Our sense of community: this is what struck me the most when I arrived on campus, twenty-one months ago. I had not left Italy, yet I suddenly found myself in a melting pot. Despite being an introvert, I remember vividly how I could just effortlessly introduce myself to anyone at the many aperitivi organized to help freshmen get to know each other, just because we knew that everyone in the room was studying at Bocconi.
To break the ice, all students were asking variations of the usual questions: “Where are you from?”, “What BSc are you enrolled in?”, “Why Bocconi?”, and the answers revealed how different our background were. What our identities had in common was only being Bocconiani – and that was more than enough.
I come from a small and rather isolated town and to someone like me, Milan felt like a whole new world. I was amazed to find Bocconi’s urban campus completely foreign to the flaws of my hometown and, sometimes, of Italy itself. We could live the dream of being in our own kingdom, with our own rules.
Little did I know that, after an year and a half living that dream, I was in for a rude awakening. On February 22nd we received an e-mail from the Rector informing us that all educational activities would be suspended, as required by a new provision issued by CRUI Lombardia (a regional entity).
I was far from realizing how serious the emergency was and, in fact, I barely noticed what was going on. I was too busy preparing for a job interview that was supposed to take place in a few days in London. Like most Bocconi students I had rapidly adapted to a fast-paced lifestyle: it was then perfectly normal to forget about lectures, study interview material like crazy, pack and land in Canary Wharf in a matter of days. Had someone told pre-Bocconi me that I would have been pulling this off without hesitation, I would have probably fallen off a chair.
The day before the interview, I received a call from Human Resources. They asked to confirm where would I be travelling from. I will never forget the dead silence on the other end of the phone after they heard me saying: “Milan”. All travel arrangements were cancelled, and the video-interview was also postponed due to market turbulence – but this is another story.
National borders were likely to be closed in a matter of hours and freedom of movement within Italy was expected to be significantly restricted too. Each student had to take a tough decision: stay or leave. We all knew that, whatever the destination, we could remain trapped there for an uncomfortably long time.
As everybody rushed home, I was left wondering what home means. Is it where your parents, siblings and pets live? Is it where you spend most of your days, where you carry out your present plans and start scheming your future ones?
After self-quarantining in Milan for 14 days, I decided to leave the city and reunite with my family. Being with them in these difficult times has unquestionably been a source of comfort. However, after a few weeks it became apparent that something was starting to crack. Before the lockdown, I had become used to being there just for a few days before leaving again. That was not enough to notice how I had outgrown my room, which had not changed much over the years. It never felt so cramped. Every time I went outdoors, I felt prying eyes on me. I had forgotten how they inspect and judge each passer-by and the current situation only made it worse. The smaller the town, the more intense the stare.
I have often found myself ruminating on a particular episode that took place in early February, during the very first days of the current semester. During one of the weekly meetings of Women in Finance (a student association I am part of) we shared what had been the highest moment of our lives. It took me some thought before I could elaborate on a definite answer and the conclusion stroke me for its simplicity. I had an epiphany that would make Joyce proud: I was actually living the best period of my life so far.
The day before the beginning of the current semester, I had just taken my last final and spent the afternoon with a dear friend of mine. We just went for a stroll in the city centre, yet it was the most fun I’d had in a long time. That night I was so hyped about the upcoming days that I was unable to fall asleep. When was the last time I could not sleep out of sheer excitement? I was most likely still a little girl.
I had a meeting planned with the Editorial Board of Tra i Leoni and we had plenty of ideas to bring to the table. The new courses were all promising. I had found a group of peers who shared my same goals and interests. I was about to submit my application for the much-awaited Exchange Program and I was close to landing an internship. Everything seemed to make the bull case for the semester and the future had never been so bright.
Physically and metaphorically, I was finally in a place where I be- longed and it really felt like home.
The Covid-19 outbreak wiped away those dreams. Separated from our colleagues, our lives seem to have taken a different path. Our newspaper cannot be printed. Lectures do not feel quite the same online nor will our internships, for those lucky enough to still have one. The chances of going abroad for a semester next year are fading. I felt like I had been deprived of the signature Bocconi experience, of its open and international essence.
Sheltering in my hometown has been like going back to the past, and the journey proved rather distasteful. I have never felt so out of place, despite having lived there for the vast majority of my life. It could not work, just like you cannot put an apple back on the tree once it has fallen.
When travelling across regions became possible again, on May 4th, I did not think twice before going back to Milan. Being here is seldom a matter of coincidence: Milan is by definition the city of opportunity in Italy. It has always welcomed people from all parts of the country and, while there might be few citizens with truly “Milanese blood” left, this is what makes Milan simply Milan. Now more than ever, this is the place where one carefully chooses to be, and the emergency has not killed its vibe.
I experienced the city like never before: the decrease in traffic made cycling around much less dangerous and I have taken full advantage of the situation to explore the neighbourhood. If only I had realized earlier how many exquisite spots can be found just around the corner: Navigli, City Life, Bosco Verticale (vertical forest), Sempione Park and Porta Venezia just to name a few.
My personal favourite, however, is still the Bocconi Campus. Early birds may be familiar with the experience of hitting the streets at dawn: you do not get to meet that many people, mostly runners, elders and dog owners. Every time you make eye contact, there is something that draws a smile on your face. Just the few of you share a special place of yours, some secret coordinates in time and space that are precluded to those who are not even aware of what they are missing out on.
When I first visited the campus after months of absence, it was just the same: I met only one girl and I could tell that she was a fellow Bocconiana. Despite not knowing each other, we stopped for a second and we smiled behind the mask. We were silently sharing something that those outside of our bubble could not experience nor understand.
In that moment I clearly felt that the very same questions we started with, “Where are you from?” and “Why Bocconi?” were more meaningful than ever. No matter where or with whom we are, we still share the same legacy, the same mindset and the same ambitions. We are in this together and have never lost what makes us Bocconiani: our sense of community.
From Global Edition – One pandemic, fourteen stories. June 2020