October 10, 2017
Giulia Sbaffi, a Rome, Italy native and doctorate candidate in NYU’s Italian Studies Department, moved across the Atlantic a year ago for her academic pursuits. She successfully secured her student visa to study in New York for four years, but she is unsure of what she wants to do after — and if she wants to stay in the United States once she finishes her research on contemporary Italian history.
Sbaffi initially came to NYU because she believes the opportunities to obtain a doctorate here are better than in Europe because of financial and time resources. Here, she is able to earn her doctorate in three years rather than five. She was also able to get a scholarship more easily here than she would have in Europe.
However, she did not expect to feel cultural differences to the extent that she did. She assumed that this is New York — there are people from all over the world here.
But as Sbaffi began spending more time in the U.S., she started feeling less secure, both in terms of cultural differences and job prospects.
“[I thought] it will be really easy to connect with one another, and that’s when you start realizing that it’s not that easy, that we contain multiple identities,” Sbaffi said.
Sbaffi said increased restrictions on immigration policy all over the world are making migration more difficult. She does not feel the level of insecurity that those affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban do, but she fears a lack of stability in the American job market for herself.
“I think that as a migrant, I will be less advantaged than American citizens here to find jobs, and also because academia is experiencing a crisis at the moment, so I don’t know whether there will be any jobs available for me for now,” Sbaffi said.
As a doctorate candidate in the Italian Studies department, Sbaffi is encouraged to be a teaching assistant. On top of her scholarship, she is paid to be a TA, but due to her student visa, she cannot work outside of NYU. She said it is a challenge to understand the diction system of another country and overcome language barriers.
“I’m trying to put a lot of effort into being clear when I’m communicating [with] a student,” Sbaffi said. “I waste a lot of time learning new things, and nobody considers that.”
Though Sbaffi applied to multiple doctorate programs in the U.S. and wanted to take advantage of the opportunities here, she finds there is a cost to her pursuit of academia.
“I was born and raised in Rome,” Sbaffi said. “I’m 27 now, so my whole life is there, and it’s the emotional cost of migration that nobody pays attention to.”
Sbaffi said she does not quite know what the American dream is right now. Professionally, she feels she is accomplishing it because she thinks the U.S. provides unique opportunities. However, she still faces social challenges and has a hard time understanding how Americans do regular tasks, such as going to the doctor and finding an apartment.
“I cannot picture my life here, and I don’t buy the American Dream on this,” Sbaffi said.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 10 print edition. Email Natasha Roy at [email protected]