Joanne Dynak is an Institute of Politics Women's Initiative in Leadership student studying abroad in Vencie, Italy through the Harvard Summer School.
With a youth unemployment rate of 36% and climbing in a culture stagnant in its brilliant history, Italian youth are increasingly forced to leave the country in pursuit of a better, stable life. This summer, I found myself among a collection of youth venturing back to one of the most quintessentially Italian cities – Venice – in pursuit of understanding both its current economic state, and the future of our global generation.
Venice is a special place. In a brief two months, I’d had countless rides on the waterbuses around the city (the equivalent of a subway system, boat-wise); consumed a shameless amount of gelato, Nutella, cappuccinos, and fried fish;
I was taught the skilled ways of Venetian rowing from a hardy group of singing Voga captains (think crew, but standing gondolier-style); I’d shared lunches of tagliatelle and scallops with Communist dock workers; huddled canal-side with friends in awe of the firework tsunami that initiated the Redentore festival; and explored the city-wide biannual international modern art exhibition known as Biennale, the exhibits of which lay sprinkled between Crusade-era churches, hidden courtyard gardens, and dark, winding walkways that opened to small city squares.
But all these unique bits of Venetian life were welcome additions to the real reason I was there. For six weeks, I took courses in Italian language and Keynesian economic theory through the Harvard Summer School collaboration with the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. We studied alongside Italian students from Ca’ Foscari, many of them already doing graduate work.
Why travel all the way to one of the cultural, artistic, and historical epicenters of the world to take a macroeconomic theory class? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use my time there to embrace the rich history around me? These answers lie not so much in my own perspective as in that of my Italian classmates.
When we weren’t decoding Keynesian prose from The General Theory or explaining how in the world the serendipitous equilibrium moved from E to E’ (what? I know), we chatted over vending machine espressos (they have those) and prodded each other about our lives on the other side of the pond. While we relished in our similarities as young adults and students, what may have drawn us closer was the understanding of our different perceptions of our own futures.
One of my personal and academic passions lies in education reform. Coming to Harvard from an underprivileged background and attending a small, financially struggling high school, I know just how crucial access to quality education is at every level in determining our nation’s future. But as we come back to the individual level, what does having an education mean beyond being in school, upon entering the “real world?”