I can’t count on one hand the amount of times that I was warned about culture shock. Pre-departure orientation, arrival orientation, pamphlets, and handbooks have all defined culture shock and outlined it with examples. Before living in Rome, I had shrugged all of these warnings off. I’m outgoing, independent, and adventurous, so clearly culture shock could never happen to me, right? After living in Rome for three weeks, I’ve come to learn how wrong I was, and how real all of those warnings were. Culture shock is defined as feelings of alienation and/or disorientation due to being in an unfamiliar cultural environment. My program manual breaks this into 4 phases, which I intend on describing through my own experiences.
The Honeymoon Phase: After landing in Rome and finding myself in the Residence, I was on cloud nine. I couldn’t bother with unpacking my suitcase; I had to go explore. I saw the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Forum, and every other famous touristic attraction in Rome, all with-in the first 2 weeks. I couldn’t really be bothered with sleep, either. The nightlife here was a new experience for me, and I just kept telling myself “When in Rome.” I loved trying all the new food, which, if you’ve been following, you know all about. The city itself is beautiful, and I was soaking every bit of it up.
The Negotiation Phase: By this point, two weeks into the semester, I was pretty fed up. As my manual says, “the newness wears off.” I started to become sincerely frustrated with the little things of my adjusted daily routine. I missed American coffee and the English language the most. My preconception before studying here was that a good majority of Italians would speak English, but that’s not really the case. It was hard to order food at times, grocery shop, and use the metro. In fact, I had a very memorable experience when I got lost while using the metro. I had gone the wrong way, a pretty common mistake that I used to make even at home when I first started riding the Broad Street Line. I only started to panic when I realized that I had tried to change directions at the last stop; I got on the metro as everyone else got off. I was the only person on the train, which had come to a stop. Lucky for me, the conductor came out of his box and guided me to the other end of the train, where he would proceed to drive the train and help me towards my correct stop.
The Adjustment Phase: My third week here in Rome is coming to a close. I have begun to adjust to all the cultural differences and develop and accept new patterns of daily life. “But, how do you know that you’ve adjusted?” There are a few examples here, the first being overcoming the most difficult challenge that has presented itself while abroad—communication. I found myself in the market a few days ago, a place where I have previously counted on vendors speaking English, and then blamed them for not understanding me. Something was different this time though. As I tried my best to ask how much an item cost in my very broken Italian, this vendor asked if I spoke English, and proceeded to tell me the price in English after I nodded yes. Rather than count on this man’s ability to be bilingual, I tried Italian first, immersing myself in this culture, and this is beginning to become almost habitual.
Secondly, after traveling to the Amalfi Coast this past weekend, I realized how much beauty this world holds. But I also experienced the second example that has helped me come to the realization that I’m beginning to adapt to Rome. I thought that traveling to a place as gorgeous as this would warrant me wanting to spend my life in the Amalfi Coast, but I was wrong (I’ve been wrong a lot lately). A lot of people sort of turned their heads when I said that I couldn’t wait to get back to Rome. It was sort of like that same feeling you get when you come home from vacation and say “Wow, that was fun, but it’s nice to be home.” In fact, I even referred to Rome as “home” without thinking about what I was truly saying. Amalfi was fun, but Rome is home.
The last stage is titled “The Mastery Phase,” but unfortunately, experts say that I will not get to experience this final phase, as it takes a year or more to reach this level of comfort. The frustration is over, my sleep is back to a normal schedule, and I’m adapting to Rome a little more every day while appreciating every moment of my remaining three weeks.