"I met an Italian girl and fell in love, and so I came to Italy"

Jack Coulter from Northern Ireland is a Student Ambassador studying in the Master's Degree in International Relations

Published on 01 September 2022 | Europe

My name is Jack, I’m from Northern Ireland, and I study International Relations (MA) at the University of Bologna.  

Jack in Florence

A bit about myself 


After finishing my bachelor’s degree at Queen’s University Belfast, I worked as an English as a second language teacher in Spain. During that time, I met an Italian girl and fell in love, and so I came to Italy to do the same job. Then, like a lot of people, I re-evaluated what I was doing during the pandemic, and decided that I wanted to go back to university and return to a field I was really passionate about. So, I was already living in Italy (in Turin) when I applied to the University of Bologna.  

I looked at several different programs all over Italy, but I chose Bologna for a few reasons. First, the degree had several paths I could choose from. The one I chose, “Forecasting, Innovation, and Change”, sounded like exactly what I was looking for. Second, my girlfriend had studied here, and she recommended it very highly. And third, I knew that the University had a great reputation both in Italy and internationally. 

Jack cooking pizza

The pandemic wasn’t all bad 


The lockdown was a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, I ran into a few problems during the application process, mostly because of the fact that a lot of the offices at the University of Bologna and at my previous university in Belfast were closed or working with reduced staff. Add in problems with posting documents from a post-Brexit U.K. to Italy while the postal services in both countries were overwhelmed, and trying to make it all work while under a strict lockdown, and you can imagine that it was a little crazy.  

On the other hand, I still had my apartment in Turin for another 6 months, and my girlfriend was working there, so being able to follow the degree completely online the first year allowed me to stay there with her, and also to avoid the headache of trying to find an apartment in Bologna at that time with all the restrictions. That meant I was able to start immediately in 2021, instead of waiting to be able to move to Bologna, which I was really grateful for.  

Jack and a donkey

Even online lessons can be engaging… 


My program is taught entirely in English, and I wasn’t sure what to expect: would the professors speak good English? What about the other students? Will it really be all in English or will I need to use Italian as well? I was really happy with what I found. The professors that I’ve had all speak English really well (coming from an ex-English teacher!), and I’m always impressed by the Italian students who choose to study in English, both because they’re brave enough to study in their second language, and because of how well they do it. So, while I’m happy to have learned Italian, I could easily have finished my whole degree knowing only Englishbut where’s the fun in that? 

The lecturers were also very knowledgeable and the classes were interesting. The Italian education system puts a lot more emphasis on explaining things orally – most exams at secondary school and university are oral exams, for every subject. This was difficult for me to adapt too, but thankfully most of my exams were in a format more familiar to me, with the final exam being a written essay on a topic agreed on with the lecturer beforehand. However, I think that this emphasis on speaking about academic topics makes Italian lecturers very good at explaining things in an engaging and easy-to-follow way. 

Jack resting

…but it's not all about the classroom 


Some of the best experiences I’ve had during my time here have been the opportunities to get extra experience on top of my degree. The Intrapeneurship Program has let me see the University from the other side, giving me the opportunity to do an internship in the International Relations Strategy Support Unit of the university. Between my great co-workers and getting to go to work every day in the beautiful Palazzo Poggi, it has been an unforgettable (and invaluable) experience. A lot of events were also held despite the pandemic. Career Day, Start Up Day, and many others, shifted to Teams and Zoom, and now that they’re back in the real world I’ve had the chance to attend them in person too 

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to experience the classic Bologna student experience due to attending the majority of my courses online. The moment in my second year when I finally got the chance to attend some classes in person and to meet the people I had been seeing through a webcam for the past year and a half was incredible though. And in the end, I got to spend some time in the city and make some friends all the same.