Ciao Italia! Dealing with Culture Shock while Studying Abroad

I have been in Italy for about a week so far, and have found myself in a constant state of wonder.

From making my way to Verona by train with my limited Italian skills, to understanding the bus system, to learning the differences in their grocery stores, my whole time abroad has been a wonderful (though frightening) cultural experience.

However, though of course Italy has been generally wonderful so far, it has been far from easy to adjust to the Italian ways and the distance from home. Commonly, this is referred to as culture shock.

“I had to push forward to achieve what I came abroad for, which was to better myself.”

Before arriving in Italy, I didn’t think that I would experience culture shock. I didn’t know what it would feel like, how it would affect me or just how long it would take to get over it.

Having only been here a week, I cannot say that I am 100 percent adjusted; however, compared to this time last week, or even this time yesterday, I am a different person.

For me, culture shock did not hit me all at once, but in slow waves.

A 2000-year old roman gate marking the entrance to the city

While traveling abroad and meeting new friends, you don’t have a lot of down time. When I was finally able to sit down, I would become overwhelmed with the distance from my support system and from all I had previously known.

It was important, however, for me to push through this. When I experienced this sadness, I had to stand up and start moving again. I had to push forward to achieve what I came abroad for, which was to better myself.

Yes, everything did seem new and different and scary at first, and it was very overwhelming. Yes, I was sad and lonely. Yes, I am still adjusting.

But I am also seeing parts of the world I had never even imagined and I am interacting with people from many different cultural backgrounds. I am learning interesting subjects in school and starting to pick up a new language.

The view of the hills outside Verona, from St. Peter’s Castle.

One night while in Italy — though morning in California — I called my mom, crying. I felt like time, and this wonderful experience, was happening to me and that it was out of my control. As moms do, she told me to take control of the situation and do what I want to do, without worrying about how others would feel and without the fear of being alone.

This is truly a once in a lifetime experience that has to be appreciated for all that is is, good and bad.

If you are considering studying abroad, don’t let the fear of culture shock and change deter you from doing so. Of course life isn’t always sunshine and roses, however it is for the most part. Change is a positive and can help us develop as both individuals and global citizens.


Marcella Anderson is a foods and nutrition major with a minor in interdisciplinary studies through the Weber Honors College. She is studying abroad during fall semester at IUSVE University in Verona, Italy.

 

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