"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ― Andy Warhol
My experience in Padova has come to an end and I know for sure that I’m not leaving this city, this country, this university as the person I was before.
There is one thing that is very important and dear to my heart, and I want to share these thoughts with you, because I think they are important. Important, because it can help us remove barriers. Between cultures, between people, between souls.
Before I came to Padova, I researched. I looked at what the internet had to offer about the university. I also heard some things about it. And about Italians in general. About their bureaucracy, about their non-existent organisation skills, about their laziness. Wow, I thought. Wow wow wow. Maybe I should rethink this whole thing. Maybe this is not where I want to go. As a fairly organised and structured person, it sounded like a nightmare to me.
Relax, Nadine, I thought. Relax, relax, relax. Maybe this is not true. Maybe this one experience is not at all true. Forget what you heard, and just be prepared. Be prepared for what is going to come, and accept it.
And I did. I tried my best to take everything as it was, and it was definitely very different than what I was used to.
Organisation: very low. Punctuality: Pun…what?, Bureaucracy: a catastrophe, to say the least. What I mean by this is that to do my internship in a primary school, I had to go to four different offices, because first you have to complete this form, then you send it to that person, after that you need to go to that office, and then they need to send another e-mail to confirm, after which you need to see this person (which is available about an hour a week, most probably when you have a lecture you don’t want to miss), and so on.
Punctuality: professors show up twenty minutes late for the exam which is supposed to be at 2, and then realise that oh, the lecture hall is booked for 3:30, “COME ON, HOW CAN THAT BE? I WAS ON TIME!” We saw you park your car at 2:19, but ok, you were on time. On-italian-time, maybe.
In Austria professors come 10 minutes before the lecture is supposed to start to set up their laptops, make sure technology works and they can start on time. In Italy professors come 5-30 minutes late, or ask if they can go and get a coffee before starting the lesson.
Organisation: for oral exams, in my university you enter your name in a list with time slots. You know your turn, you come some minutes before, you take the exam, and go home. I know this might be not true for other universities in Austria, so they way it was done in Italy may not surprise either. Here you enter a list online. First come, first serve. At some point the professor sends a list with when your turn will be (1-20 on day 1 at x o’clock, 20-40 on day 2 at y o’clock etc.) and you show up on that day, on the time shown. What you don’t know is that there is another list for another course and that they are 20 people, too. What happens then is that you wait until it’s your turn. Being number 10 then means being number 20 (because taking turns with people from the other group), and depending on the talkativity (i know this is not word) of the professor you might be sitting there for three hours until it’s your turn.
With all these experiences I made, I soon realised that there are two options for me: 1) complain and declare that the way things are done here is bad and inefficient. This will leave you the same person as before, because you know how things are done. You know that the way you do it and the way you’re used to things being done is the only way.
2) Embrace the culture. I am not saying that being late is praiseworthy. But neither am I saying that being so strict that an excuse for why you were late should be unacceptable.
I learnt that the way things are done here is not bad, but different. People are not inefficient, they take things easy. People are not lazy, they’re much more relaxed. Waiting for three hours until it’s your turn for an exam might be annoying if you sit there and focus on how disorganised this system can be. But waiting for three hours and talking to your uni friends, getting to know them better and meeting some now people doesn’t sound all that bad.
Always having to wait for people isn’t cool either if you stand around, looking at your watch every two and a half seconds, but if you know that people tend to be late, accept it. Take a book with you and read. Problem solved.
Living in Italy as an organised person might be hard, if you think that life needs to always be organised and can’t have that little “go-with-the-flow”-touch, sometimes. I have the feeling that exactly these people, including me, are doing themselves a favour by going to a place where things are not done in a certain way. In a way THEY think is right.
We all can learn from others. And we should. Because in life, you won’t always meet people who do things you want them to be. But if you have a mindset of learning from others, this gives the whole thing a twist. You accept them the way they are and learn something. And they might learn from you, too. If we’d all be a bit more sympathetic, the world could be such a nice place.
Because Padova has some crazy good food to offer, I thought it’d be nice to share some of my favourite spots with you. These are my personal experiences with places and they might deviate form yours.