Alessandra Faggian

I WAS BORN IN Milan “some” (…many) years ago. My childhood was pretty normal. My parents were not academics, and I never thought I would become a university professor. In fact, I wanted to become a hairdresser when I grew up. I went to a public elementary school in a rather tough neighbourhood. We changed teachers five times in five years. I remember that because every time was a “potluck”; sometimes it was good, sometimes not so much. I was rather shy when I was a kid (maybe difficult to believe now), and I never knew if I had to raise my hand when I knew the answer to a question. Some teachers told my parents I did it too much, and others that I did it not enough. Trying to figure out the “right amount” immediately made me appreciate the saying “virtue lies in the middle”, something that accompanies me these days, as one of the things I hate the most is the extremism of any type.

In elementary school, I was picking up things quite quickly and effortlessly, and there were suggestions of making me skip grades. My parents were wise enough not to agree to this, and I am glad they did because, indeed, I was not that quick on the social side of things. My shyness meant I would rather observe others playing for a while, from a corner, before finding the courage to join in. Fortunately, that changed as I grew older.

By the time middle school came, my parents had started their own business, and the economy was booming. They decided to switch schools and send me to a private one run by nuns. I know there are many preconceptions about this type of school, but honestly, that was one of the happiest times of my life. The nuns were open-minded and very modern (I remember one of them playing basket with us), and they taught me my core values.

By the end of middle school, I was none the wiser about what I wanted to be as an adult. I had discarded the idea of becoming a hairdresser, but the final aptitude tests in 8th grade revealed I could do almost anything. “Almost” because one thing was sure, I had to keep away from any “artistic” high school (if you could see me drawing, you would understand it is a matter of “like mother like daughter”, as my father is instead very artistic). My favourite subject was mathematics, so I picked the scientific lyceum.


Alessandra Faggian following the ritual of “walking through the lions” at Bocconi University on the day of her BSc graduation

High school was a lot of fun. I graduated with top grades while also enjoying myself with friends. Thinking back to this period, I get nostalgic (which makes me feel rather old). We did not have cell phones and all the technology we have today, but that made us talk more and be more creative about what to do together. I remember hours spent sitting on small walls discussing what to do and where to go…The five years of high school were also the years to mature the “big” decision of what to do with my life. I went through several phases: biologist, interpreter and finally, engineer. By the end of high school, I was sure I wanted to become an engineer, although I was not sure what kind yet. That also went through stages. First, I wanted to study aerospace engineering (but that would have required moving from Milan); then it was mechanical engineering (I wanted to be the first mechanical engineer working for team Ferrari in Formula One, as I was a big fan). Finally, I settled for management engineering (a compromise between my parents and me).

Sure enough, once I finished high school, I enrolled in the aptitude entry test at the Politecnico di Milano for management engineering. The test went great, and I was ready to start my adventure there, but my parents wanted me to also sit the entry test at Bocconi University for Economics (their dream was for me to become an accountant). The complication started when I also passed that test…what to do? I did pick Economics in the end, but I soon realised that accounting was not my thing (in fact, accounting was the only exam I had to repeat twice!), and neither was Business Economics. Instead, I chose Political Economy, and that saved my life. We had more freedom to pick optional courses, and I simply decided, based on my curiosity – without a real plan, I admit - to combine courses on Japanese language and Japanese Economics with Environmental Economics, but also Policy Evaluation, Financial Sciences and many others. Funny enough, I did not pick the course of Urban or Regional Economics (little I knew that would have become my life!). Instead, my final thesis was on Environmental Impact Assessment.

Once done with university, reality struck. I started looking for jobs. I went for individual interviews, followed by group interviews (I hated them, I felt like a guinea pig in an experiment), aptitude tests and so on. I eventually found a temporary job in a job placement agency. I spent weeks just reading CVs and trying to match them to job profiles. It was not fun, but I kept working while looking for something better and that something better came one night, unexpectedly, in the form of a phone call from Roberta Capello. She was then a researcher at the Politecnico di Milano working with Professor Roberto Camagni (one of the forefathers of Regional and Urban Economics not only In Italy but also in Europe) and wanted me to go for an interview. She was very enthusiastic about describing her job as an academic, and I clearly remember her saying, “with this job, you will travel a lot”… Boy was she right, as that was the beginning of a career that took me around the world.

I started working with them in December 1997, just before Christmas. I enjoyed the work tremendously, and Roberto & Roberta were great teachers. I started teaching Urban Economics in March 1998. The first class was terrifying, but I really liked teaching and started feeling at ease rather quickly. Later that year, I won a scholarship to start a PhD at the University of Ancona, and in 1999 I left for a period abroad in the UK. It should have been a year, and instead, a year turned into 18. In October 1999, when I went to the University of Reading for an MSc in Regional Science, I met Philip McCann (still a lecturer back then). He was in the process of leaving for a sabbatical in Japan, but before leaving, he asked me whether I was interested in staying in the UK with a PhD scholarship to work under his supervision. It was a tough decision that took a lot of walking around Campus and soul-searching, but my instinct told me to “jump”, so I started a new chapter in my life.


(Published on RSAI Newsletter 2023 May)

Read 507 times Last modified on Tuesday, 09 July 2024 15:27

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