Kirsop Labs

Skills development for science students everywhere

Chemistry year abroad – Bologna, Italy

Wondering if you’d like to spend the final year of your chemistry degree as a year abroad? 

Read on to find out. You can also hear a podcast with Sarah about her experience if you go to the right-hand column (Year Abroad Podcasts, episode 2).

A year in Italy

In the final year of a 5-year MChem degree (at the time of writing this it was in 4th year) you’ll have the option to spend the year at a foreign university, carrying out an extended research project. I just came back from my year abroad in Bologna, Italy. I hadn’t really planned on taking a year abroad when I started university, but when the opportunity was put in front of me I thought it would be silly to throw it away. And I’m glad to say I made the right choice! I met people from all over the world, learned a lot about myself and ate the best pizza of my life for a couple of euros.

Culture, travel and language skills

Any form of travel is good for developing a wider understanding of the world, developing language skills and meeting interesting people. Living in a foreign country for a year improves skills such as these plus many more. You learn how to adapt to sometimes very unfamiliar situations, get extended immersive learning of a foreign language and expand your understanding of other cultures. You’ll also have a lot of fun.

Great, but where should I go?

Although for some it’s an obvious decision, choosing where to go for your year abroad can be quite difficult. Here are a few factors to consider and questions to ask yourself:

  • Language skills

What language(s) is/are spoken there? Do you already have some knowledge of the language or a similar language? Will you be able to spend much time/money on language courses before you go? How much English is spoken there?

  • Budget

How much will flights and accommodation cost roughly? What is the average cost of living? Will you get any assistance with costs?

  • The host university

Is it in a city, or is it a campus? What is its academic reputation? Do you like the sound of any of their research areas?

  • Accommodation and distance from home

Will it be provided by the university or will you have to find it yourself? Is coming home for holidays and/or other reasons important to you? Are there direct/cheap flights?

You might place a different priority on the importance of some of these points, and I’ll admit I didn’t fully think them through when I picked my destination. But don’t agonise over all of them, and do also feel free to follow your gut instinct if you have one.

Freak! I’ve got my offer but how do I start organising everything?

There are so many resources to help you prepare for your year abroad. Firstly, make sure to ask your exchange coordinator any questions as soon as you think of them. If there is another student currently on exchange, they will be able to give you their contact details. This is a very useful contact to have as they will know all about accommodation hunting and specific things you might need to know about your destination.

You’ll need to attend your pre-departure meeting run by the university’s international office and they’ll give you some pretty useful information. You can also ask them any general questions about your exchange, but not specific things about your research project.

Another great resource for planning and also once you’ve arrived at your destination is this website, set up by a University of Edinburgh graduate. The title “Third Year Abroad’ may not apply to you but the advice still does.

Final words of advice

I’m not going to give you the false idea that every minute of every day you spend living abroad is going to be perfect. The year might actually include some of the worst experiences of your life, but the key word there is ‘experience’. You know what experience means? Learning! Yes you’re there to carry out a research project but your sphere of learning will stretch out far away from the confines of the lab.

For me, I really struggled with the language barrier in Italy at times, but I learned that being angry and sad about it did nothing to improve my Italian! You have to put as much energy and enthusiasm as you can into your year abroad and the opportunities it will offer you. That’s the most important thing to remember. Apart from the exchange rate…

We’d love to hear from students with experience of a Year Abroad Placement, so do get in touch and tell us all about it. We can help you write an article, or make a podcast.

If you want to contact Sarah, you’ll find her email address on the Contacts page.

Take a look at this article from for some more information.

Posted under: Student advice

About Sarah Piggott

5th Year MChem student from Staffordshire, England.

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