Home to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and one of the most gorgeous città d’arte (cities of art) in Tuscany, Pisa is a small and not particularly populous city. So let’s face it: studying here is not as much fun as studying say, in San Francisco. However, the whims of history have made Pisa one of the most vital junctions of student life around Europe.
In particular, this is due to the presence of the Scuola Normale Superiore (SNS), Italy’s most prestigious and selective university. La Scuola, as its students lovingly call it, has made its tiny scale its crucial strength.
Admitting only a small number of students per year, the Scuola is able to provide a cutting-edge education and a cohesive community. Actually, community is what defines the Normale experience. As anybody knows, talented people can be found in almost every university. What really makes a difference here is the density. The Scuola’s dimensions guarantee an extraordinary density of tremendously talented people.
This is made possible by a particular feature of the Normale – the collegiate life. The Scuola gathers in Pisa some of the most brilliant students from all over Europe, and provides them with board and lodging: the “normalisti” live in the Normale. Living in the Normale means being entitled to certain free services: a room in one of the four colleges of the Scuola, board at the cafeteria and access to the cultural, recreational and sports activities organised by the students themselves.
This means that the inhabitants of the colleges are more than just a group of co-tenants or colleagues living together in the ordinary sense: instead, the colleges encourage the development of an extremely pronounced sense of community spirit.
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Perhaps even more so than the classrooms of Palazzo della Carovana (headquarters to the Scuola) or the rooms of the library, it is the colleges and the cafeteria that give their inhabitants the impression of being part of a live yet age-old community: not a sense of a superior elite, but the perception of belonging to a common history, an almost familial intimacy made up of myths and legends, of endeavours and failures in the student world and beyond.
The structures that house the “normalisti” are there for the purpose of cohabitation or gathering, but they are more than just that: they are home to the “normalisti”, providing the opportunity for a truly peer-to-peer development of competencies.
Talent needs the constant exchange of ideas and discussion, a little competition, and of course no secrets. In a word: a community.
Francisco Morosi is a classics PhD student at Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa.