"I am documenting my life journey. I come from India, and my parents got married at a young age by their family's choice and decision. My mom pursued university education, but my dad didn’t even finish high school. He wasn't capable of providing for a family, so we lived with our parents, along with my uncle and aunt, in a joint family setup.
When I was born, there were more responsibilities on my parents. They moved to another state in India, Rajasthan. My mom worked as a private school teacher, teaching Hindi on a contract basis with very low income. My dad took on labor jobs to make ends meet. We lived in a rented house in very poor conditions, facing many difficulties.
If I say 'difficult circumstances,' I want to convey just how tough it was. I used to have fights with my brother and sister during breakfast over who got two or three cookies and more coffee in a cup. Now you can imagine how challenging life was.
As we grew older, my parents decided to move back to New Delhi and live in their parents' house. We moved, and they enrolled us in a government school where education was free. It was a good thing, but the environment was far from ideal. The students, including me, all came from low-income families in urban areas. The living conditions were poor, and the schooling wasn't up to par. There were limited opportunities for sports and extracurricular activities. Despite this, I excelled in my studies and became a brilliant student in the school.
When it came time for me to choose my university and career path, I didn't explore my options much. I noticed that everyone was pursuing engineering, and I learned that it could lead to a well-paying job. However, I now realize this wasn't entirely true. It was a misguided belief that engineering would automatically lead to a stable job and improved financial circumstances.
I expressed my desire to pursue engineering to my parents. I prepared for the entrance exams to get admission in government colleges, where the tuition fees were more affordable. However, due to the high volume of students, competition was fierce. Despite my efforts, I couldn't secure a spot. I felt disheartened and started doubting my abilities.
My parents took a loan from the bank and enrolled me in a private engineering institute. However, I struggled to fit in. I had difficulty connecting with other students and always felt like an outsider. I don’t know why I couldn't find my place in college. Additionally, I studied civil engineering, but I don’t feel like I have a deep understanding of it. I managed to pass, but I didn't feel like I truly grasped the subject.
In my final year of engineering, I turned to social media and began creating content on TikTok. My videos gained popularity and I started to gain a significant following. This brought in some income, and I became increasingly focused on social media, which impacted my academic performance.
Then, TikTok was banned, and I lost my source of income. I graduated, but finding a job proved to be a challenge. The job market was saturated with engineers, and opportunities were scarce, especially with the added challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many things happened, but I couldn't document everything.
During the pandemic, I spent my time at home, feeling depressed and hopeless. One day, I came across a YouTube video about free education in Italy. I did some research, and my motivation shifted towards going abroad, not necessarily knowing what I wanted to study. I applied to various courses, driven by a desire for change.
I was admitted to a master's degree program at the University of Bologna in science for conservation and restoration of cultural heritage. I received a fully funded scholarship, but I still needed to show sufficient financial support for my stay abroad, as per visa requirements. This posed a challenge, as my parents couldn't prove that we had enough money for my stay.
I felt despondent and doubted whether I could make it. Instead of giving up, I sought out an organization, Give Me Trees Trust, and explained my situation to their CEO. They supported me by meeting the embassy's requirements, not with money, but with the necessary documentation.
Now, I am in my second year in Italy, nearing graduation. I've successfully completed all exams and lessons. I'm about to start my internship and write my thesis. However, I still have moments of doubt about whether I truly excel in this field. It's perplexing that I pass oral exams even though I never cheat. I see other students who study diligently but struggle to pass.
I don't know where life will take me after graduation. Will I find a stable job? Will I stay in Italy? Or will my European dream lead me to working in restaurants washing dishes? Is this the extent of my potential? Do I lack the necessary skills?
Despite these uncertainties, I acknowledge that I have achieved a great deal. I am studying at a top university in Italy, coming from a challenging background in New Delhi. I juggled part-time work and survived. I hold onto the hope that one day, I will have a stable job. I dream of inviting my parents to Italy and taking them to the islands of Sardinia or Sicily for the best vacation of our lives. I believe that day will come.
I yearn for society to believe in me and offer me a chance. Thank you for reading!"
Shahzeb Khan is a Master Degree student, Science for Conservation-Restoration of Cultural Heritage at Unibo, Ravenna.