My First Job

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 February, 1999, 12:00am

I STARTED work very late - after university. But while attending Rome University, I worked part-time assisting a professor in economics, between 1978 and 1979.

I was about 24 years old at the time and the work involved getting information and research for lectures and assisting other students with their exams.

You do up examination papers every month with the professor and work closely with him and his students. It was interesting work and still within the university environment.

It was also work that prepared me for my first jobs after I left university. At that time there were small monetary rewards for studying, or rather researching, abroad.

I went to the Middle East and spent eight months in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. I was still working for the university, compiling market research regarding the textile industry - chiefly textile imports - with Europe and Italy in particular.

Following that, another opportunity came up working for the Italian Ministry for Foreign Trade, studying food processing and related equipment in Tunisia.

With both jobs the end result was a final report with statistics and information which could aid our businesses at home in Italy.

Unfortunately I did not speak any Arabic and I concentrated to a great extent on my work, largely ignoring the cultural diversity around me. I had not travelled much, having not had too many opportunities - a few trips in Europe and one to Malta, to improve my English, strangely enough.

So at 25 I was deep within the Middle East, and I must say I liked it there. With all the subsequent turmoil many things have changed but I enjoyed it back then. In Kuwait especially everything seemed so new, there were many places of learning and it was a paradise for research.

People from all over the world were working in Kuwait and its multi-ethnic environment of course made it a very open-minded place.

My lodgings were with Arabic families and I was made to feel very much at home.

I was very attracted to the Middle East, I guess because this was a place that at the time was not especially a tourist destination. I felt I was unusual, different. I visited other parts of the region and saw unique places that now just would not be the same. There were places where you felt some sort of link to ancient times.

In my travels I found out about what you could describe as a Bedouin soul, which by now must have disappeared.

It's a great pity that I couldn't understand the language but I still felt privileged to have been there, rather than on some assignment in Britain or the United States. I established no firm or lasting friendships. Maybe I was too young, at an age where you want to understand everything but aren't prepared to go in too deep.

One thing the jobs revealed to me, which has stayed with me to this day, was that before I went the idea of travelling was well, an idea. But after it was a certainty.

I still crave the sort of gypsy notion of going to a place, capturing all your senses can carry and then going somewhere else. It was helpful to understand this back then so I could take the right direction with my career. My job with the trade commission has taken me all over the world, and now here I am, one year into what has been wonderful work in Hong Kong.

Travel for me enables me to be passionate about my work and has taught me to be very accepting of other views and cultures. And it all started in Kuwait.