erasmus university and city
Take advice from your Erasmus professor on modules in advance
Learn the local language to integrate better into the life and social scene
Enjoy the experience, academically and socially
Join as many societies as possible to broaden your friends, and travel experience".