This time one year ago I was in a rural village in southwestern China, ecstatic to be where I was, doing what I was doing, and spending time with people I really enjoyed being with. I had made the decision to stay for a full year in Guizhou instead of leaving in January for an internship in Cape Town because I decided one semester wasn’t enough to build meaningful connections with my students nor achieve and experience all that I wanted to in China. I’m glad I stayed on, as I was able to accomplish a lot of what I wanted to during the latter part of the school year. (You can read about it here)
Last October, I had no idea what I wanted to do after my teaching contract. I began researching potential masters programs and found a few interesting Erasmus Mundus programs in Europe, which I eventually applied for. Getting applications together from rural China was no easy task – rounding up reference letters, transcripts, and ‘proof of graduation’ certificates was a huge challenge and quite stressful. Luckily, I managed to get things in order and sent off my applications in good time. Long story short, I was accepted into my current program in Sustainable Territorial Development (a joint masters between the University of Padova, KU Leuven, and the Sorbonne) and here I am in Padova, Italy for the first semester of my two-year program.
Studying in another country requires lots of paperwork. Prior to coming here, I had to get a Dichiarazione di Valore (declaration that my bachelor’s degree “has value”) needed to pursue a degree in Italy. This required multiple trips to the Italian consulate and a trip to Ottawa to get my U of T diploma, transcript, and high school diploma notarized at the ministry of foreign affairs. Dealing with Italian bureaucracy has also been a real pain in the neck. I’m still working on getting a residency permit (which I need as a student) and still have more forms to sign, police office visits, etc. coming up. It has been frustrating.
I’ve only had two weeks of classes, which have been going well for the most part. The content of the program isn’t exactly what I had expected, but it has been interesting nonetheless. I’m taking courses in sustainable development (theories and practical skills), statistics (learning to conduct impact evaluations of development programs), and others. My courses haven’t been too challenging ’til now and the workload has been quite light. I’m sure it’ll pick up eventually. There are 26 people in my program from all around the world, which makes this a real intercultural experience and discussions all the more interesting.
Living in Padova has been a great adventure so far. I’m sharing a flat slightly outside the city centre with two Italian guys and a Chinese girl, all whom are super friendly. My neighbourhood is home to many migrants, which reminds me of downtown Toronto. I’ve been warned by a few locals that the area isn’t the best place and to be extra careful, and I reckon their fear has to do with the large population of visible minorities around here. It’s true that some men will make obnoxious remarks when I walk past, but that happens all over the city. I like my neighbourhood and would like to get involved in the community a bit…perhaps through some volunteering. I hope that my time here living literally just “on the other side of the train tracks” will continue to be a positive experience. I’m sure it will be.
I bought a bicycle at an auction during my first week here, which I’ve been using to get around the city. (I also bought a helmet to wear while riding, something I’ve been accustomed to doing in Toronto. But as part of the 0.5% of the Padovian population that uses a helmet, I am something of a spectacle here. I was once asked by an Italian local, “Um, do you know it’s not necessary to wear helmets in Padova?” I’m willing to look a bit out of place here in exchange for staying safe.)
I’ve been cooking and eating a lot of pasta, cheese, salads, and some Chinese food. I’m on a student budget so I don’t eat out much, but I enjoy whipping up creative dishes in the kitchen. My free time is filled with jogs in the park, practicing French, and meeting up with my classmates for coffee or events around the city. I’ve posted an ad online and will put up some posters for English/Chinese tutorials to earn some pocket money. Hopefully I get some calls soon.
And voila my first three weeks in Italia.
Thanks for reading.