To make myself clear I will begin by saying that taking the English course will be the wiser choice for an international student, but let’s see why.
Although Italian is not a difficult language to master because it of it’s melodic sounds and similarity to English, one must realize that the academic Italian is something of a different level. The professors will not spare you from complicated words and high-level phrases during the lectures and you will need to study new material in a foreign language. From my observations, many foreign students have problems with the language especially during the first year, despite their good preparation this often slows down their progress and in sometimes even makes the first 1-2 semesters doubtfully well passed.
The clear advantage in English course is that you don’t need to struggle with the language as a foreign student in Italy. You can concentrate on the study material and spare yourself the wasted time on dictionary lookups and re-reading the same paragraphs over and over.
The Italian course is running for hundreds of years and many professors are teaching most of their life the same material. In some cases that leads to “burned-out” professors that teach without much passion and without making any additional effort beyond what is required, especially right after the end of the lesson. It is definitely not everyone but still something you can run into sometimes.
Teaching in English is something that requires skills and determination. Not every professor can teach in a foreign language and from those who can, not everyone will want to dedicate himself to such a project. The ones who do are somehow more “selected”, fresh and motivated and many times those are more eager to teach. English knowledge on a high level, gives also the ability to be involved in research and communicate the latest developments to the students, teaching things that haven’t even reached the text books yet.
The exams in Pavia and in Italy in general are often “oral” – which means that the student is sitting in front of the professor and answers his questions directly. The problem with this exam type is that it is much more subjective than for example a multiple choice test, and factors beyond pure preparation come into play. For example things like presentability (all the students come with button shirts for those exams), fluency of speech – which should communicate self-assurance etc. The professors, willingly or not are making comparisons between the students and arguably there is no doubt that one exam influences the outcome the other. Being in this setting as a foreign student could have some very negative effects in respect to talking in English for most foreigners. A foreign student will always look inferior to a native one with the same level of preparation in Italian. On the other hand, speaking English puts all students – Foreign and Italians inline.
The books of the Italian course are often written by the professors of the courses themselves. This is done to match the teaching style of the professor and to allow them to have one book that includes all the material of the course. The problem with this is despite the level of this books being high, they are written and reviewed by a small group of people(usually 1-2), not being updated frequently (if ever) and containing many errors.
The English course is built on International books, from the latest additions written and reviewed by many people to guarantee most correct and up-to-date material. Those books are used also in UK and USA so one can be sure to be in-sync with the international level of knowledge of the topics. Most of those books also allow an online access to the book contents with search possibilities and multimedial extras such as video clips or interactive animations.
It is not a secret that the official language of the science is English. So studying the theory in the “native language of science” not only gives you more accessibility to publications and research, but it also allows you to use enormous amounts of information, videos, books and presentations found on the internet about medicine to supplement and expand your knowledge and refine your skills.
I think that for a foreign student, the English course should be a natural choice (if he has a good possession of the language) because of the things we’ve discussed, yet for an Italian student one should weight well his English skills and the cons and pros of the studies on a non-native language.