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Building my own academic career path

My name is Giulia, I am 23 years old and I am writing this piece to encourage students to be active, to be engaged and to be eager human rights activists. During the very inspiring Alumni Sharing Knowledge event, an HRG alumnus said “You are what you did during the pandemic”. And this was so true to me: when hard times come, you need to be resilient and to find the strength and motivation to keep going. After some months of ups and downs, in October 2020, I felt the impelling necessity to strategically plan the new academic year: I had only one course left to attend and I did not want to drown in loneliness, boredom, and demotivation. I knew my academic path had been irreversibly changed since when I withdrew from the Double Degree programme, but I was sure I had to find new challenges for myself, as a master student, as a human rights activist, and as a young person.

To begin with, I joined The Student Engagement Team, where I found a truly supportive environment. My colleagues were having similar challenges as I was, and I did not realize it until we started having weekly meetings and sharing anxieties and concerns. Indeed, online classes can make you feel completely alone in your learning path. Soon, I started developing two projects with The SET, which have become a constant source of inspiration and stimulation for me. I started being an active student who values being in a multicultural environment, who takes on responsibilities, and who tries to move human rights’ knowledge and sensitivity from the classroom to the real world.

In the same month, I contacted an association based in Pavia, Babele Onlus, that advocates for the full integration of migrants and vulnerable groups. It works in several areas, including housing, education, civic participation, linguistic support, and employment support. I was interested in deepening the topic of educational poverty and early school dropouts. I remember while searching the association’s website, I became attracted by some activities with Sinti communities living in two camps in the city, and I proposed myself as an educational volunteer. I did an interview with the project coordinator and, in a few weeks, after receiving some general socio-cultural knowledge from an experienced anthropologist, I started supporting Sinti secondary-aged children to realize their right to education on an equal basis with all other children. In pragmatic words, I helped them with their homework while constantly trying to establish a positive relationship. Additionally, I facilitated the fluctuating communication between children, parents (mostly illiterate) and school services. Of course, we had all our weekly meetings via WhatsApp calls, and the greatest challenges were for me to be clear and for them to remain concentrated. During the Christmas holidays, I could meet them in a short window of opportunity which filled me with joy. By chance, shortly thereafter, I crossed another project addressing a smaller Sinti community in my city of birth and I started volunteering also there.

Sometimes, it seems that everything in your life was already predisposed for you.

Volunteering with Sinti children living in a situation of vulnerability, helped me deepen the challenges that, on the ground, hamper the realization of their rights. I got to know traditions and rituals different from my own and, above all, how parental relations can be crucial in shaping every-day activities. With time, I also understood that there is a very profound fracture amongst the majority of society and the Sinti minority. On one side, Sinti communities severely suffer from socio-economic marginalization, but on the other side, both Sinti adults and adolescents have very strongly rooted values and attitudes that make them isolate in their “comfort-zones”. Recalling how sometimes life seems to have plans waiting for you, in January 2021, I accidentally found a post from the Human Rights Centre looking for human rights students willing to support the gathering of materials and elaboration of the Italian Yearbook of Human Rights. I thought I could use that experience to explore the broader situation of Sinti communities in Italy, and so it started my journey throughout collecting human rights violations in Italy.

Screenshot taken by Giulia during an online meeting with her teammates, while working for the Children's Rights Moot Court Competition, 4 March 2021.

Eventually, I took on so many activities that I ended up spending all my days and nights in front of my laptop, jumping from a reunion with The SET, to a webinar; from a research project to teaching Italian to a 7-year-old Bengalese child with a Padova-based association called Amici dei Popoli; from an online course on migration with another Padova-based association called Popoli Insieme to practicing Spanish within the Tandem Face2Face project provided by the Centro Linguistico di Ateneo (CLA); from a remote internship with a Nepalese association called VolNepal to an online competition on children’s rights with other talented HRG students. For a while, I felt unstoppable and I thought I could do everything and be anywhere, anytime. Eventually, in March 2021, I was no longer running because of the lack of time, I cancelled a recurring online-meeting with my friends and I spent all Sundays working. At the end of the month, I had no balance among personal and academic/professional life. I was tired, overwhelmed and frustrated and I could perceive my body was stressed. It was just a matter of time before I figured out I needed to give up some activities and to establish some priorities: I abandoned extra-online courses and I stopped enrolling in random webinars. Now, I am back to spending two nights per week on Netflix and having free Sundays.

All in all, being a curious and proactive student has permitted me to network with brilliant colleagues, experienced professors and committed workers, to gather inputs for my master thesis from so many angles and to find in reality that principle of interconnectedness and interdependence of human rights that I studied in theoretical terms. Most importantly, I was always stimulated and I had the feeling of constantly moving, despite sitting every day on the same chair. My personal giveaway from this period is not to conceive the academic career as a rigid and straightforward path that will lead you to your professional life. Be open to building your own academic career path.

Written by Giulia Rosina Edited by Christine Nanteza Per leggere in italiano, fai clic con il pulsante destro del mouse in un punto qualsiasi di questa schermata e seleziona "Traduci in italiano". Giulia Rosina is asecond-year human rights student, dedicated to children' s rights and she is a SET member. Follow Giulia's story on Instagram @giuliarosinz, Facebook @Giulia Rosina and Linkedin @Giulia Rosina.

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