Monday, May 28, 2018

Reflections on my Year at SAIS Europe

As to be expected, the end of my year in Bologna was full of activity. After submitting my last paper at midnight on Friday, the celebrations quickly commenced and graduation -- an event we all theoretically knew was coming -- materialized all too soon. The next evening, with laurel wreaths dotting the crowd, our Bologna Class of 2018 watched our final sunset over the city from the campus’ Penthouse. A flurry of photos and final goodbye kisses (on both cheeks!) and hugs whirled around. A day later, my apartment keys were handed in, my luggage hauled across the city, and I boarded my plane home. It seemed that just as I had finally settled in, time was up.

Graduation Day at SAIS Europe
On my last evening in Bologna, I met my first SAIS Europe friend for our gelato together to reminisce. He asked me what I thought of the year, and how I had grown. It was my first moment of reflection since these last weeks of busy confusion to assess the year as a whole. What came to mind? I admitted that I had not achieved the GPA I had hoped for, and that there were many opportunities on campus of which I felt I had not successfully taken full advantage. For a moment, I thought of all the great guest speakers that I had missed, the clubs I hadn’t joined, and the class readings I hadn’t found time to complete.

Yet, when I considered his second question, how I had grown, I also felt an immense sense of progress both personally and academically. How could that be, given the shortcomings I couldn’t help but dwell upon? My friend then asked me to explain why I chose to attend SAIS, and specifically, SAIS Europe, for my first year. I spoke of my academic and career interests, my desire for challenge and pushing beyond my comfort zone and the growth that follows. I also spoke of my views of higher education as a privilege and gift to oneself -- to take time to simply learn, explore, and discern where you are and where you’d like to go. If my perspective on my year in Bologna was based solely on a GPA number, I would have missed the point of why I choose to study in Italy and the richness of the experience I gained from the overall year.

Saying Goodbye to Friends at SAIS Europe
Every student’s reason for attending SAIS Europe is different. During this past year, one could see this in action, across the diversity of students and the ways they chose to engage in their education. For me, the beauty of SAIS Europe lays in the fact that each student can tailor his/her experience: every class, club, speaker, advisor, internship and job listing, career trek, study trip, office hour, and espresso beverage imaginable is there for the taking. It’s up to you to engage as you please.

For me, my year in Bologna will be remembered for the ways academics and personal connections intertwined: as much growth came from traditional classroom instruction as from the small ways my peers shaped my world perspective daily. For years to come, I’ll hold dear the challenging economics courses with which I had a love/hate relationship, my winter break study trip to Sarajevo to engage with conflict resolution mechanisms in practice, waltzing the night away at the Vienna Ball, engaging in contentious political conversations with classmates both at School and in a cafĂ© in Piazza Maggiore, late nights in the library, debating current events with professors over dinners, and discovering how to fit, writing 25-page papers in the blink of an eye over weekend travel abroad. 

The fact that I have been exposed to new career paths and acquired many of the skills necessary to succeed has been only half of my SAIS Europe story; the rest emerges from the manner in which it all occurred. I’m filled with gratitude for new perspectives granted by the professors, staff, and students who have enriched my journey in innumerable ways.

Bologna, Italy
In answer to my friend’s question, I think my year in Bologna has been difficult beyond belief, and rewarding in ways I would have never predicted. I encourage future students to think critically of their motivations, and ask themselves how their unique time at SAIS will reflect on their specific objectives. Remembering what drives you will make for one remarkable year here in Bologna.

Emilie Uhrhammer, USA
Bologna Class of 2018, MA (IR/Conflict Management)

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