Culture shock has been the topic of discussion in every intercultural communication or sociology course I’ve taken. Naturally, I assumed that I would be able to anticipate my own process of culture shock and adjusting to living in a new country. I was ready to struggle through jet lag and stumble through the language barrier. Even more so, I thought that every day in Rome would feel distinct and comfortable.
Instead, it hasn’t even been a full week since I’ve arrived in Italy, but I feel like I’ve been here for at least three. How could a city I have never visited before feel so familiar within one week? While reflecting on this curious feeling of familiarity I kept returning to what a family friend of mine had said about his brief trip to Rome.
Rome, he explained, is filled with monuments, culture, and architecture that we are all accustomed to. For example, if anyone has watched Roman Holiday (or my eight-year-old self’s version of a classic: The Lizzie McGuire Movie) they would know of Rome’s historic monuments, like the Trevi Fountain. My home state of Pennsylvania’s capitol building is inspired by Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. And the streets that I take each day to go to class are quietly shaded by trees and lined with buildings that remind me of parts of Philly.
These parts of Rome that are almost recognizable make the transition of living abroad feel seamless… or, at least at times. I did not expect to feel so at ease in Rome and rather thought that I would experience an extended period of culture shock before gradually adjusting. What I feel instead is this tension between the familiarity and the predicted culture shock, in which moments of overwhelming emotions exist in small but powerful waves.
During the same quiet, tree-lined walk to school that reminds me of home and puts me at ease, I may suddenly be hit with the deep pang of missing my family. As I stood in absolute awe of the grandeur and history of the Colosseum, I couldn’t help thinking about how I excited I was to see my friends in a couple of months. Adjusting to life abroad is accompanied by the tensions of two distinct emotions, and that I was not prepared for.
Despite these moments of unrest or tensions of adjustment, I could not imagine spending my semester any other way. Although each person in the program is experiencing varying levels of culture shock and processing it in different ways, my friends and I have all agreed that studying abroad in Rome is what we are meant to be doing. If I am being completely honest, I have processed my move by occasionally rewarding myself with too much gelato.
I am eager to see how the tension between living in a culture that feels both comforting and new continues to pan out. I have only tasted a sliver of Roman culture and I doubt that the waves of culture shock will be leaving me any time soon. For now, I’ll keep eating lots of gelato as I walk to explore all parts of my new home.