Chronicles Of An Italian Exchange Student At IIM Calcutta

Hey, Iacopo. Thanks for doing this. How is life ?
Hey, dude. No issues. My pleasure. Things are going fine.


Great. Can you please shed some light on your background, interests, ambitions?
I am Iacopo Di Gregorio, a 23-year-old Italian guy. I was born in “Roma” as we Italians love to call it. After getting my high school diploma, my father pushed me up to get to know different academic and lifestyle contexts. Thus, I found myself for the first time living alone in Milan as a Bocconi student. Even though it may seem almost ordinary to start living alone in a new city after overcoming the threshold of 18 years old, in Italy is not like that: many youngsters stay rooted in their old but reliable habits.

However, I spent three of my best years there. I have been part of the radio station club for around 2 years. Within these years, I started to mature a curiosity towards the news. Since I was able to move further away from my comfort zone, I thought I wanted more. I became to be thirsty and hungry of knowing new people, new cultures. That explains my first big decision to move to Denmark to Copenhagen Business School. At that time, I had no excitement. In Copenhagen, I took part in several initiatives like the “buddy program” to get to know people whose background has been completely different from mine. I have also been a member of a student association whose mission was to export Italian culture overseas. In addition, I have been working for a global-oriented Danish design-driven company. That has contributed to my desire to get out of the comfort zone.

Right now, assuming you know me a little bit better, my ambition is to work within an international environment. Indeed, I look for environments where there is the possibility to get to know people with a large variety of backgrounds. I strongly believe that the only way to mature and to develop a critical thinking is not given by confronting ourselves among those who have our same mindset. Yet, from a comparison of our points with people who have different views when facing the same situation.


Interesting ! Well, what motivated you to go on an exchange programme?
This has been the perfect and natural consequence of all the thoughts I have been developing during these years. Fortunately, my university has been implementing a huge network for the exchange program and almost all the people applying for it might have been accepted. Therefore, it represented an occasion I must not be missing.


Now a question I have been eagerly waiting to ask. What was your rationale for choosing India?
This is a hard question and I have, to be honest. It has been a rational choice. I asked myself what I wanted to achieve with an international experience. Thereby, I started writing down all my thoughts clustering them into 3 criteria. The first one concerns the experience of a potential culture shock. The second one is about the degree of prestige of the university and the third one was about learning or improving my second language (French). Unfortunately, there was no university within this huge array being able to fulfill the totality of these three criteria. Hence, I started giving weight to these criterion and I figured out that a prestigious university in an extremely different environment was more relevant to me. Therefore, the optimal solution has been popped up in a perfect and natural way as it was also for the choice of going on the exchange : India. Then, I have to admit that I found that roughly a half of the step students are French, so I was even more convinced afterwards!


That indeed was candid. Can you shed some light on how has been your experience off late?
My perception of India is ambivalent so far. I found it as the country where two opposite faces of a medal can survive simultaneously. Expensive shopping malls and rooftops hotel clubs located right next to people living in the streets. Nevertheless, I am not surprised by the inequality of wealth allocation, but rather on the way everything seems too mixed in such a chaotic but homogeneous way. It’s hard to explain, but that provides me a sense of imperfect but perfect equilibrium which lets me think everything is possible in life.


Nicely put, buddy. Well, embrace the chaos mate. Now, what do you expect to get out of the experience?
From India, I am expecting to get one major learning in terms of personal and internal growth. It can be summarized in the sentence: “stop planning!”. Indeed, so far any attempt in planning anything has been useless. To provide an example, if I was looking for, let’s say, a shirt from the New Market bazaar, I would end up in buying a tour for the Sunderbans jungle!

Besides this positive example, planning to achieve anything and ending up doing something completely different has been frustrating, especially at the beginning. Hence, I expect India teaching me this philosophy: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Or rather, to be able to adapt myself to life unexpected events in a creative way, especially in a professional perspective. Indeed, the capability of modifying an already taken decision due to contingent changes can be hindered by the reliance geared to past choices.


Yea, we are apt at that. We even have a word for the knack of adapting to such situations – “Jugaad”. Any observations about life here you find different, surprising or unconventional?
Rural life is one aspect that touched me the most. After having spent several days in the city right after my arrival, I started to think that the whole India might have been different from what I dreamt it. I expected meditation but I found chaos given the traffic and the loud noises. I expected an extremely eastern-oriented country until I saw the new buildings and the huge shopping malls which I found a desperate attempt to imitate western culture. I was disappointed since I was escaping from western. Yet, what a wrong first impression I had! In fact, all my perceptions changed when I went to Sunderbans jungle.

For me, it has been relevant not because of the intrinsic beauty of the mangrove forest being the house of the Bengali tiger. But because of the inhabitants. I found in their simplicity of carrying on their life the deep sense of life I was looking for. I started to discover the Indian philosophy of the cult of the inner-self rather than the outer-side. That shed light on me on the rational beneath a large amount of trash on the city streets or the crumbling appearance of most of the buildings due to lack of maintenance on one hand and the extremely accuracy and frequency of the ritual participation on the other. That is the biggest difference so far experienced between mine and Indian culture so far.


Thanks for doing this dude. Enjoy your Kerala and Goa tour. Now,  let’s begin the Dzongri Trek.




About the Interviewer: 


Niteen Bali is a graduate of NIT Karnataka, Surathkal. Post which he got into IIM Calcutta. Right now, he is obsessed with Quora, Twitter and the song in his head – Zombie. Basically, a ‘fly in the fourth wall’ trying to make sense of the personified version between imagination and reality. Sometimes, he also goes by the name – RedTooth, Eight Samurai, Invisible Hand. Part of the InsideIIM student team.

Niteen Bali

Student at Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta