Episode 23 │ Next Thing, Best Thing (ITALY)
Updated: 12 hours ago
"I always had this itch, this inkling like, 'I have to do something different! I can't just go to college down the street. I want more, I want so much more!' " (Avani, Episode 23)
I was fortunate to meet Avani Mehta while we were both in high school. We crossed paths often and were always friendly, but didn't get incredibly close during that time. Which is why I was surprised when she informed me during our interview (more like reminded me, I probably knew this about her but had forgotten) that she graduated at 16 years old. Due to a family emergency, her parents and sister moved to India while Avani stayed in the States. Rather than having to do her senior year in India, our high school allowed her to complete 11th and 12th grade in the same year so that she could begin her undergraduate studies at Oakland University.
Having not had time to think about what she wanted to major in, she opted for biology, which she did well in but was not passionate about. And just like high school, she completed her Bachelor's degree in three years. It was lonely being without her family and not being able to participate in the same activities as her friends from high school, plus she hadn't planned on staying home for university anyway. She felt short-changed and isolated. And since her studies were the only thing keeping her in her hometown, the sooner she finished them, the sooner she could be on her way. As she put it to me, she was desperate to branch out.
So for grad school, Avani was determined to study something that was more aligned with her interests, and she was intent on going outside of the United States. She started researching healthcare management programs in Europe, finding options in France, England, and Italy. She chose Italy and enrolled at SDA Bocconi, which is the prestigious graduate business school of Bocconi University. (Read to the end to learn about her application process.) It was 2012, and she believes that the economic downturn at the time played in her favor: fewer people able to afford grad school, fewer applicants, greater odds for people who did apply. But who knows! What matters is that she got accepted.
As with much of her life up to this point, things moved quite quickly. She applied a few months before the term started, was accepted in July, and moved to Milan in September. She was 19 years old at the time and lived there for a year, finishing her Master of International Health Care Management, Economics & Policy in 2013. The rush was not without its difficulties. Avani had to figure out the visa process on her own, and once she arrived it took her a couple months to find stable housing. And though she was in the modern, international, economic powerhouse of Milan, her not knowing Italian that well sometimes posed a challenge (especially when traveling to other parts of Italy).
But challenges aside, to this day she maintains that her year in Italy was the best year of her life. She loved being able to study with fascinating people from all over the world, she made lots of cherished friends, and she appreciated being able to adapt to Italian culture in a deeper way than when she'd visited the country previously. Her only regret is not being able to attend her graduation ceremony. In addition to courses, her program included an internship, and unfortunately she was not able to find work in Italy at that time. She wound up doing her internship in Philadelphia, and effectively that was the end of Italy for her. She hasn't been back since 2013 (at least not yet!).
"And the next thing ended up being the best thing."
Avani remains grateful for that year, because she felt like she was finally able to enjoy life and take advantage of experiences that she wasn't able to in high school or college. Italy taught her to live in the moment, and she's made peace with the time and opportunities she felt she lost out on in the past. She was yearning for more in her life at that time, "And the next thing ended up being the best thing". Even now Avani is still eager to explore what the world has to offer; Amsterdam and Antarctica are high on her list, and returning to Italy remains a personal priority. She currently lives in Michigan, and can be found on Instagram (@avanimehtaxo) or Facebook (Avani Mehta).
Also! Avani and I were having such a fun chat that we forgot to discuss how she applied to her program in Milan. She was gracious enough to email me the details afterward. In her own words:
"I also thought I'd touch on the application process in this email too. There is an entire year that you can dedicate to the application process, but since I applied in June for the September term, my process was a bit rushed. SDA Bocconi (the University I went to) actually did not require too much in terms of the application for MIHMEP (Masters in International Healthcare, Economics & Policy) :
1.) GRE/GMAT scores
2.) Work experience of 2-3 years. At this point I did not have any work experience as I was only focused on school since I did my undergrad in 3 years. For me and my classmates back in 2012, I think they made several exceptions to this rule. Just goes to show you never know unless you try.
4.) 2 letters of recommendation
5.) Undergrad transcripts
Hope that helped. Please let me know if there's anything else I can pull for you!"
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Next Thing, Best Thing (ITALY)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
HappyCow (worldwide vegan/vegetarian food directory)