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As the second semester starts, I realize that I never followed up with course reviews for the first semester.

Looking back on my excited, happy, all-caps anticipation, I cringe. The salient characteristics that I happily individuated in my first analyses turned out to be the ones that changed. In the end, I was right to be all ‘YAYYYY’ for two out of four courses. The other two demonstrate why I am bad at using first impressions to form accurate assessments.

I already took all the exams, so now it’s my turn to give grades.

Paessaggi Letterari Ferraresi with Monica Pavanithe course on contemporary Ferrarese literature with a focus on Giorgio Bassani. The professor continued to be my favorite part of the course, and indeed, by the end I had grown so fond of her liberal, open style (AKA American) that I decided to take her second-semester lit course as well, even though it’s optional for the year-long students. Another positive aspect of the class turned out to be its early end date; this semester I am really looking forward to having more free time at the end and only having to prepare 3 real University exams in that period, instead of 4. Finally, it was an easy, interesting course, and the constant homework assignments provided a good counterpoint to the 3 Uni courses, for which I did basically all the reading and real preparation after the lectures had ended. The material was great, it helped me become more aware of Ferrara’s history and literature, even the grammar sections helped, and I enjoyed the lower-level style of learning.

In a few words: High-school style course, easier than Uni courses, ends early and gives you more free time (to make up for all the missed aperitivo opportunities at the beginning, since classes are from 6pm-7:30pm). Really nice professor, interesting and applicable material, opportunity to coordinate activities with the other Middkids. American-style structure is refreshing after a while. Final grade: A (professor is knowledgeable and enthusiastic and totally worthy of a girl crush).

Storia antica/romana I with Livio ZerbiniA disappointment. Although I was initially impressed by the professor’s name, body of work, and charismatic and quirky classroom presence, I soon realized that he only prepared lectures when he felt like it and the majority of class time was spent listening to him talk about the importance of history. Few facts, no interesting perspectives, nothing useful for the exam that you can’t also find in the book. Guest lectures were probably cool for the Italian students but we ISL students had a hard time following them. That field trip to Roma never happened. I could have skipped all the lectures and still done well on the exam. The material was interesting and I feel like a better historian now that I know a bit about ancient Rome, but that was just from the book – as a class it kind of sucked.

In a few words: I am not a girl who skips class, but seriously, skip these. Learn everything from the book, which is very bare-bones and basic (only one perspective given for anything) and therefore easy to absorb. This is a high school or first-year college style seminar, covering a broad period in a shallow manner. Final grade: C (professor knows his facts but passes with just the minimum of effort).

Storia della musica 1800-2000 with Paolo Fabbri I was right to be excited about this class. The exam turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated, given the vast amount of composers, music, and ideas in the Romantic period and the fact that we had barely talked about the 20th century. We did not have to identify music but in the end I liked the example pieces we were given so much that I listened to them over and over and could have done it easily. The professor just wanted to know that I had absorbed – and enjoyed – the main ideas of the course, and we had a nice discussion about my favorite (therefore easily memorized) concepts and composers. He was kind, respectful, well-prepared, organized, vastly knowledgeable, and interested in our learning. And of course the material, being mostly Romantic, was very interesting. I am now a much better musician and historian.

In a few words: If you like music, take this course. Despite the name there is a big focus on the Romantics (Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Berlioz, Liszt, and Chopin in particular), which is fine because 20th-century classical music mostly sucks. There is a lot of reading material but it is mostly for personal edification. Lectures are very important for understanding and for passing the exam. They are also lots of fun, since you listen to music accompanied by the prof’s enlightened commentary nearly every class. Final grade: A (knowledgeable and enthusiastic professor).

Linguistica generale with Elisabetta Fava – I was ambivalent about this class to begin with and still don’t really know what to say. I didn’t hate the lectures as much as I hated those of Storia romana, but nor did I particularly enjoy them. I don’t think they were useful for the exam, except that the prof’s areas of interest are big clues on what chapters to study particularly hard, and that she does sometimes give specific pointers and, on one occasion, a handout that could be used during the exam. I don’t like that, despite the vast amount of wasted time, there are about 5-20 minutes of each lecture that are actually useful, so you should probably go anyway if you really care that much (not necessary to care to pass the exam, but you’ll definitely do better if you do). I was nervous about the large class size, but soon the 90+ students became tired of the prof’s teaching style and we dwindled to about 15 regulars. I liked that the exam was written, because that format is much less stressful for ISL. The material was interesting and I’m glad to have learned the basics of the International Phonetic Alphabet, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to apply anything in future life. Plus, there is a fair amount of technical vocab…which I now know only in Italian.

In a few words: Easy but not much fun. Written exam is a plus. Professor is nice and tries to involve her students, but her teaching style is very inefficient. Final grade: B (professor gives a good effort and I think she understands the material, although the focus at length on basic concepts and the inefficient presentation give cause to doubt).

All in all, it was a good first semester. Even if I didn’t enjoy many lectures, they are a good way to meet Italian students. I learned a lot. I am not complaining that it was too self-directed since I am capable of studying on my own, but classes where 80-90% of the lectures are wastes of time are a little excessive. My time is not for anyone to waste.

Here is what I learned that I must try to apply to the second semester:

  • judge the usefulness of a class’s lectures and, if they are not useful, be more chill about missing them for travel and cultural activities
  • start note-taking earlier
  • talk to students right from the start to enlarge the period where I actually have friends

Any other advice/opinions from the other Middkids out there?