L’Università di Macerata is probably not the first (or fifth or sixth) university you think of when you imagine American students studying abroad in Italy. Located in the small city of Macerata in the province of Marché, the school is one of the oldest in Italy. Yet, Macerata does not have the fame that the bigger Italian universities, like those in Florence and Rome, have. Its classrooms are not located in a major city, but within medieval walls on top of an isolated countryside hill.
Despite this, I would not have traded my time studying at Macerata for a program at any other university in Italy. Last summer, right out of my freshman year at Princeton University, I made the surprisingly difficult trek from Washington, D.C. to Macerata to study Italian language and culture along with 22 other Princeton students. The competitive program, co-run by the university and Princeton, featured morning classes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. On Thursdays, our class traveled to nearby areas, such as Assisi and Perugia.
The best part of the program, however, wasn’t its structure. Surprisingly, it was the location. There were very few people in Macerata who spoke English. We befriended students whose English was substantially worse than our Italian. It was total immersion. We went from Italian history class in Italian, to shouting “Ciao ciao!” to Marco and Angelo as we walked to la mensa (cafeteria), to hopping the local train to get to Civitanova, a nearby beach town on the Adriatic Sea without an American in sight.
When people ask me whether or not I wished I had been able to study in Florence or Rome, I always answer no. While studying in Macerata, I traveled one weekend to visit some friends in Rome. When I arrived, I immediately made my way to a pizzeria. I began to order in Italian when the server interrupted me.
“You speak English? Just speak English.”
I was taken aback. This never would have happened in Macerata. I always had to use my Italian. I politely told the server that I would like to practice my Italian, and he smiled and let me continue. But this conversation made me realize one thing. If I had been in Rome, I wouldn’t have had to practice my language skills as frequently. I wouldn’t have been as totally immersed as I was in Macerata.
So, if you or someone you know is thinking of improving their Italian by studying abroad in Italy, I would like to give you one piece of advice. See if you can stay a little bit off the beaten path. Small town Italy may not seem as glamorous as the big cities, but you’ll return to the U.S. more comfortable with your Italian than ever before.
Written by OSIA National Office Intern, Lisa Femia. Femia is a junior at Princeton University, majoring in history.