Blog: Academic pioneering in Italy

In Bolzano, three languages are spoken. Blogger Oscar explains why.

I arrived at Bolzano train station a week ago. After my Erasmus trip to Sevilla was cancelled last year, my Minor in Italy has now finally begun. It is the first year that Wageningen University has an Erasmus agreement with the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano. I’m an academic pioneer in Italy and loving it.

On the second day, I bought a sturdy bicycle on – the Italian version of craigslist. Bolzano is approximately three times the size of Wageningen, so a bike is perfect. Wageningen and Bolzano are similar in many ways. It is green, the university is relatively new, and a large portion of the inhabitants are students. However, there are also many differences: the weather, the food, the mountains, and, above all, the languages.

In Bolzano, the inhabitants speak Italian, German, and, if you’re lucky, a bit of English

In Bolzano, the inhabitants speak Italian, German, and, if you’re lucky, a bit of English. A little history helps one understand how this “trilingualness” came about.

Bolzano is the capital of the Italian province Trentino-Alto Adige, better known to us as South Tirol. Prior to the First World War, this area was part of Hungary-Austria. Following the First World War, the area was assigned to Italy, and, under Benito Mussolini’s party, the region was forcibly and systemically “Italianised”. The extremist nationalist party prohibits the German language in education as well as the name Tirol. Moreover, the party sacks almost all German government employees and replaces them with Italian immigrants that are flown in. Mussolini also orders an enormous construction programme, during which thousands of Italian workers transform Bolzano into a real Italian city.

The German and Italian speaking inhabitants are completely segregated

The result of these drastic politics is that the German and Italian speaking inhabitants are completely segregated. In the city itself, most people speak Italian and no German at all. But, if you drive into the mountains fifteen minutes away, everyone suddenly speaks German and nessuno Italian. To make matters more complicated, English has been added purely as an academic language. Nobody outside of the university speaks English. This situation also causes some funny situations. If a student switches to German in the middle of an English presentation on the student association, everyone remains silent.

I will keep busy the next few weeks making myself understood, in whatever language. Allora, alla prossima.


Oscar Delissen is a fourth-year Food Technology student. He is studying in Bolzano, Italy, for the next six months.

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