(This letter is part of a series by The Indian Express where we bring you the experiences of students from different foreign universities. From scholarships and loans to food and cultural experiences, students tell us how life is different in these countries and the things that are. non-academic learning)
Being a boy from a small town, he had never dreamed of studying abroad. I thought of following the same path as every other student: get good grades in school and college, get a lucrative job, and then retire. However, life had its own plan and I ended up doing a master’s degree in Italy and eventually enrolled for a PhD as well. Hello, I am Satyesh Shanker Awasthi and this is my story: from a simple boy from Lucknow to a researcher at Politecnico di Milano, Italy.
It was when I was pursuing post-graduation at the Karnataka National Institute of Technology that I got to know the outside world. I applied for an exchange program during my third and fourth year summer vacation and went to France. It was a whole new world for me. When I met French students, I learned about their curriculum and the opportunities they offer to international students from European nations. Before making the final decision to apply abroad, I took advice from my seniors and also worked to take stock of the mechanical engineering industry.
I worked at the Research Design and Standards Organization (RDSO), an Indian railway organization in Lucknow. After much deliberation, I’ve concluded that pursuing an MS is a better option.
How I was selected for the scholarship
Once I decided to pursue a master’s degree and later a doctorate, I researched universities. I applied to Politecnico di Milano as it was in the top 20 universities in my field according to the QS world rankings. Also, since I had applied for a scholarship, they also lowered my tuition.
There were three types of scholarship programs: the ASP, the DSU (University Financial Aid – Diritto Allo Studio Universitario) and Invest your talent. The DSU is provided by the Italian government and is valid for any institute. Invest Your Talent As the name suggests, find internships to invest your talent.
I was offered DSU and ASP– Alta Scuola Politecnica; but since you can’t have two scholarships at the same time, I chose ASP. The latter is more of a program in which a student must write a letter of motivation, telling him his story, how he decided to do a Master’s in the subject and what his plans are for the future. Based on your motivation letter, you are shortlisted for the interview round.
I am glad I chose ASP as it requires a lot of involvement from the students. They made us work on projects, learn more about technology and work on gadgets and improve them. He also pays 400 euros a month.
We had an intensive course of 4×1 week and related project during the two academic years. And during each week, we split into a team of designers, architects and engineers. Each team had to present a project on the last day based on the work we applied. We worked on a major project with a company/startup/research group on current research topics. I worked with Artemide, a design lighting company in Milan and the theme was “light and responsive: city of the future”.
Most updated course
Academically speaking, European universities offer advanced training by constantly updating the curriculum based on the most recent and approved studies. The course is also more advanced. In India, although professors know their subjects well, there is a lack of collaboration between industry and academia. European universities generally have more application of knowledge as compared to Indian institutes.
Engineering schools in Italy are well funded and therefore students can work in advanced research. Although my university, Politecnico di Milano, is notoriously famous for being more theoretical compared to other universities in the country, it is much better than most Indian universities.
To manage my finances, I registered as a ‘college tutor’ and taught a student at the school Maths and English. There was a program called 150 hours where you would get paid for volunteer work at the university.
To relax, I play badminton. It’s always been my passion, it keeps me healthy. I can draw analogies between myself and badminton. It helps me think better. In badminton, you have to strategize and think about the future just like in life.
I fell in love with Italy
When I arrived in Italy I stayed in an Airbnb for a month. An Indian Facebook group was resourceful and helped me rent a room. Being a vegetarian, I learned how to cook before I left for Italy. I even found a vegetarian roommate through the Facebook group. I would cook in bulk so that the food would last a day or two.
I fell in love with Italy: its history, its culture and especially the food. They have beautiful monuments like in India. The feeling of living far from home in this new country was indescribable. It’s been five years and I’m still enjoying every moment of it. I miss home, but getting all this new experience kept me motivated.
The culture of Italy and India is similar; people are family oriented. At first, I didn’t interact with the local people and my social circle mostly involved students and professors of the university. Most Chinese and Indians have their own groups. However, I started interacting with students from other nations, including local ones. I have a pretty diverse group of friends now. People here use English only for work, but prefer their mother tongue wherever they can. They appreciate it if you try to learn their language and communicate with them in Italian. I suggest that if anyone wants to go to a non-English country that they learn the language.
COVID-19 in Italy
During COVID-19, I did not return home for two reasons. First, it could bring the disease to India. The second reason is that I had finished all my courses and exams, but my thesis was incomplete and I only wanted to come back after graduation. My thesis was more experimental for which I had to be present.
Italy was very affected by COVID-19 in 2020. We were completely isolated and could not meet anyone. It was frustrating at first, but the good part was that I learned Italian during that time. I realized that living alone is depressing and now I plan to complete my PhD and return to India.
My advice to students
Ask yourself first if you want to work or do a PhD. This will help to choose the country and university. Also, research and learn more about the alumni of your selected universities. Also, you should consider a five- or ten-year plan. I was sure that I wanted to study further because in India, after BTech, I wouldn’t have got the kind of profile I was looking for. Also, there is not much research and development in the field of mechanical engineering in India.
If you are going to a non-English speaking nation, try to learn the local language. At the end of your course, if you know the local language, your job application will be considered above others.
Learn life skills like cooking and cleaning. Be open to new experiences. Make an effort to learn about the culture of that country and make friends. Don’t wait for people to come talk to you. Try to explore the country. It will boost your confidence.