By Gloria Costeri

“Oh, it’s like being in a movie!”: this is the first thing I told my host mom after my first day in an American high school. Everything looked like what I have always dreamed about and saw in movies: big buildings, a football team, lockers, a cafeteria and so on…

As an exchange student, I have noticed so many differences between the Italian school system and the American one.

The main difference is that in Italy you don’t choose your classes but you choose the school where these classes are taught. For example, if I like studying scientific subjects I will choose a “Liceo Scientifico” (scientific high school) where you can focus on classes like physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics; if I like learning about ancient history I will choose a “Liceo Classico” (classic high school) where I can study subjects like Ancient Greek, Latin and philosophy. There are more than 20 different kinds of high schools there, to make sure that there’s enough choice for everybody.                    However, every Italian student has some mandatory classes such as Italian, English, mathematics, science, physics, history of art, history, geography and physical education.

Different schools means different schedules: in Italy, students go to school six days a week, from Monday-through-Saturday; lessons begin at 8.00 a.m. and finish around 1.30 p.m. We usually have six classes a day – that are different everyday – and each one lasts 50 or 60 minutes and not one hour and 30 minutes like it is here. Students don’t have lunch at school and they just take a 10 minutes break every 2 or 3 hours, and this is why we don’t have cafeterias there.

In Italy teachers don’t have their own classroom and they are the ones that move around: this means that you, student, will be in the same classroom with the same people for 5 years and that this should allow you to form a strong bond with your classmates.                                                                                          This also means that you will never see any kind of decorations in the classrooms or in the school: minimal and monotone hallways, no pictures or posters on the walls, no lockers (because each desk has a little shelf underneath them where you can store books and phones and food). Italian high schools don’t even have parking lots, probably because we are so used to taking buses, trains and/or biking to school.

The saddest difference is that there is no school spirit in Italy: there are no school teams – this means no school games to go to – and no clubs or extracurricular activities to take part in. Most Italian schools don’t even have a mascot or school’s t-shirts! This is because school is seen just like a place where you study and learn, not a place where you can also have fun. 

From this big difference, you can tell that the Italian high school system is more rigorous and academically challenging: we have oral and written tests for each class almost everyday, there are no multiple-choice quizzes and you never get the chance to retake a test if you failed it.                                                           The only goal that Italian schools have is to fill students’ brains with cultural knowledge and theoretical topics because they are not interested in teaching you how to face “real world life”. Instead, American schools offer lots of classes, such as “marketing” or “money skills”, that will be useful to prepare yourself for your future.

The relationship between teachers and students is different too: first of all, in Italy, we are not allowed to call them “teacher” but “professor”; most of the time teachers don’t give their email addresses to students and this is one of the reasons why there’s no communication between the two parts; teachers are seen as enemies instead of allies, and so there isn’t any kind of relationship but a really professional one. We don’t even have school counselors to go to if we need help: this is because, as I said before, the Italian school is just seen as a place where you study, not where you can build relationships.


“School is a building which has four walls with tomorrow inside” Lon Watters said. This means that no matter how colorful your school’s walls are, if your school has or does not have a football team, the only important thing is that you realize your own potential and work to achieve your goals.