The basics: Q&A about studying languages at university
1. What's it like to study a language (Italian) at university?
It's really fun - you study the literature, film, history, language and culture, you get the year abroad which is AMAZING and you discover your Italian side! It's usually a 4-year course, and if you're at uni in Scotland (like I was!) then all your Humanities friends are doing 4-year courses too so you all do final year together :) If not, then you can learn from your friends' mistakes and get their tried-and-tested advice before you get your foot on the career ladder the following year - hopefully with some good hands-on year abroad work experience on your CV to give you a leg up.
2. Would you recommend that I do a Joint Honours?
Yes, definitely. I believe in making your education as broad as possible - that way you will be much more employable as you will have more varied skills and experiences.
3. If so, should I do another language or a Humanity with Italian?
Up to you, but I'd recommend a humanity over another language. Studying two languages means you have to split your year abroad, and linguistic confusion can happen - though many trilingual students think that each new language compliments the next, and makes it easier to learn more. Courses like European History, History of Art, European Studies, and Politics will compliment your language, and that way you can eventually combine both for your two dissertations to make your life easier!
4. I'm very confused about the year abroad - how long does it last and do we get to go home (Easter, Christmas, half term equivalents)?
If you're doing the whole year abroad, it lasts from the moment your second year exams end to the moment your final year begins. Possibly up to 18 months! You have to make the most of this time in every way possible! If you are teaching or studying abroad, you will have normal school/uni holidays, if you are working you will have a certain number of days of holiday which you can take when you like. Find out what your options are, both during the two semesters and in your holidays.
5. What do we do on the year abroad exactly and do we receive financial support?
You can find a full-time job, study at university along with local students, or teach as an English Language Assistant in a school (12-18 hours per week). You can study abroad anywhere in the world (your Uni will help you find a placement) but if you're in Europe (on the 'Erasmus' programme) you will get about €275 to €375 per month grant (2013-14 figures) from the British Council. If you work (only available as an option in Europe - your uni will help you find an Erasmus work placement or you can find one yourself) you will get the grant plus a salary (whatever you negotiate), and if you teach you will just receive a salary - in France, for example, it's around €964.88 per month gross, approx €800 net (17% social security deduction). Depending on the hours worked/studied, many students find time to hold down a part-time job, like waitressing, au pairing, social media, English-teaching or bar work, on their year abroad. Whether or not you need the extra money, it can be an excellent way to make new local friends and put some valuable foreign work experience on your CV. Employers like to see that you're making the most of your spare time - working to save up for an adventure, to live in a nicer part of town or to learn new skills is a great topic of conversation for interviews.
6. In the year abroad, do we have to pay extra onto of the £9,000 or is it a specific sum?
If you do a year abroad, you generally do a 4-year degree course and don't pay tuition fees for the year abroad if you go away for the full year. It's like a bonus year! If you go for one semester then you will have to pay a percentage of the tuition fees.
7. In the year abroad do we get given accommodation or do we have to find it ourselves?
You have to find it yourself! You're essentially by yourself for the whole thing, but you have wise and experienced people to turn to for advice - it's your year to do what you like with! Some study abroad universities have Halls of Residence, but it's much more useful to live with locals as you pick up their language skills and become good friends. There are all sorts of useful websites and resources to help you find somewhere to live.
8. Do we choose whereabouts we get to go [in Italy] or do we get assigned somewhere?
If you want to study or teach abroad you can put your three top choices and hopefully one of them will be picked for you by the British Council. This is because you're enrolling on an exchange scheme so there are only a certain number of spaces at each university or school. If you work abroad, then you can pick! Working is a great option as it gives you excellent hands-on experience trying out a career option before you graduate, but you could work one semester and study for the other. Don't forget that you can work in both of your summer holidays too! I was an au pair for an Italian family in Asti during the summer before my year abroad, which meant that I was comfortable with the language and the dialect before I started my course at Florence University, and I also had a ready-made family in Italy I could visit!