Culture shock

How to make the most of culture shock abroad – The Daily Free Press

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | Graphic artist

I landed in Italy on August 29, 2021 to start my semester abroad. Before I arrived I expected everything an 18 year old girl expects. I was expecting an “Emily in Paris” or “Eat Pray Love” adventure.

However, what I did not expect was the immense culture shock, fear and sadness I felt. When my mother boarded the plane without me, I felt stranded, even isolated. Every ounce of normality was taken away from me. When I left home, I knew that I would miss my family, my dogs and my friends. I was ready to miss the big stuff – the stuff everyone is talking about. What I didn’t expect to miss were the seemingly tiny things like dialogue, routine, and time.

The six-hour jet lag wasn’t difficult because of jet lag or sleep. It was difficult because I couldn’t find time to talk to my family and friends. While I was having dinner they were just starting their day. While I was sleeping, they were coming back from class. We lost the simple bond of complaining about homework together or talking about what we were doing during the day. At first I tried to stay up until 4am to catch up, but it was getting too confrontational.

I thought if I tried to immerse myself in Italian culture and embrace what seemed to be everyone’s dream, it would be easier. However, learning an entirely new language was not as easy as I thought. I had trouble doing the easiest tasks, like ordering water at a restaurant or asking for directions. I had no idea something so innocent and small could be so isolating.

I clung to every ounce of normalcy I could have. I refused to change my delivery address, I even refrained from changing my telephone number in Italian. I did everything I could to try to keep in touch with my old life in the United States. However, what I thought bound me to the house, confined me.

I had a hard time adjusting to my new surroundings as culture shock and fear of trying new things held me back.

However, on September 20 – after spending hours on the phone, begging my parents to let me go home – my perspective was forced to change. They did the best a parent could do in this situation: tell me no. No, you can’t go home. At the time, it was the last thing I wanted to hear, but I needed to hear it. So this time I tried.

My first plan of action was to connect with my peers and find people who had similar interests to mine. Within days, I met my now best friend. Together we spent hours exploring our new home, all to find things we knew would bring joy and help us settle in. Within hours we found a nice cafe to study, the Uffizi gallery and of course, a great place for chips.

A few weeks later, I joined a volunteer club, where I taught English and Italian grammar to students from underprivileged schools. It turned out that helping others and really accepting where I was made me a lot happier than living in the past.

I stopped wishing for what life was and started liking what life was becoming. After leaving Florence, I decided to leave New York University to come to Boston University. However, this time I was excited about the future. Nevertheless, adapting to life in a metropolitan city, after having lived in a comfortable suburb, my whole life has not been easy.

A bit like in Italy, there are a multitude of things that I am still getting used to. This time, I decided to keep a positive mindset and not let the shock of a new life and new culture confine me. I still have to come to terms with not having a car and the general city lifestyle. The biggest thing I have to get used to is walking everywhere.

I feel accomplished seeing that I’ve logged 16,000 steps, it’s quite tiring. My advice to freshmen or someone dreading their semester abroad is to try to enjoy the present and live in the present. Getting away from home is scary and moving forward from the past – especially if it was amazing – is even scarier.

However, change is what sparks growth and independence. Having the opportunity to live and travel elsewhere gives you a privilege, not all are offered. Learning about the different perspectives and viewpoints of people from different cultures and backgrounds is enriching.

Believe me, these are the opportunities and memories that last you a lifetime.