Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Getting a solid start

It's dry, sunny and comfortably warm. You're more likely to take your dinner outside than in. The bolognesi have returned from summer holidays. The city's pulse picks up.

It's pre-term at SAIS Bologna.

The Bologna Center's academic calendar traces that of European universities, which generally start their school years in October. Historically the late start relative to the U.S. system stemmed from the need for students to help with the harvest before beginning class.

Bologna intra muros
But the corridors of SAIS Bologna begin to fill in late August when most incoming students come to Bologna to get some work under their belts before the full Fall term begins.

I don't know the origins of pre-term, but it existed when I attended the Bologna Center 30 years ago. I showed up on a hot August afternoon, had a picnic lunch with my girlfriend in Giardino San Leonardo next to the Center and then went with Salvatore La Ferlita to find what would end up being my home for the next nine months -- an apartment in a tidy brick building just outside one of the city's medieval gates.

(Salvatore, as some of our readers know, still finds apartments for our students. When I returned to the Center this fall after nearly three decades as a foreign correspondent, I could not remember the address of the flat I had lived in. "Via Brevantani," Salvatore quickly remembered.)

Pre-term in Bologna lasts four to five weeks, depending on one's choice of subjects, and offers courses in Italian, intensive English, microeconomics and macroeconomics. Here's a mini-scoop for those hoping to come here for the next academic year: pre-term is tentatively scheduled to start on August 25 and end on September 27. Subject to change.

About four out of five students enroll in at least one of the pre-term courses:

- Microeconomics (intermediate level)
- Macroeconomics (intermediate level)
- Intensive Advanced English
- Intensive Italian
- Survival Italian

First, a word on economics. The pre-term courses are at the intermediate level and not geared to someone who has had no economics. Students with no background in micro- or macro- are required to take and pass the SAIS Online Principles of Economics course or an equivalent course outside of SAIS before taking the intermediate level courses.

Also, the intermediate pre-term economics classes do not carry credit towards the 16 courses required for the M.A. degree, but they satisfy the respective economic theory requirements.

Intensive Advanced English is geared towards those who, despite having a sound basis in the language, want to increase their fluency in writing, listening and speaking.

Intensive Italian provides a foundation for students new to the language. I'm living proof that after some 100 hours, a student can go out and take full advantage of life in Italy. Who knows, you might end up back in Italy years later and still be able to make yourself understood.

Survival Italian is reserved for students taking a pre-term economics course and involves about 40 hours of classes.

For more detailed information on pre-term, click here. Keep in mind that the schedule was for the last pre-term, not the coming one.

Beyond allowing students to get their feet on the ground academically, pre-term is a chance to get to know the other students and to settle down in Bologna. Many students spend weekends exploring Bologna or nearby destinations such as Florence, Venice or Cinque Terre.

In my case, my roommates and I set up house, I had a good laugh in Mili's intensive Italian class while getting a solid grounding in the language and my girlfriend of the time became my fiancée (and later my wife -- she still is).

A lot can happen in pre-term.

Tomorrow: democratic development

Nelson Graves