Nachi Athalye studied on exchange at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter he shared his experiences with us every month. This is his final article, written after his return. View the full list of his posts with the globewriter-nachi tag.
The final month had been a tumultuous one. The goodbyes were overwhelming, the sense of isolation was draining, exams were as always stressful and the number of loose ends were frustrating. The final trip that was in the works served as the only glimmer of hope with of course the thought of returning to the comfort zone adding a bit of icing to that cake. As mentioned in my earlier blogs I was one of the last few comrades to be returning home, hence the sense of isolation on losing all my friends. There was a lot of planning that needed to be done with regards to when I would leave my apartment room, how I could find a replacement tenant, where I could leave my luggage while I wandered around on another trip and where I would stay on returning back from this trip as I would prepare to board a flight back home. All questions were answered, everything was planned and like all other difficult times this one passed as well.
Since I couldn’t find a replacement tenant I left all my luggage there and went onwards to a few more places that needed exploring.
The experience has come to an end now as I sit here in my home and type this, reminisce about the wonderful times and wonder how I could have done some things differently. It feels almost surreal to be writing the last article in this series of articles that has reflected one of the most intense, rewarding and memorable experiences one can experience in their life. Intense because of the new and varied pressures that had to be endured, rewarding because of the lessons learnt and memorable because of all the unique experiences and fresh people. The lessons learnt in these six months were equivalent to those I have learnt in the past six years.
It all felt as if I uprooted my life and turned it around as I went on exchange and rebooted it on returning back. I realised while being away, how less in the form of material things I needed and have gone on to empty more than half of my room on returning home. The huge number of unnecessary things stacked up to be “dealt” with at some later point in time that potentially never arises. It feels as if this is that point when I deal with those things.
Exchange taught me the concept of responsibility, a whole host of skills and helped me realise my passions. I learnt how to be responsible with money because I didn’t have a whole lot of it plus I was responsible for every euro I spent simply because I had to look after all my needs. Responsibility came in a few more forms, mainly because I had to live by myself in a foreign country and tend to the many difficulties that popped up every now and then. In doing so it was obvious my problem-solving and people skills would be strengthened and travelling as a skill in itself was born too. Travelling is a huge learning experience as I gained the confidence of surviving in a foreign land and learned the travel process. It is a common process that applies to any and all places one travels to. A list of things that need to be done in a foreign place and I now know them like the back of my hand. The individual places I visited provided me with a great amount of understanding about the local systems in place, ways of living, political situation, language, culture, history and most importantly the people. Getting a hang of these elements in multiple places around the world gave me the opportunity to master a unique set of skills and accumulate loads of knowledge. I seem to have realised a few passions during this time as well. Although writing as a passion is not new to me, this has been the most significant amount of writing I have ever undertaken. I also learnt a thing or two about photography that has given rise to a new desire to learn more about it. I seem to have developed an eye for beauty whether it is in the form of nature or architecture and photography seems like the only way I can appreciate such sights. I have also developed a passion for languages and I wouldn’t be amazed if I master a new language in the next couple of years.
Life back home feels so different. People drive on the wrong side of the road, use dollars as currency instead of euros and eat croissants instead of brioches. These differences are minor of course and I will get used to the style of living that I was accustomed to before I left. What I would not get used to is the general lack of intensity and energy that life on exchange has. I was always on the move, planning and executing trips, meeting new people, dealing with new problems and experiencing new joys. I don’t dislike back home one bit though, it is a stable and certain one. Life on exchange lacks stability and if I have to progress in my academics and career I require stability. Stability allows me to have a set routine, operating within my comfort zone and knowing exactly how things will be shaped over the coming week or weekend. Neither ways of living are complete as there is no complete happiness in either. They are simply different ways of living with their own perks. What I can do though, is strike a balance. I can borrow elements from one way of living and cultivate them in another. I can keep a constant but minute flow of energy and intensity in this stable routine of mine. I can apply the things I learnt on exchange here.
The final few places I explored were tremendously exciting. I explored the many iconic locations in London such as 221B Bakers Street, sat beneath the Eiffel Tower as it lit up at 12am, walked along the small but lively canal-side streets of Amsterdam and soaked up the beauty of the Berlin Cathedral while sunbathing on the Cathedral lawns. I also explored cute little old town of Bucharest while listening to interesting stories from a local, visited the poorest European capital city, namely, Chisinau (pronounced Kish-knew) and experienced the buzzing nightlife of Praha. Most importantly though I experienced the unexplored beauty that Russian cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg had on display. The soviet architecture in Moscow coupled with the truly incredible Red Square left me absolutely stunned. The more “European” Saint Petersburg with its white nights and its brightly lit bridges that drew in the middle of the night for cruise ships to pass, all along the majestic Hermitage, was no less of a treat. To close off the adventure I initiated, I was able to visit about 34 European (some of them only partly European) countries, and while I would love to do better justice to some of them, it was an exhilarating and intense adventure.
Exchange was a truly unique experience for me, and am sure it is the same to all others that have experienced it. To those that are contemplating on embarking on a journey like this I would say “defs have a go”. To all those that read this wannabe good series of articles, thanks for your support, and hope it encourages you to start an exchange application if you haven’t already. Until next time then, Ciao!