A Chamaleon in Africa:
Interview with Alice Zordan

Alice Zordan, 27 years old, enthusiastic and curious, is a graduate student in Building Engineering-Architecture at the University of Trento and will be our Chameleon in Africa! On September 19th she started her journey to Mozambique, to study the local cardboard market and future packaging developments.
ProntoPack and ProntoPack Foundation will be at her side during this experience!

Alice, a very important experience is going to start for you: how do you feel?

I started to realize that I will really leave only a few days ago! The paperwork and the most boring part is behind me and now I can say that I am divided in two between a feeling of excitement and a feeling of concern, but I think it is normal since it is the first time I’m moving to a such different country from Italy. Now game faces on and I must say that homesickness has not found space!

Have you already lived abroad, even if only for a few months?

Yes, I was on Erasmus in Scotland and I must say that even on that occasion I was initially scared, but in the end I would have deleted the return flight!

Which kind of difficulties have you found and are you afraid to find during your next trip?

Language has been the main problem and I fear that even for this experience in Mozambique it could be. The official language in Mozambique is Portuguese, a language I have been studying for a few months, but my level is still quite basic. As much as I can read and understand it, now I feel a bit shy at the idea of having to talk it – but the important thing is to understand each other and surely once there I will be able to overcome this obstacle.

Another challenge could be to get caught up in discomfort in front of difficulties. For example, I fear that I will have to struggle to find the data I need, but the challenge lies right here: in being able to find alternative (and even creative!) solutions to these problems, because there is actually a part of the world where this is reality and there are two ways: to get stuck or to find alternative solutions. I will try to find alternative solutions!

Which are the themes that are closest to your heart and that push you to go through this experience?

I have always felt a certain “calling” and a strong interest in what is the most fragile part of the population. As an architect, I love designing in general, but it is even more inspiring to be able to design in situations with challenges and limitations that force you to optimize resources and time. Mozambique, for example, from a certain point of view is a clean slate, for example for what are some procedures that for us are normal. Starting from scratch, we could avoid repeating mistakes made in the past, while foreseeing other criticalities, potentialities and, probably, even completely different results.

Another theme which is close to me is the experience of the relationship with the end user: the idea of being able to know the needs of those who will really inhabit my architectural project is essential to avoid wasting time, energy or resources. The same goes for market analysis: knowing who the final recipient is and being able to interact with him is essential for me.

Africa is certainly a fascinating continent, but how did you develop this strong interest in that environment?

I had several volunteer experiences, but the most crucial was the experience with Volontarius, a Trentino non-profit organization active with refugees, when I spent a week in direct contact with some immigrants arrived from the Mediterranean trade who were moving to the countries of Northern Europe. At that time it was a particularly burning issue and after so many months of news, photos and videos of the phenomenon, I was able to touch that reality with my hand and I realized that unfortunately it was much worse than I expected. But it was nice to see that, even doing very little, I could be useful in some way and it was rewarding to realize that something can change and change can also start from an ordinary person like me. I realized that no matter how much we can inform ourselves, our knowledge of certain realities will still remain limited and this has developed in me a great curiosity towards that world. Curiosity that now I will try to satisfy.

What brought you to choose to study building engineering and architecture?

The reasons why I chose engineering and architecture are two: the first is undoubtedly the passion for the ancient. Having grown up in Vicenza, and therefore in the midst of the art of Palladio’s genius, I felt in love with architecture and with ancient that tells a lot. The second reason is that architecture is an area where you can make a difference for someone: if I think, for example, of developing enviroments or past environmental disasters, such as earthquakes, I know for sure that a different design could have saved lives or avoided polluting.

What does it mean for you to live this experience and be our Chameleon in Africa?

It is a great opportunity for me because it allows me to combine different interesting experiences. I have the chance to get to know a reality like ProntoPack and learn to deal with new issues for me, such as packaging research. It’s an opportunity I definitely wouldn’t have had in a purely university context.

In addition, in the future that I imagine, sustainable materials such as cardboard will be able to replace everything that cannot be recycled and this gives me the charge to develop market research on packaging and maybe be able to offer a small service to a reality that wants to do something good.

You are going to stay for the first time for three months, what do you expect and hope to achieve?

I don’t know how to accomplish my expectations and to tell the truth I’m trying not to create them! It will certainly be a great enrichment for me, because I can finally live an experience that I have been dreaming of for a long time. I think that I’m going to learn can be applicable in any field and the reason I’m glad is that I think it will be knowledge and approaches that I will use in any other context.

They will be busy months from many points of view, but I trust that it will be possible to have very often meetings with the local population; in fact, many people have already made themselves available to support me during the journey and this relieves me because I was afraid that across some of the most dangerous areas it would have been difficult to gather data.

An obstacle that I saw faced by those who carried out this experience before me was actually that of finding useful data. For this reason, I would like to create a database that can also be used in the future from other students who want to deepen these same issues.

In a few days I will find out what’s next for me!

We wish Alice good luck for this new adventure and… safe trip!