When I tell people that I studied history – Asian history – at university, I have noticed two standard reactions. First, many ask me “why the past?”; second, they want to know “why Asia? “. Since I don’t usually get to talk for one hour, I have come up with a standard – and very prosaic – response: “I think it’s imperative to explore the past in order to understand the present (true!) and I decided to study Asia because that’s were the future will be”. Although these two are among the many reasons why I decided to study Asian history, there’s so much more to the story. However, I realise that explaining why during my last year of university I took a course to understand the connections between Javanism and Indonesian Islam, most importantly, why I found it incredibly interesting, can be challenging.
So that’s what I would actually like to say when people ask me the “faithful” questions – not just to tell the story of how I became passionate about history and Asia but also of why that ultimately influenced my decision to become a journalist:
My father’s side ‘nonna’ is originally from Florence, the pulsing heart of Italy’s traditions. The city is not only the place of birth of the ‘real’ Italian language, Boccaccio, and Dante, but also an international hub of artistic avant-guards and of a unique folkloristic culture. Through the stories of my grandmother’s childhood in Tuscany, I became passionate about her personal experiences in relations to the political situation of the time. As she was a teenager during the Nazi occupation of central Italy in World War II, she gave me a unique entrance into an historical watershed. Most importantly, she shared with me her memoir, a diary that she started writing when Tuscany was first bombarded and that she ended after the Allies’ liberation. I remember that I used to read that black diary every Sunday and ask new questions every time I had the chance to, a curiosity that will drive my passion for biographical history and its connection to journalism. My approach to history, therefore, has always been characterised by a “bottom-up” perspective: understanding the big picture and the context by reading stories of common people.
One of the most stimulating and challenging experiences of my life was doubtlessly my decision to move to London in 2012. After finishing high school in Italy I applied to university in the UK to study history. I am now a School of Oriental and African Studies graduate in Asian history, but if you would have asked me four years ago I had no clue that I was going to specialise in Asia; rather, I was simply fascinated by the past and its implications on the present and future. My decision to give up the study of ‘traditional’ – in the Western sense – history, was prompted by the impact that London had on my personal growth. Diversity, in every possible shape, is what London meant to me: a kaleidoscopic glimpse of the world. The chance to be in contact with different cultures, religions and lifestyles at many levels in my everyday life made me realise that I needed another perspective, that I wasn’t satisfied with the ‘eurocentric’ vision of the past and the present that I had been exposed to for my entire life.
I had always been fascinated by Asia but my attraction to the continent and its peoples was in a sense ‘romantic’; it was related to the idyllic stories of novels that i devoured from my bed and to my curiosity to learn more about the places that were – and are – engines of change and development.
In this respect, SOAS gave me not only the theoretical knowledge that I was very thirsty for, but most importantly revolutionised my conception of learning and my approach to the world: deconstructing stereotypes and appreciating differences are essential attitudes. I acquired names, dates, and notions to turn those romantic and idealised “visions” that prompted me to study Asia into precious knowledge. Moreover, the intrinsic connection between development and the role of East-West relations as indispensable means to understand our world, made me realise that my long standing passion for writing and my will to be informed about the world in an in depth and critical way were the starting points to pursue a career in journalism.