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Creating My Own University Experience, For Way Less

| June 27, 2018
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I’m a devoted lifelong learner. I used to dream of going back to school someday, but I’ve since found other ways to satisfy my love of knowledge, learning, and language. With university prices and student debt soaring, sometimes you have to get creative and find alternative ways to pursue your dreams. That’s exactly what I did when I decided it was time to pursue my lifelong goal of learning to speak Italian.   

My Decision to (Finally) Begin Studying Italian

I studied a combined 8 years of German in high school and college, and I lived in Germany for nearly 3 months on exchange trips when I was younger. Then 2 years ago, I had a chance to visit Austria and Germany with my sons. During our travels, I had the opportunity to really use that skill for the first time in many years. I was amazed at the vocabulary that sprang to the surface of my mind as I began to need it.

On the plane ride home, I was reflecting on that trip and how much I had enjoyed studying German. It’s not just about learning words and grammar. When you study another language, you get a peek inside another culture; its way of thinking is embodied in the words and phrases it uses. Learning a new language stretches the mind in a unique and beautiful way. Through these thoughts, I remembered a distant and forgotten goal I had of learning Italian “one day.”

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” – Goethe

On that flight, I decided to study Italian right then and there. (Not one day. Now.) On the next layover I downloaded Duolingo. When I came home I dove into the Rosetta Stone Program, hired a tutor on, and eventually started having weekly phone calls with a cousin in Italy. The next summer I had the chance to go visit family in Italy. At that point I had learned enough to just get by with very basic conversation. After this trip I made the decision that I had to go deeper.

Designing a University Experience for Less

I did a quick Google search for colleges that offered Italian near me. The best program that would fit into my schedule cost a bit over $3,000 for a single class. My first thought was, “I could go to Italy for less than that!” Then I thought, “Maybe I will.”

So, I quickly looked online and found a 2-week intensive language course in Florence that cost roughly $700. Then I found an Airbnb in a 500-year-old Palazo one block from the school for $60/night. When the trip was all done, I had spent only $2,100. After subtracting fixed costs (money I would've spent at home anyway on gas, groceries, etc.), the total cost of the trip came to $1,700—about half the cost of a university course here in the States.

With class time and extracurricular activities and field trips to museums, palaces, and gardens, I had more time with a teacher than I would have had at the university, and much of it was one on one. Plus, when I wasn’t in class...I was still in Italy! I dove into being an Italian for those 2 weeks. I got a 2-week pass to a local gym, I went to grocery stores, I sought out restaurants off the beaten path where the waiters did not speak English, I dined in places with communal seating so that I could chat with other Italians who were on vacation in Florence from other parts of Italy.

I’m certainly not saying that I’ll never take a traditional college class; I would very much enjoy the literature aspect of a university experience. But for my immediate goal of becoming proficient with the Italian language, and the fact that I don’t need a degree in Italian for professional reasons, I discovered a way to create my own university experience of sorts. I found a way to dive into learning Italian that was very effective, fun, rewarding—and much less expensive.

What’s the thing you’re planning on doing “one day” but haven’t started? Why not start now? Don’t let time or money discourage you. Find creative ways to make it happen. 

Want to brainstorm different ways to make your dream happen? If you’d like to chat, please let me know. Contact me online or email

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.


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