Monday, 9 May 2011

Tackling your questions

We are receiving a lot of very pertinent, and in some cases very detailed, questions about SAIS Bologna. This is entirely normal as candidates who have accepted their offer of admission turn their sights to their academic year in this city.

Before I tackle any of the questions, let me point readers to two very useful guides. (And before I do that, let me repeat what some of you have heard me say before: There is no such thing as a stupid question. Only stupid answers.)

Guidebook for Incoming Students: This booklet, which has been updated for 2011-12, addresses a host of questions, from health insurance to toiletries to housing. It has answers for many of the questions we are hearing.

Guide to living in Bologna: Although this document has not yet been updated for the next academic year, much of its information is timeless. It touches on English-speaking doctors, places of worship, transport (or transportation, as Americans say), food shopping and metric conversions.

Here are some of the topics that are concerning incoming students the most:

Pre-term: Here is the updated pre-term program for SAIS Bologna. More information can be found here. It is true that most Bologna Center students come to pre-term. It is a good way to build a solid academic foundation before classes begin on October 3. Students who attend have first pick of available apartments, can take advantage of the usually sunny weather in September and start to develop bonds with classmates. But you are not required to come. And students who do not come still have special learning experiences in Bologna.

The choice of pre-term subjects depends entirely on the student. Some want to focus on English or Italian. Others tackle microeconomics or macroeconomics, both of which are taught at the intermediate level in pre-term. This year, two of the core courses -- "Theory of International Relations" and "Comparative National Systems" -- are also being taught.

A word of caution: it is not a good idea to try to bite off more than one can chew in mid-term. These mini-courses pack a full semester's work into four weeks. Survival Italian can be mixed with any of the economics or core courses. But other combinations could prove too time-consuming and are probably to be avoided. If in doubt, drop a note to

Core requirements: All SAIS students must past written exams in two of four core courses. The exception is European Studies concentrators: they take three European Studies comprehensive exams.

You can see the syllabi of the core courses and past exams here. Remember, you do not have to take the core course to try your hand at the examination. A student can prepare for a core examination by studying on their own, or by auditing or enrolling for credit in a core course.

One important thing: we do not recommend that students concentrate on taking core or required economics courses in Bologna so they can take higher level courses in Washington. That would prevent you from benefiting fully from SAIS Bologna, which offers a large number of unique courses taught by outstanding faculty. Take advantage of that.

Housing: We had a post about this last month. Our consultant -- you may have seen him in last week's quiz -- has a pocketful of keys and will be available from August 18. Contact him when you get to Bologna, and he can help you find an apartment and even roommates. If you want to look on your own, you are free to do that as well.

Banking: I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of bank options here. Suffice it to say that years ago almost all European banks were nationalized and it could be very cumbersome opening an account. Those days are over. A piece of advice: you will not necessarily want to close down your current bank account before coming to Bologna. It might be useful having that account and even the credit or debit card that you currently have, if you have one.

Other issues drawing attention are visas and health issues. We'll tackle those later this week.

Nelson Graves