Six reasons to do a course at the British Institute of Florence
The British Institute of Florence was founded in 1917 to promote cultural exchange between Italy and the English-speaking world. If you fancy brushing up your Italian while learning a new skill (the Institute offers courses in Italian, History of Art and Fine Art), the British Institute could be the perfect place! Grace spent 3 months studying there as part of her degree at the University of Pittsburgh, here she tell us about her experience.
Studying abroad in Florence had been a dream of mine since I first visited 8 years ago, and now I can’t imagine having studied anywhere else. The city is rich with history and culture and was the perfect place for me - a double major in Art History and Italian. Having a whole semester to immerse myself in the Italian culture seemed like it would be more than enough time to practice my Italian and see everything in the city. Now, three months from when I landed, I have no idea where the time has gone and how I still have so much to do before I leave.
1. Get to know the locals
During my semester I stayed with a host family, and I would fully recommend it to a future student because it helps with any [potential] language and cultural barriers. I stayed with an older woman whose apartment is right in the heart of Florence, near the Duomo. I remember after dinner the first night she brought me upstairs to the terrace from where there was an amazing view of the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, and San Lorenzo lit up at night.
By doing a homestay I received a true Italian dinner every night and got to practice my Italian as my host mom didn’t speak any English! Although I was a little apprehensive at first, I quickly realised how much better my Italian was than I thought, and my host mom was always happy to help with homework or vocab problems.
I wouldn’t have done the study abroad experience any differently; it truly was like living with family and you definitely receive a much more authentic experience!
A lot of the city’s education programs offer home-stay options in addition to their courses. For instance, the British Institute of Florence can either find you a student apartment with fellow classmates or match you with a host family.
2. Immerse yourself in the culture
The British Institute of Florence offers various History of Art courses and allow students to combine them with Italian language courses. Courses at the Institute delve into the Italian Renaissance and importance of Florence as the centre of the cultural “rebirth”. One of my favourite parts about studying there was learning about an artist or particular artwork and then going to see the work in person somewhere in the city. It’s incredible what the city has to offer!
Even if you don’t make it to every single museum and monument in Florence, everywhere you go you are confronted by history and art and the continual realisations that poets, artists, actors, nobles, philosophers, and politicians have walked on these streets centuries before.
I’ve always loved the Renaissance and have studied Florence’s crucial role within this movement, so I was lucky and already knew a lot of the historical background information about the city. However, seeing and learning about it while in the actual city makes such a difference. In class we would talk about important historical figures such as Michelangelo, the Medici and Botticelli and then go see their masterpieces or villas in person - it definitely adds to the learning experience!
The British Institute's History of Art programmes...
- Are accessible to those coming to the subject with no previous knowledge, but at the same time pitched at a level that will engage all those who are already familiar with the subject
- Combine interactive, illustrated lectures, with visits to key sites
- Offer the flexibility to take anything from an afternoon’s session to a fully comprehensive three-month course
- Can be combined, in the case of month-long courses, with Italian and/or drawing
- Include short courses on Music in Art, Florence in Festival, Women in Renaissance Art, and the Italian Courts.
3. Learn the language
Whilst at the Institute, you can learn the Italian language (imperative for surviving three - four months in Italy!). It definitely helps to have at least a foundational understanding of the language before moving here, which can then be built upon in class. The British Institute organises courses that can be taken in combination with the Art History and Fine Arts courses.
Italian language courses are available from complete beginner through to advanced level, from one week to one year. Tailor-made programmes are designed for individuals or groups classes. Lessons are led by qualified and enthusiastic native Italian speakers with many years of teaching experience. Aside from general language courses, students can follow exam preparation programmes including pre-university training, A-Level and GCSE.
The teaching method combines classroom lessons with:
- Conversation exchanges with Italian students
- Practical lessons held at local food markets
- Discussion of contemporary Italian life and Italian culture
- Italian film studies
- The art of Italian gestures!
- The option to combine with History of Art lessons and/or drawing classes
4. Try something new
While there is loads to do in Florence itself, the Institute also offers various weekly activities that are free for students with their library membership during their stay.
On Wednesday evenings there are lectures, discussions, or recitals as a part of the Cultural Programme, after which Talking Pictures presents a film in accordance with the season’s theme.
In keeping with the Institute’s foundations, tea is offered most Thursday afternoons!
Furthermore, students and members of the British Institute have access to the enormous English and Italian literature collection at the Harold Acton Library, which also provides a great study and reading spot. There are also a variety of partner organisations that offer discounts on books, movie and theatre tickets, and food!
5. Discover the delicious food
Although I had dinner provided by my host mom every night I was in Florence, it’s hard not to track down favourite panini shops, gelaterie, and cafes. La Carraia has some of the best gelato I’ve had this whole semester, and Pane Toscana on Via degli Albizi the best panini.
6. Explore the city
My other favourite parts of studying abroad in Florence were visiting the leather markets of San Lorenzo and il Porcellino, walking near Santo Spirito and through Mercato Centrale, and, of course, watching the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato al Monte. The city is small enough that you can walk through most of it in about an hour, but its bursting with so many things to do that it’s impossible to see everything all at once.
I would recommend studying in Florence for at least a semester and taking Art History and Italian language courses so that you can truly immerse yourself in the culture and take advantage of having teachers who can show you pieces of daily life and history minutes away from the classroom. Even after three months I have yet to visit every museum, church, and pasticceria, but I’m counting them all as reasons to return!
More about the British Institute...
Founded in 1917, and now with two sites in the heart of the historic centre of Florence, the British Institute is a fantastic choice for the study of Italian and History of Art in Italy. Granted a Royal Charter in 1923, the Institute was the first of its kind to operate overseas and served as a model for the establishment of the British Council in 1934. Designed to promote cultural exchange between Italy and the English-speaking world, the British Institute today offers a comprehensive programme of courses in the Italian language, the English language and History of Art, as well as a wide range of cultural events.
Not only do British Institute students receive brilliant academic and personal support, they also get a great range of extra benefits, including:
- Membership of the Institute’s Harold Acton Library which is the largest English-language lending library in continental Europe with over 52,000 books and DVDs in English and Italian
- Free access to a weekly programme of lectures, concerts, films and other events
- Social events and activities
- Discounts in various restaurants, bars, cafés, shops, museums and other attractions across Florence
- Free wi-fi access across both sites
- Help from the Institute’s accommodation office to find the perfect place to stay, with options ranging from homestays with a host family to student flats to private apartments to hotels.
Have a look at their website now! :)