Maria Fernanda Yglesias is a Biemf Student at Bocconi University. She moved to Milan two years ago to complete her studies in Italy. After her rich experience as a volunteer in home country she decided to start a volunteering activity in Italy as well, discovering a different reality. Here’s what she thinks.
At sunny 26 degrees, the winter season in Costa Rica is characterized by an overall feeling of merriness, gratitude and giving back. My small Central American country, with just its 4.2 million inhabitants has a culturally distinguished attitude towards volunteering that is inculcated since a very young age. Dozens of charity efforts are evident on TV, radio, supermarkets, downtown markets and even on social media. Most of them are put forward by young people, mostly high school and university students.
Moving to Milan in the pursual of a better undergraduate education has evidenced how Italy and Costa Rica differ so clearly in topics other than economic, politic and in terms of development. Even though Italy is the eighth economy in the EU, there are several circumstances which stand out quite impressively in which I am awed by how my little paradise manages to have a developed country´s mentality and functioning, community service being one of them. By law, every Costa Rican student has to perform 150 hours of community service from seventh to eleventh grade (twelfth and thirteenth grade are not mandatory). The way in which this task is set upon students in CR plants a seed that grows to develop throughout the rest of the youngsters´ life. Working with the neighboring communities is not seen as something extraordinary or an out-of-the normal thing to do, it is natural. Because of this, those high school graduates that move on to university studies do not see the mandatory 150 hours of community service needed to be performed to graduate, as a laborious task to be carried out. It is simply another step in the undergraduate´s career.
On the other hand, it is sad to know how the Italian government has no requirements relating to community service for students at any age or any point of their studies. This naturalness with which young Costa Ricans approach charity work sets a distinct mentality for the rest of their careers. Not only are they keen on organizing their own events when needed, but as they move on through life, giving even in small doses is done volentieri. Even if it is just donating because of a lack of time to participate differently, this cultural giving back attitude is engraved from such a young age that thinking of community service being any differently seems absurd or even ridiculous.
When I moved to Milan, I was curious as to what I would find in terms of cultural attitude towards volunteering in such a culturally varied program as is the BIEMF. I can say that I was not pleasantly surprised with what I found. Even though I have heard of many people willing to help, there are few who actually participate. Also, I was surprised to see how most of the volunteers are Italian rather than from other nationalities, even if it is not something with which they all grew up with because of a general governmental directive. Needless to say I am only exposed to a fraction of the program´s people and I can only say how this is what I personally have come across in the year and a half I have been there. Over the past year I have worked on and off with Sos Bambini, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of specific orphanages in Siget, Romania. At most of the events I have been to not only have I been the only Bocconi student, but also the only young person. I know being at 8 a.m. at a Coop outside Milan on a Sunday isn’t the ideal scenario for many, but is it really not well received by all? I believe this time of the year always comes with joy and an overall change of attitude. Why not make the most of it a give a little back? From a Costa Rican grateful for her holidays under the sun, even if it is chipping in a coin at the supermarket NGO tin at the cashier’s, it is time for selfless acts to be a natural element of cultures globally.
Maria Fernanda Yglesias