Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Alumni Weekend: "It changed my trajectory."

Several hundred alumni returned to Bologna this past weekend to catch up with friends, meet current students and reconnect with SAIS Bologna.

Here is how one member of the Class of 1982, only partly in jest, summarized his feelings:

"I remember Alumni Weekend of 1982. I heard alumnus after alumnus say, 'My year in Bologna was the best year of my life.' I thought to myself, 'Are they losers? It's got to get better than this.'

"Now I'm back here 30 years later, and I'm saying to myself, 'You know what? That was the best year of my life.'"

Class of 1982

I was in that Class of 1982. I asked some of my classmates who returned this past weekend to jot down what the Bologna Center experience had meant to them. Here is what they wrote:

My year at the Bologna Center gave depth to my life. The rest was just a matter of trying to stay afloat.

Arriving in Bologna in August 1981, I was struck by a divided Europe -- East and West. By the end of the year I saw how all are one.

Discovering the wild world. Making good friends. I became a shrink.

Pasta, wine, politics and friends -- the important things in life and, in most cases, things that improved with age.

For me as a naive American, coming to Bologna was a revelation. It opened up my world view (which in my East Coast Ivy League experience I thought was a world view) to so many new opinions, experiences and perspectives. What an amazing (and in some ways shocking) experience. It changed my trajectory for sure.

1. It almost made me grow up. Almost.
2. A great place to take off. Into life.

My social, economic and intellectual horizons were expanded immeasurably in wonderful ways by my year in Bologna. Everything that I have done after is connected in some way to my year here.

The meaning to me of our 30-year reunion? The slow unearthing of memories, some indistinct, some sharp -- a flash of ochre and gold, lilting tunes of a street husker, the pungency of pecorino and prosciutto. But much more than these, the surprise of rediscovered friendships, the unveiling of slender shards of our shared history, fragments of a past that took root 3 decades ago and somehow blossom in the present.

Opening up my mind to the world and to different perspectives on life. Even though I went back to what I was preparing to do before coming to Bologna, I definitely became a different person.

When I went to the Bologna Center in 1981, I was catapulted from the cocoonish isolation of California into a microcosm of the world from where I could observe at a safe but surprisingly close distance the still glowing embers of the not so Cold War and was exposed to a range of perspectives that turned me into a hopeless addict of multiculturalism, multilingualism and a multifaceted meditation on the problems of the world. I've loved good red wine, great food and strong coffee ever since.

The magnitude of the learning here stretches over 30 years of my life. The more I think about it, the more I realize the impact on my life.

My year in Bologna opened my mind and heart to a world of opportunities and possibilities. A wonderful combination of intellectual, cultural and social exploration. It was great fun, too.

It confirmed many of my biases about the value of academic "discourse" but contradicted some important ones. It confirmed both my initial thought and the design of economic development that I would pursue.

The standout feature of my year in Bologna was the indelible bonds I have with a very special group of people who all shared the same experience.

By far the most lasting impact for me has been the friendships which began that year and have matured in the 30 years since. Secondly, and important as well, was that SAIS Bologna helped me transition from a domestic career to an international one.

La vita รจ troppo breve per mangiare male.

Amina spoke to some more recent graduates in the brief video below.

If you are reading this via email, you can see the video here.

Nelson Graves