I did not think that I would be writing a post on culture shock and homesickness. Firstly, the graduate seminar is just under five weeks in duration–there are Groupon vacations that last longer than this. Secondly, I hate to keep the “I’m OLD” repeated motif going, but I definitely thought of myself as a seasoned traveler, able to handle herself abroad. Wichita State, my home university, even required all students studying abroad this summer to attend a lecture exclusively on Culture Shock; but in my hubris, I didn’t pay much attention. And when I arrived in Rome, I couldn’t believe how anyone could have a negative emotion in this wonderland.
But, as fortune would have it, sometime in the last week, I procured a pretty nasty head cold. What started out as mere allergies (1) probably progressed into a sinus infection, which led to a full blown assault on my immune system. I tried my best to ignore it for all the right reasons: I’m only in Italy for a short time, and my class was going to Florence to study the works at the acclaimed Uffizi Gallery, and how often do you get to spend the day in Tuscany? But the body has a way of getting its way in the long run. After a day of hacking, endless sniffles, and the dull but continuous ache of a low grade fever, I decided dismally to not extend my stay in Firenze. Even though I wanted to explore the Duomo, and the Pitti Palace, and sample Ribolitta, and eat Pizza with my classmates, I was sick and miserable.
On the train ride home, I got to watch the Tuscan sunset. As lovely as that sounds, I found myself overwrought with guilt, because, despite the beauty and grandeur I was witnessing as the train traversed through the rolling hills, at that particular moment, I wanted to not be on this train, but in my car, heading back from a CVS, to my home, thousands of miles away. All at once I realized that I was knee-deep in Culture Shock, which is described as the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life. It is a peculiar feeling, to be simultaneously in awe of Rome’s essence as well as frustrated by the complexities of it; to be grateful for the experience of getting to walk along the Tiber each morning and yet, at the same time, panic-stricken by the idea of just crossing the street.
It’s important to acknowledge Culture Shock when it strikes. Additionally, as I have learned from my most recent bout, it’s probably best to anticipate its arrival. Even the most worldly know that the information overload of living in a new place is a monumentally big deal. The language barrier, too, should not be dismissed. You’re not culturally insensitive or ungrateful for feeling pangs of homesickness. And, it should be also noted that the frustration of Culture Shock is typically fleeting. For me, I needed an OTC cold medication, a good night’s sleep, and a call to my mom; not long after, I was back to strolling along the Vatican’s cobbled streets, taking in the omnipotent scent of honeysuckle, declaring my love once again for this city.
- It should be noted that if you are interested in studying abroad in Rome, you should begin stockpiling Benadryl and other OTC allergy medications now. You will never have enough.