Waiting. We wait for hours at the DMV, the post office, the doctor’s…so even in this world of instant gratification, we’re used to it. However, for those of us who have taken an exam in Italy, the concept of waiting is accompanied by stress, frustration, and anxiety.
My first exam was in December. After four months of improving my spoken Italian, I was still quite nervous. I had no idea what to expect, and the format of an oral exam was both discomforting and unfamiliar. When I arrived at the archeology department at 9:30 am, I was seriously debating my academic to choice to study abroad. In Italy, rather than signing up for a class, you register for an exam about two weeks prior. It is a bit like Southwest: you try to sign up exactly at the appointed time, and you are still 30th on the list. Because there were so few students in the class, I was third to take my exam. I knew that my agony of waiting would not last too long. The professor took roll around 10 am (so already late, in the Italian fashion). She then apologized, telling us she had a meeting in the afternoon, but would try to get through as many people as possible. “As many as possible” turned out to be two students. My professor then disappeared for the most stressful FOUR hours of my life. There was no way to know when she was coming back, but I knew that when she did, I would be next.
When I finally entered her office to take the exam, I couldn’t speak. No words – English or Italian – came to mind. As American students, we have not prepared for thinking on the spot and communicating information orally. So, rather than answering the incredibly vague prompt (“Let’s talk about statues”), I started to describe anything and everything I could remember about the Etruscans. Miraculously, it worked.
I went through this process four more times. The waiting varied, but the anxiety never did. It is quite a challenging experience to take an exam in Italy, even for the most adept students. The amount of preparation is not necessarily proportional to the grade, and neither is the performance. For foreign students, it really seems to be a question of chance. So with that in mind, I can only say “In bocca al lupo!”