Time Flies When the World is Falling Apart

It has been exactly one year since I moved to Italy.

Coming here a year ago, I expected that I would face some challenges and that there would be major life changes. Obviously, I did not know the half of it.

In March and April, being in the hottest hot spot of a global pandemic was not ideal. Something rather unexpected, however, has happened. Italy is not known for very effective governance and Italians are not known as a rule-following people. Yet the government implemented a strict lockdown, and held it long enough that the “reopening” took place with a safely low circulation of the virus. People have been mostly following the rules after the reopening, and for most of the summer Italy has been doing quite well. (There has been a recent surge of new cases in the last few weeks, so it may be too soon to declare victory, but the numbers of intensive care hospitalizations and of deaths are still low).

Meanwhile, there have been “second waves” in several other European countries and the situation in the United States, as the President memorably said, is what it is.

This picture by Noah Berger for AP has been circulating as the perfect description of what is going on in Northern California this summer

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This New York Times headline also does a good job of packing at least five things that are wrong in California right now (the spread of covid-19, the overcrowding of prisons because of excessive sentencing, the budget cuts affecting firefighting efforts, the exploitation of prisoners for underpaid work, and the spread of wildfires) in a single sentence:

california-inmates

At the cost of resorting to banalities and cliches, Italians often do badly when confronted with good opportunities and lucky breaks, that are often wasted, but we do unexpectedly well in times of crisis. This can even be seen in the national football team, that is known for epic come-from-behind victories and for missing penalty kicks. The American spirit is to be ambitious and optimistic, and to pursue high-risk high-reward opportunities when they present themselves. The flip side is that adversity is often met in America with either despair or anger, typically counterproductively. All things considered, I am happy that I am getting to spend 2020 in Italy. Earlier this summer, the president and the rector of Bocconi announced the new long-term strategic plan for the university, which involves creating a new computer science department. If/when such plans come to fruition, there will be several faculty positions in computer science, at internationally competitive salaries, with advantageous taxation for people moving to Italy from other countries, and with English as the language of instructions, so maybe you too will consider such a move.

Bocconi is preparing to restart in-person teaching in a couple of weeks. The plan is to record and post lectures, to allow students to attend lectures remotely if they prefer, and to use classrooms at most at half capacity. If a class has to be scheduled in a classroom whose capacity is less than twice the class enrollment, students will be split in two groups. Each group will (be allowed to) physically attend in alternating weeks, and will (be required to) attend online at other times.

The space between campus buildings has been marked with well-spaced walking paths, and there are even pedestrian roundabouts.

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Are we heading for a second-wave disaster? Will students really follow the rules? On Sunday we were in Rome and we took a bus to the city center. Every other seat in the bus was marked with a “do not sit” sign to create distancing between sitting people. All marked seats were empty even as the bus was filling up and several people were standing. Then a group of German tourists got in, and they sat in all the forbidden seats. This is the upside-down world of 2020, all bets are off.

5 thoughts on “Time Flies When the World is Falling Apart

  1. Great to hear that Bocconi will have a CS department! I look forward to seeing the developments. Your plans for in-person classes are very similar to what we did at Reykjavik University, where lectures started on August 17. So far so good, but I still keep my fingers tightly crossed. I’d be interested in hearing feedback from the Bocconi students after a few weeks. I can send you the feedback we received from our students, if you want. Good luck!

  2. @Luca: It’s too soon to say that Bocconi “will” have a CS department, but it “may” happen and the first step (stating the goal in the strategic plan) is done. I would be interested in what your students think of this “blended” teaching model

  3. India is reopening now in phases, and I’m waiting to see how self-disciplined we will be. I’ve often heard about Italy-India similarities in governance, temperament, etc … amidst chaos, things somehow work

  4. Speaking of clichés, Emmanuel Macron said a couple of days ago that the French do not follow distancing rules properly “because we are a Latin people”. Meanwhile in Berlin, a mob of anti-mask protesters was trying to storm the Bundestag…

  5. I’m glad to hear that there are plans to start a CS department at Bocconi. Hopefully, I can study abroad there if this happens before the Fall of 2021. (Former CS170 student at UC Berkeley in the Spring of 2019. Great memories in that class)

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