When studying abroad at my university, students have to complete an online orientation before they can go. This consists of tips, warnings, and instructions for a student’s time overseas so they know what to expect. I can always remember a certain slide of the presentation that gave a chart of a typical student’s feelings while studying abroad. I remember thinking to myself, I doubt I’ll actually go through these feelings. I’ve been abroad before, I know what to expect. Well here I am about 2/3 of my way through the program laughing at how wrong I was. I definitely went through the cycle of feelings that that chart showed, and I think its something that students should prepare themselves for.
Being in a new country right away is thrilling because everything is different and interesting. All I wanted to do was explore, try the foods, and take hundreds of pictures. This lasted about five days, then my sore feet and dark circles beneath eyes told me to stop. This first stage is so fun though because it is what you expected to feel like the whole time abroad. Taking instagram worthy pictures at every site, trying to act like the locals, and embracing the new home and foods. This is the picture that some people like to paint that studying abroad always is, but this doesn’t always last for everyone.
After a few days in Rome, I began to get very tired and uncomfortable. Italy has a very laid back and slightly disorganized structure, which is the very opposite of what I am used to. For example, I am used to driving around in my small town where I can set my cruise and get to where I want to go whenever I want to. Here, I have to wait for a bus or find the nearest metro station or figure out if I even have the correct ticket to do so. This caused a lot of frustrations because I was so out of my comfort zone and knowledge that it became quite troubling.
Another frustration is not having the foods and services at your convenience. Today for example we went to the grocery store and they did not have peanut butter (apparently its not a thing in Italy). You would think that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but I was really frustrated that I could not just get what I wanted. Adjusting to new foods and local businesses can be quite hard because they don’t always offer American products and services.
Unfortunately sometimes stage two can lead to homesickness. This isn’t always just missing family and friends, but just the comfortableness of being home. I can attest to this stage because I have it pretty good at home. I have a loving and supportive family, great friends, and a fun job that I enjoy going to. Being away from these security blankets mixed with being in uncomfortable situations is not always fun. Thankfully this stage passes as you begin to feel more familiar with the surroundings and get adapted to the culture.
Once I figured out how to somewhat navigate public transportation (shout-out to Google Maps), things began to feel more comfortable every day. I began to get in a routine and schedule which made things seem more like the Type A world I am used to. The easiest way in my opinion to get to this point is to accept that there are differences and try to respect them as much as possible. Also just letting go of the idea that everything will be conveniently available and on time helps to make the adjustment as well.
Part of the beauty of studying abroad is experiencing another culture and becoming more cultural competent. Even though yes this is frustrating, it teaches you so much. For example, sometimes people of other cultures will seem to not respect your personal space. This may come across as creepy or weird (and sometimes it may be), but most times it is just a part of their culture. Americans have a large sense of personal space, while most other countries don’t mind standing very close. Knowing things like this can really serve as a benefit in mixed culture situations in the future.
I think I can say that I am now in stage five of this crazy cycle of emotions. I now refer to my apartment in Rome as ‘home’ and enjoy coming back to it when I am away for the day or weekend. My friend and I are confident we are now public transportation experts and have limited our frustrations because of it. Looking at what I have seen and done so far, I am filled with so much joy and pride that I cannot explain. This is what stage five feels like.
I leave in less than 10 days now and I am very excited to see my family and friends. I hope this blog post comes of use to future travelers and hopefully veteran travelers can relate as well. Despite the roller coaster of emotions that sometimes comes with studying abroad, I still heavily encourage others to do it. There will sure be ups and downs, but the journey of excitement and memories is so worth it.