Honestly, it’s taken me a while to sit down and write this post because I’ve been thinking about how I want to share my experiences, and it’s taken me some time to integrate my feelings and experiences.
The first week or so I experienced a lot of mixed emotions and culture shock. I’m in Reggio Emilia, Italy, so it’s a very small town that only has a few restaurants (that I know about/ really love to eat at), all the food in the grocery store is different (duh), so I didn’t know what to make at first. A lot of businesses and restaurants close around lunch time, so many people aren’t out at that time, but much later in the night. Italians don’t say “excuse me” or “sorry” when they bump into you on the street, because they just have different gestures than Americans.
I was aware that Italians have different social cues and customs, but it really hit me by surprise how difficult it was for me to adjust. I’ve always thought of myself as a worldly and open-minded-to-different-cultures kind of person.
There were so many changes at once- the things I just discussed like my eating habits, living in a small town (even though Bellingham is small, it was still a shock for me), learning different cultural differences and LANGUAGE. I couldn’t communicate with people in stores fully, and I definitely got by and made it happen, but it’s easy to take that ability for granted.
Another huge culture shock was living with other American students who I had never met before. My Bellingham/Seattle familiarity bubble was popped, that’s for sure. I was lucky enough to have a roommate who was a friend of a friend, and I ended up knowing someone from high school who I didn’t know was on the trip, and easily bonded with a couple other people.
I do wish that I was in a bigger city and should have done more research about where I was going before I went. But, I really just didn’t know. A bigger city seems more appealing just because there aren’t many social opportunities to meet other Italians or many activities to do here. There aren’t many cafes or bars that I feel like I can just stroll to and grab a drink and read a book or have a conversation with a friend, (although there are a few favorites little places that I love to go to, it’s just a totally different vibe than a bigger city).
WITH ALL THAT SAID-
There have been so many positives of living in Reggio Emilia. It’s a beautiful place. All the buildings are colorful and Italian. The coffee shops are so chill and have really good coffee. And because it is a small city, I cook most of my meals at home and have saved so much money because of that. With saving money I’ve been able to travel to SO MANY PLACES, and have more trips planned.
So far I’ve been to-
-Prague, Czech Republic
-Munich, Germany (for a couple hours at Oktoberfest)
[Side note: I traveled to these places through Bus2Alps, which sets up weekend trips for study abroad students in Europe, and it’s an amazing opportunity!]
– Amsterdam, Netherlands (I now understand why so many people are in love with this place)
Cities in Italy:
And am planning trips to:
-Morocco, Africa (Through Bus2alps, again)
So, honestly, I really have no complaints. Just some adjustments to my new surroundings. I feel so lucky to be able to experience all these places. I’ve had nothing but a blast (and slight sleep depravation with squeezing two flights and fun into one weekend) with traveling to all these places.
And it’s honestly so nice to be able to come home to Reggio Emilia and take life nice and easy, rest and go to my classes and live the relaxed Italy life.
Some programs that I’ve been involved in are:
-Babysitting/ helping teach a young girl english (and by babysit, I mean play games while the grandparents are home) once a week, which has been so nice to a little income. The family I babysit for is so sweet and caring, and it’s been great to be able to get to know an Italian family as well.
-I’ve been doing an internship through USAC working in a high school in Reggio Emilia, being a teachers assistant in English classes. It’s been interesting to learn about Italian schools and compare them to American schools. I get to share my experiences in America with them and it’s fun to build relationships with the students.
The USAC staff and so kind and helpful and try their best to give us the best experience and extra opportunities.
Overall, it’s been a great learning experience. Being away from my everyday things and people I’ve learned so much about myself, other people, other countries and life. I’ve definitely grown as a person and have had so many good times and met some people who I know will be my friends for life. I wouldn’t take it back for the world.