Erasmus Mundus: testimonials from Ca’ Foscari students in Azerbaijan
An “incredibly enriching” experience, which has “pushed them to discovering and encountering” worlds that differ from the Italian and European reality. The words of Marco Lisiero and Francesco Ricapito are still loaded with memories from the 10 months they spent in Azerbaijan within the Erasmus Mundus program during their first semester.
The two students, who have both graduated in International Relations in the meantime, were able to study at Khazar University in the capital city Baku thanks to two projects financed by the European Commission: EMBER – Erasmus Mundus Broadening Educational Opportunities and WEBB – Whole Europe Beyond Borders.
In an interview published on the website Azerbaijan News [IT], Marco and Francesco spoke of the numerous contact points with the South Caucasus and Italy as well as the various cultural differences with a country which despite being open to democracy and the Western world, is nonetheless governed by a "semi-dictatorship" that does not hesitate to use an iron fist with its opposition. “The Azeris are a very proud people” – says Marco – “During my stay I felt the country’s monolithic character, which is a good thing for the life of States. In this sense, Azerbaijan resembles Italy. Azerbaijan and Italy both understand their history and their culture and carry a specific identity”. The reasons for this affinity can be attributed to the shared historical aspects of the two countries, whose lands were both conquered by foreign populations, and who therefore hold a good dose of national pride.
The picture that emerges from their stories is in any case one of a country which is finally ready to open up to the world, 20 years after the constitution which gave them independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 came into effect. The warm hospitality received by the two students is evidence of this: “Especially in the rural areas but also in Baku” – says Francesco – “there was an incredible respect shown towards any type of guest, foreign guests in particular. On numerous occasions I would go into local homes and end up being treated with velvet gloves. They are really interested in knowing where you come from, what you are doing in Azerbaijan, and what you think of their country”.
In this context, organizing large international events, such as the first edition of the European Games held in June, 2015, is crucial for the world to get to know Azerbaijan while at the same time speeding up the process which is already taking place. Francesco reveals: “The Azeris are really enthusiastic about these events because they believe them to be fundamental in promoting an understanding of their country all around the world. The care that they took, together with large financial and human investment, is a true demonstration of this”.
Both students maintain that they truly expanded their horizons during the study abroad period, which was particularly useful for their chosen course of studies: “I feel like I have learnt so much about a country and a region which beforehand I knew almost nothing about” – states Francesco – “I have understood a lot of things about their culture and traditions and I was able to come into contact with people from many different countries, something which is always a source of incredible enrichment”. And as Marco confirms, carrying out this type of experience in a country so very different from Italy undoubtedly provides further stimulus: “Living and studying in a reality which is different from your usual habits strenghtens your spirit and reinforces the awareness you have about your own qualities”.