Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First impressions: La vita è bella

Born in the United States to an Australian mother and Scottish father, Ian Muir is a triple citizen. He grew up in Washington, DC and Paris, and graduated in 2006 from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in chemistry. Ian spent the last five years working in the energy and climate change field, first as a consultant in Paris and DC and more recently as a Junior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund and with an education-focused nonprofit he co-founded with friends.

Ian will be concentrating on Energy, Resources and Environment at SAIS.

We asked Ian, who arrived for SAIS Bologna pre-term later than most as he attended pre-term in DC, to share his first impressions with us.

I may have spent the last five years at an international consultancy based in Washington, DC, but SAIS and the Bologna Center had already started feeling like old friends, even family.

My former office was at one point home to some 20 SAIS graduates who regaled me with tales of their bolognese experience, which they commonly referred to as the “best nine months of my life.” Living vicariously on these years of first-hand reports of this historical and beautiful city, I arrived in Bologna with nothing but the highest of expectations. Despite this grand failure of moderation on my part, I’ve faced disappointment only while learning that word’s Italian equivalent from my Neapolitan teacher, who, yes, has a penchant for wild gesticulation. (Hint: the word in Italian is nearly the same as in English.)
Ian Muir
Rambling on endlessly about my newfound love for la vita quotidiana in Bologna would be easy, but I had better segue into the real reason I’m attending the SAIS Bologna Center: academics and community.

As one of the few students able to attend pre-term in DC, I arrived in Italy with an already strong sense of SAIS’s academic rigor and its keen focus on relationship-building.

Back Stateside, my Intermediate Microeconomics pre-term course could only be described as a tour-de-force, particularly for someone with scant background in economics. After the first class, I quickly realized that my original intention of “easing” back into academia was perhaps wishful thinking.

The course, taught by a former SAIS Bologna grad, was a personal boot camp, guaranteed to tune me up for some serious transfers of knowledge. It was just what the doctor ordered -- and introduction to what I expect to be two years of advanced learning of the highest degree.

In tandem with the academic side, I am already sensing the importance of SAIS’s approach to community building -- the bringing together of talented students from every corner of the world. Invitations to lunch events, guest lectures and happy hours are helping me and my classmates become fast friends. It is exciting to imagine the quality of discussion that our diverse backgrounds and experiences will lead to over the next couple of years.

Attending DC pre-term meant I had to fly to Europe soon after sitting my microeconomics exam, arriving in Italy just in time for the welcome ceremony at the beginning of Bologna pre-term. In DC, SAIS owns a series of imperious structures along the busy Massachusetts Avenue thoroughfare; here in Bologna students and faculty congregate in an attractive building sitting quaintly on a quiet side street. Despite the normal high-tech security measures, the atmosphere at the Center is uncommonly warm, with students and faculty alike livening up “Giulio’s Bar” at nearly all hours.

Ian's homework spot
Having gotten some economics out of the way in DC, I was able to reward myself with four weeks of “Intensive Italian” classes in Bologna. And when they call it intensive, they are not kidding!

My already multilingual classmates and I have been spending five hours a day, five days a week, interacting non-stop with a rotating roster of wonderfully energetic Italian ladies. Honestly I doubt there’s a better, faster way to learn a new language. Except perhaps "sur l’oreiller", as my French colleagues would suggest. Fortunately, I know that at SAIS I can expect much of the same rigor and passion from all my future professors.

Since settling into my new apartment on Monday, my days have become increasingly routine. "Routine" might have a negative connotation for some. But if your routine is anything like mine, you’d understand otherwise.

A morning stroll through Piazza Maggiore, under the arches and down winding, bustling side streets to via Belmeloro. A delicious cappuccino and brioche. Two hours of banter in Italian with some of the brightest, motivated people you could ever expect to meet. Time for a caffè macchiato. More Italian banter. Lunch surrounded by chatty classmates, friendly faculty and curious bolognesi. Two final hours of Italian. Soon there’s talk of l’aperitivo, the little pizzeria just off the piazza, and most certainly a drop of vino rosso.  Oh and yes -- there is that homework to do. Perhaps it can wait until domani.

Even the spot for doing my homework is not exactly the worst in the world.

La vita è bella!

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