“The professor is God.”
This is the warning I have received numerous times—from program coordinators, from former participants, from fellow students. The Italian professor is the ruler of his own domain; he is not subject to complaints from disgruntled students or mandates from the university.
In the end, after an oral exam, the professor assigns you a number and, once accepted, this grade cannot be disputed or changed. If the professor is late to class, you wait; if the professor does not attend office hours, you do not complain; if a professor has an opinion that is diverse than yours, then—for all appearances—change your opinion. A professor is never incorrect nor bigoted nor biased nor harsh; the professor’s word is law.
With such a grand analogy and heavy warnings, I was slightly terrified.
Choosing classes begins with you. I leafed through some of the binders filled with class and teacher reviews from former participants. The binders hold a treasure chest of information, detailing how easy it was to understand the professor, how well they dealt with exchange students, how heavy the material was, how the final exam went, etc.
I initially only had vague ideas of what I was looking for: Italian literature, political history, mafia, human rights… These vague ideas formed themselves into real classes with the left-behind advice of old students. A meeting with the program director solidified my plans for certain classes, giving me more counsel about professors and providing me with times and locations for the classes.
We were given about one month to “shop” for classes before officially enrolling. I attended a number of different classes before deciding—I even attended a few accidentally by mistaking room numbers. I sat in on courses with a wide range of professors: grave literature, incomprehensible linguistics, passionate philology, sarcastic history. I settled on three courses from the University of Bologna: Letteratura Italiana (Italian Literature), Filologia Dantesca (Philology of Dante), and Storia Contemporanea (Contemporary History).
The first came as a recommendation from the program director; the professor commands the classroom with a serious but respected air. In the second, the professor had a passion/enthusiasm for Dante which he was able to extend to his students—even in two-hour classes. The third had a more “American” or relaxed air, with the teacher inviting the students to participate and comment more—allowing discussions on current events and feminism and the Papacy.
Perhaps professors hold more power over the grades and the structure of their class, but they are as unique in style and demand as much respect as any American professor. The professors you choose will reflect your experience in the class. While there may be some who wish to be venerated and consider themselves the “God” of the classroom, this is not the rule. So choose professors wisely.