As a foreigner moving into a new country, you are guaranteed to listen to quite a few boring clichés. They are most likely to come from all of your usual suspects, those being family, friends, and older family friends, and most of the time we are likely to just accept these comments, all the while patiently brushing them off. However, the most common, and easily least pleasant source of advice, always seems to be unwanted on-lookers who, upon listening to the fact that you are moving abroad, feel the right to share their own – brief – exchange experience which took place closer to the cold war than to the great recession.
And while that advice is objectively unwanted, it is not necessarily unwarranted. As disconnected observers, these shameless commentators do have an advantage over your family members, they are given the grace of honesty. They can tell you whatever it is they did and felt without ever regretting it as your opinion of them falls into disarray. And so, it was from those people that I heard a piece of advice that seemed to have been rehearsed years prior by each and every one of them: “Do not, only, befriend people from your country.”
It is right now where I feel like a little background information could be useful. I am Brazilian, the warmest, gentlest, and most fun people in the world – and this is not up for discussion. So, it seems therefore rather contradictory for me to have been warned against maintaining myself around them. In your early stages as an international student it is so appealing to speak your own language again, discuss the minute nuances of your accents and criticize the same football teams as you did back home. Such behaviors kept me, and still keeps me, in touch with what is my essence, and make it so that there is always a piece of home with me. But as time goes on it becomes clear that you can either grow past this or become captive to it. Or at least it should.
There are multiple steps to moving away from a country which we overlook and all those people priorly cited fail to mention. Stepping onto the plane is the smallest of steps, from then on, we must all face our very own herculean labors. They come in different forms: from accepting that the pasta you cook here tastes worse than your mother’s, to understanding that no matter how hard you try you will never be able to talk to your closest friends as much as you did before.
When the harsh truths come forth, the instinctual reaction of returning to your roots becomes ever more intense. No matter who you are, the lows of being away from your loved ones will get to you, and your national community will be the most prominent medicine to fix that broken heart. Yet, as with life, you can never become overly reliant on medicine.
Of course, it is good, and it may just be necessary, but in leaving your home you made a choice to see what was on the other side, right? Remember when you decided, to cross an ocean to see Italy and to meet people who you could never have met back home? Do you remember how pretty the Duomo looked when you saw it for the first time or how scary Ravizza seemed the first time you heard someone got robbed there? As soon as you begin to limit yourself to what is outside in fear of losing yourself in it, you just might become numb to feeling like that ever again.
Having a national community might just be the greatest thing to happen to you during your time at Bocconi, but it does not have to be a singular great thing. Opening yourself up to the rest of the world might be absolutely terrifying, but it will make you remember why you made this choice, and it is guaranteed to have at least a moment of it be worthy of your effort. As you look around, remember you are not the only one who this applies to, everyone around wants, and perhaps needs, to meet new people because that is a choice all of us make as soon as we decide to leave home.
In drafting this article I came to realize how personal and pertinent this theme truly is to me, and noticed it almost became a sort of letter to my first-year self who had just arrived in Milan. I can now after a year safely return to Brazil and tell those on-lookers they were wrong, but not entirely.
The advice should go along the lines of: “Remember to give both others a chance to meet you, and yourself a chance to meet them.” But, then again, I would not have expected that wise an analysis from any drunk person confident enough to blabber about my future in Spain as I move to Milan.