Italian high school vs. American high school

Story by Lucrezia Ricciardello

Most people don’t know exactly how many differences there are between the Italian High School system and American High school system.

As an Italian exchange student I have noticed lots of different aspects. First of all, the main difference is that Italian high school lasts five years instead of four years, and during these five years we have the same classmates.

Actually my thoughts are that five years is a long time, but you are definitely more mature to deal with the university experience.

Then it’s important to know about the size of the school facility itself: American school facilities are much larger than their Italian counterparts. That’s why the Italian teachers usually change classes for each hour and rotate to you; instead students stay in their classrooms.

Italy’s schedule is totally different. It has a Monday-through-Saturday schedule. The school begins at 8.20 a.m. and we get out at around 1.30 p.m. that’s because each subject lasts 50 or 60 minutes and not one hour and 30 minutes like it is here. Then, everyday, we have five or six different subjects.

This is probably what characterizes most Italian schools than American ones.

About the organizational level of the Italian schools you can choose between four main ways, that’s why Italian schools are more targeted than American ones. It’s up to you and your major qualities.

The obvious division is between college-track “Licei” and work-track “Istituti”. Within the “Licei” there are Scientific Schools which are aimed at Math, Biology, Physics, Chemistry studying, then Classical Schools which are aimed at Italian, Greek, Latin, Arts studying, and Languages Schools which are aimed of course at languages studying. Within “Istituti” instead there are schools specializing in various trades.

Here, in America, you have just one choice. Classes are not exactly the same and we can’t choose subjects. Unfortunately Italian students don’t have fun classes such as drama class, photography class, PE or TA class and many others.

From this very substantial difference, I can state that the Italian, like European, high school system is more rigorous, academically speaking. My verdict is that Italian schools are more academically challenging.

There’s lots of handing in papers, they maintained, and “what is written counts”.  Exams and tests in Italy are similarly written affairs, which doesn’t mean, no multiple-choice tests, and almost everyday we have oral or written test for each class.

The main difference is that Italian high schools don’t have gymnasiums and adjacent athletic fields.

There are no sports teams connected with Italian high schools. High-school age students who want to play sports can participate in community-based teams.

I have noted how there seem to be much more “school spirit” in American high schools, and they attributed it to the sports teams.

On a side note, cheerleaders are perhaps the central manifestation of American school spirit. Most Italians I know are fascinated when they see a real life cheerleader. Before their first sighting, they’ll have only seen cheerleaders on TV.

We have also lots of surface differences. Walking into an Italian “Istituto” is nothing like walking into an American high school. Italian schools are minimal: the monotone hallways do not boast the student art and flyers for sports and theatre events that plaster the halls of American schools like Placer High School.

Italian high schools don’t have lockers. Students carry their books with them, and I can assure you that our backpacks weigh a lot.

Italian high schools don’t have parking lots; in compact and public-transport-friendly Europe, students take buses, trains, trams and/or bikes to school.

Definitely, there are many differences between the Italian school system and American but, after all, a school is an important institution at the base of the formation of all students.