Nachiket Athalye is studying on exchange at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter he is sharing his experiences with us every month.
I was walking down a Milanese street on a Wednesday morning, rushing into university for one of my most packed days of the week, wondering throughout what I was even doing here. Why had I voluntarily chosen to be here? Surely just travelling wasn’t the only reason, I could do that for a month and go back to my usual life in Adelaide. It wasn’t just to experience a life with no accountability and huge amounts of freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, without answering to anyone, or wondering if anyone would find out. Which led me to question why the whole exchange experience is branded as your opportunity to go out and experience nightlife every night and party like there is no tomorrow. Even the Erasmus exchange network, colloquially known as ESN left no stone unturned to ensure a maximum number of the 800 exchange students were partying almost every night in clubs for a whole three weeks straight with follow up clubbing nights twice a week after the initial three week period. I went along too and covered almost every prominent nightclub that existed in Milan in that short period of time. But at the end of it I was definitely left questioning the pointless exercise I and similar students like me had undertaken to no fruition. Apart from of course consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, spending a ton of money on overpriced drinks, late nights that never ended, hungover unproductive mornings in bed and a repetition of the same over and over again. Maybe I overdid it, maybe most people overdid it, maybe am thinking too much about it. While walking down the street it dawned upon me that the reason I was here was to challenge myself, was to grow out of my comfort zone and experience novel things, to find my passion and further my abilities. The clubbing and partying scene was a very insubstantial part of it.
Over the past month I realised that being out of your comfort zone is no menial task. Being a normal human longing for attention, I felt out of place when surrounded by a huge number of students at university that all seemed to know each other as they chatted in a language foreign to me. Once a week I felt overwhelmed with a feeling of loneliness as I cooked and had dinner at my place, by myself. But then there were a lot of other times when I was alone but having the best time of my life as I sipped on a beer, ordered takeaway and read the news. There is a very fine difference between being lonely and alone, the former being toxic but the latter a source of immense pleasure. I felt as though a lot of people while on exchange preferred to constantly keep themselves surrounded by other people either physically or virtually. They obviously found comfort in it but denied themselves the pleasure of spending time with themselves. It is so important to keep a balance between spending time with others and spending time with yourself, both providing ample opportunities to develop yourself.
With regards to spending time with others, I continued to come across tons of seemingly normal people with inspiring stories. A 24 year old backpacker that had already been through a heart surgery, a case of domestic violence, cheating and a resultant divorce; a 27 year old workaholic who randomly decided to take a year off and had already visited 36 countries across Europe in a matter of 3 months and a 19 year old who was studying her bachelors in Milan as an international student and had left home and set up nearly 3 NGO’s since she was 17! I also had the opportunity to meet a famous Dutch fashion blogger, Negin Mirsalehi, on the eve of the launch of her honey-based hair oil during Milan fashion week. This was when the lively fashion capital attracted fashion heavyweights from all around the world for an intense show of the latest fashion and art. The nature of this city is such that it will push and inspire you to search for any hidden talents and passions revolving around art that you might have. I witnessed another show of art at the Venice carnival, during my short stay in the majestic city of Venezia. By the end of my stay I was convinced that I’d seen one of the most beautiful cities to ever exist. It is a city unlike any other with its lovely long canals, boats as a means of transport, old European setting and alleyways so beautiful I couldnt resist myself from exploring each and every one of them. I was lucky enough to stay in Giudecca, one of the islands in the Venetian Lagoon that overlooked the main island of Venezia and provided us with the most fascinating view of the city centre every morning as rays of sunshine hit it. My weekend didn’t however end there as I took a bus to Slovenia and experienced one of the most prestigious and majestic cities ever, the capital, Ljubljana (pronouned Lubliana). The city centre was simply enthralling as white heritage buildings, a pink cathedral, a blue statute and a humongous castle, lit up and overlooked the Ljubljanca river. I also had the opportunity to rent a car the following day and experience some more beauty the largely untouched country had to offer as I crossed another border and visited Villach, the seventh largest city in Austria. I definitely had one of the most satisfying long weekends ever as I readied myself for another week of uni on reaching home.
I find my courses at uni to be quite interesting, particularly as I get to learn things that I otherwise usually wouldn’t. The development, composition, legal structure and operation of the European Union is one such intensely engaging topic, particularly in the wake of Brexit. The professor even mentioned that we were one of the lucky few who were studying the course while something this substantial happened in the Union. Studying at Bocconi has definitely breathed new life into my academic life almost as if a dying flame has been lit up again. It is quite re-invigorating to be able to study in a different atmosphere, different culture in a setting where neither the teacher nor students have English as their first language. It has allowed me to see a different perspective and world view that I otherwise would not be able to. In fact my study of the European Union has now created this intense urge to undertake a travel through all 50 European countries along with a visit to some former Soviet countries in central Asia. This is very much in line with my new found fascination of how so many diverse cultures and languages are operating together in a Union and even taking orders from it. Who knows, maybe my future career pathway could revolve around this new found fascination!