The 6 months spent in the United States, writing the thesis at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, have probably been the most intense six months of my life.
Never having been to the USA, and always having lived at home in Milan, the impact was remarkable. The campus – Olympic village in 1996 – had little to do with the grey Bovisa, not to mention the college football games preceded by huge barbecues, the labs with a million-dollars equipment and the absurd concept of confraternity.
Despite the thrill of living and studying 7000 km from home, under a circumstance that, in many ways, could have been considered perfect, after the first ten mouth-opening days the novelty began to run out, the thesis had become arduous and once again I started to get that feeling that I think we have all experienced more than once in our lives when, after the enthusiasm for a new beginning, reality seems to betray promises and beauty leaves room for struggle. But here, for a series of coincidences I’ll never be grateful enough for (as for example the office we had been assigned had no windows), my companion of adventures and I, found ourselves studying in the campus Catholic Centre, a university space equipped with a study room in the basement and with other essential kinds of comforts such as a kitchen with a large refrigerator, a table tennis board, an Italian espresso machine, and much more.
Even if in the first few days we did not make much conversation with the other students, the turning point arrived after we prepared kilos of carbonara for everyone, winning the cooking competition before Thanksgiving. At that point, the initial shyness disappeared and the thesis, which began with the two of us, started to become group work, not because someone else was working for us but, because every day someone just stopped by the basement to say hello and to see how we were doing; the days got much more animated, an unforeseen that “ruined” our plans for the day or for the evening was never missing, whether it was a trip to the umpteenth fast-food, a “bonfire-marshmallows-Sweet Home Alabama” night, or a trip to a river with an unpronounceable Indian name.
Living in this way, during those months of thesis work, I was incited to look a step further than my plans. At the time when I was searching for a thesis I was simply hoping for an experience abroad, however I managed to get surprised by a much bigger reality that was happening right under my eyes every day in the form of an unexpected company. By living there, by going abroad, I realized that, after all, this was what I wanted. This is what lasts after facing the struggle of studying or the struggle of being distant from home and from Italian friends. That novelty could not be fully given by the most prestigious university or by the privileged life in an American college or even by the most interesting thesis, yet it was given to me unexpectedly by some twenty-year-old American as he asked “can you cook us some pasta tonight?”