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Can cultural diplomacy succeed where politics has failed?

Study abroad is the 'once in a lifetime' opportunity many of us yearn for, but in 2019 an Italian medical student, Riccardo Corradini, decided to take Erasmus one step further, becoming the first European student on the scheme to travel to a war zone.

He was in his final year of Medicine at the University of Siena when he decided to take the leap and move to Gaza for his Erasmus placement to learn about war surgery.

The decision was far from simple. To enter the territory he needed permission from three different authorities: the Israeli army, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas.

Telling an unlikely story

Now Corradini's extraordinary journey is on the silver screen after the documentary 'Erasmus in Gaza' was released in early December. The film follows the student's physical and emotional journey, swapping sleepy Siena for one of the world's most dangerous places.

As bombs rained down, the Italian student struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, however, his dream to become a war surgeon propelled him onwards. Besides, he had a thesis to complete on explosive bullet wounds, and tragically Gaza provided the perfect case studies.

Directors Chiara Avesani and Matteo Delbò chose to pursue Corradini's story, as being a student without deeply entrenched preconceptions of the Israel-Palestine conflict made way for a fresh take on an old tale.

Study abroad as a tool for peace

Speaking to Euronews, Delbò said he created the critically acclaimed film with one question in mind: “Can cultural diplomacy fill the void that has been left by political diplomacy which has completely failed its mission?"

After this experience what we can say is that the Erasmus project is about the European Union taking a huge responsibility. It’s a programme that aims to build bridges instead of walls.

Avesani described how in this context "the Erasmus programme is like a tool for peace" as it reflects European identity.

"It's like opening up new horizons both for Riccardo and the people living in Gaza. They are completely isolated, they live in a prison and they don’t know what it means to meet an “outsider” so Corradini represents this, he embodies the Western world that they have never known,” she added.

The young student believes that studying alongside people from different parts of the world is immensely positive, as it can unite people in spite of any cultural differences.

"It means getting to know each other, and when we get to know each other we are not afraid of one another, and when there’s no fear there’s no war”.

Thinking about the ongoing war in Ukraine, Corradini believes that all wars are the same; they are an illness that can affect everyone everywhere.

To hear the interview, please click on the player icon above.