Italy is an exceptionally fascinating country in many ways. To me it never was and never will be just the land of Pizza and Pasta unlike the common misconception. Not everyone is named Mario with the moustache like that of Mario in the famous 80’s game, Super Mario. Neither it constitutes a dumb population with no sense of sophistication and manners as portrayed in many Hollywood movies and American TV series, nor is it just about sleazy men hitting on everything that moves. I cringed while watching a few episodes of “Superstore” on Netflix when Amy is dressed like Super Mario and both Amy and Jonah just did a cringe worthy imitation of Italian accent, which was neither funny nor entertaining. I never understood why movies and TV series always seem to be associating every super weird tradition/ ritual to European culture, which is usually not true. Anyways, that is not the topic here. Writing this blog for my readers and clients of Escapade Lite comes with a passion and inner love for the place where I spent the most beautiful years of my youth. I am not Italian and don’t have much hope in becoming one (thanks to an intricately designed, complex immigration procedure for which no number of documents are ever enough) but I do have this profound feeling of being at home when I am in Italy. This owes to the decade long journey of navigating through good and bad times, full of experiences as a student, a traveller and a resident, having to go through bureaucratic procedures of maintaining residence and work documents as a foreigner.
To me, Italy is and always will be land of Galileo, Marconi, Michael Angelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Alessandro Volta, Puccini, Dante, Boccaccio, Vivaldi, Pavarotti, Alessandro Bocelli and an endless list of artists, musicians, scientists and what not, that bedazzled the world and blessed us with a list of lifetime worth of museums, art galleries, theatres and magnificent cities to explore. The culture, the art, the history and architecture is unparalleled.
For me, being in Italy was as living in a giant museum for which even a lifetime was not enough. It was a slow but interesting process of having arrived as a foreign student and becoming a fully immersed local who integrated into the society while still keeping religious and cultural values intact. The life of a Muslim girl in Italy would be a topic to be elaborated in another blog.
Life in Como was calm, slow and with winter approaching fast, a bit boring. The first few days in the university kept me so busy that I was hardly able to explore much. I was still getting used to the idea of 3-4 hours long lectures for each course. I was still trying to understand that there are specialized shops and eat outs for each kind of food we ate. There were Caffetterias, Pizzerias, Gelaterias, Panetterias, Latteria, Salumeria, mostly local artisan shops preferred by most Italians.
A delicious cup of Espresso Macchiato
Of course, there are huge superstores and shopping malls too where healthy and fresh food products are available. The quality of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the best in Europe and perhaps even the world.
Transitioning from being a student to an unemployed graduate to a professional making way in a job market dominated by locally hired employees was a nerve-racking process and I was always made aware of the fact that it is a huge blessing to have an equal job, as does an Italian. Well, no arguments about that. Italian job market is not where you get to chose what you want to be and which avenues you could explore in your career progress. It is what it is and what you get is something you need to be grateful for.
I did not realize how much the university life in Italy was protecting me from the jungle out there in terms of finding employment and generating a means of income. There were considerable ups and downs but university was there to support against each obstacle and especially in keeping up with the bureaucratic hiccups. Applying for a residence permit was not an easy task and university always provided all supporting documents and, in my case, the international office even went as far as calling the immigration office in the “Questura”, which means a Police station in Italian. The first year was mostly uneventful and it was more of an adjustment to the new environment, new culture, routine and above all the transitioning of studies from sciences background to an engineering field.
Although being super friendly and outgoing myself, it took me some time to get good friends and so most of the university period I hung out either with my brother who came to visit me on occasions or with a person or my ex which also prevented me from making more friends even when opportunities presented themselves. I was continuously being cautioned by my brother and ex on who to associate myself and going for outings with. In later years, I regretted a lot that I listened to them rather than basing my opinions on my own judgement
Winter was long and rainy at Lake Como. According to the meteorological data I got from Comodepur S.P.A; the Water Treatment Plant I interned at, and used their data for my final year Project, it rained an average of 180 days at Lake Como. That was back in 2010. Global Climate Change has not spared Italian Alps or Swiss Alps either, so now we don’t get to see that many rainy days or heavy snow that I saw the first two or three years in Italy. In fact, the winter of 2009 brought province wide shutdown because of snow blockades. Sometimes I craved to be in the glorious sun of my home country and dreamed of being able to fly home soon and be rid of that winter. (Having seen Canadian winters, now I would trade those Como winters any time of the year). 🙂
Being on a minimal scholarship, there was not much to spare, to be able to explore other European destinations or even other Italian cities for that matter. It was not untill much later that I actually started exploring nearby cities and valleys. Students around me were on a travelling spree and explored a new European capital each weekend. Long weekends were spent hiking, snowshoeing and skiing at exciting locations. People never seemed to waste any weekend, long weekend or holiday break and were making the most of it and rightfully so.
Now after 12 years and having traveled extensively through the world, I can still look back and still feel the feeling of frustration and being left behind when all my fellow Polimi( Politecnico di Milano) students were having the time of their lives. There is no substitute to those youthful and boundlessly energetic years and a sense of freedom that one experiences during student years. No, assignments, quizzes and exams are not as hard as a 9-5 job. ;D
There were little to no part time jobs and certainly not for a girl like me who only spoke her mother tongue and English. Apparently, knowing English was not of much use if I could not fluently speak Italian too. Therefore, no waitressing jobs, no McDonalds jobs and no retail positions. In any case, there was only one McDonalds in the main city so not really full of possibilities.
In later years I applied to that McDonalds many times but they always had an excuse ready not to even touch my CV. They needed an intern whom they could pay 500 Euros a month and who would be under 26 years old so there is no employee tax to be paid to the Government. So, all I could do was to wait and see where my fate takes me.
One of my next blogs will entail the first summer I spent in Italy and how joyfully wonderful and refreshing that was.