After spending a couple of days in Cremona, I took the free coach (organised by l’università di Milano) from Milano centrale to Gargnano, where I stayed between the 3rd and the 21st of July. I won the much sought after scholarship from the Italian Institute of culture in Edinburgh. The scholarship covered the price of the course, the accommodation and all meals from Mondays-Fridays. I had few expectations, especially after my mediocre experience last year in Florence. I just presumed I was going to study some Italian, no frills. The three-week course takes place in three times a year at Palazzo Feltrinelli in the small town of Gargnano on lake Garda, once in July, then in August, lastly in September. It is only open to students who have level B1 or higher, so one can completely avoid speaking English if you want full immersion.
Each morning, lunchtime and evening we all ate together by the side of the lake, in front of Palazzo Feltrinelli. We could watch the boats and ducks go by, the evening light on the surrounding mountains, and discuss everything and anything amongst ourselves. Due to the small group of very motivated students we quickly formed strong friendships, though no small closed groups. The class was extremely international; people came from Brazil, Jordan, China, Argentina, Spain, the USA, Greece, Russia, Thailand, Kazakhstan and a variety of other countries. It was great to use Italian as the lingua franc to communicate with people from such a diverse mix of cultures. Everyone had a sufficient amount of Italian to avoid speaking in English altogether!
The course lasted for three weeks, and classes were between 9am-1pm and 5pm-7.30pm. During the morning classes we studied grammar, idiomatic expressions and practised listening and speaking skills. The evening classes required a good level of listening comprehension, as visiting lecturers from the University of Milan, La Scala, Castello Sforzesco and la Pinacoteca di Brera came in to give us lectures. These were not dumbed down for non-native speakers, and gave some interesting introductions to subjects I hadn’t explored before. Some fascinating people, others provoked my interest to a lesser extent… The most important thing is that I came out with a lot of new field-specific vocabulary. I also got a very useful introduction to Dante and La Divina Commedia , which I will be studying this semester at University.
There were a few optional pay trips to Milan and Verona. Those who went to Verona said they thoroughly enjoyed the trip to see an opera in the arena. Between lectures I often went to the beach and swam in the lake or sunbathed, read or slept. After dinner we often went to Giallo Limone to have a drink, dance or take part in quiz nights. Alternatively we would just take a relaxing evening stroll, perhaps with a gelato.
At the end of the course we had a party, a chance to present our country through a presentation or drama, ‘Natale d’Estate’ where we gave and received gifts from our home countries, a fun filled day of activities (we had to go in teams and answer quizzes, come up with the longest word in Italian we could think of, write a song and learn Italian tongue twisters), followed by the presentation of attendance certificates.
bHaving now done three language schools abroad, two of which being in Italy, I can safely say that this course in Gargnano was the best. Being a small class of motivated, well-travelled people we quickly formed close friendships which we will probably continue into the future. Gargnano was a beautiful little town, the locals were very friendly and there was plenty to do in the local area. Whether you want to head to Milan for shopping and culture at the weekend, Venice for beauty and romance or the numerous other pretty towns around the lake to add a bit of spice to life. I would thoroughly recommend this course to anyone looking seriously at improving their Italian in a really friendly, motivated environment.