It’s The Little Things: Culture Shock in Rome

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As the barista handed me my midday caffé (which is not served in a large coffee cup, but rather in a small espresso glass), I took out my European money and was ready to pay. He raised his two hands to his chest, palms out toward me, waiving them saying, “Don’t worry about it now. Sit, enjoy. Pay later.” I’m now two weeks into my study abroad experience in Rome, and this continues to be one of the more difficult concepts for me to grasp — sitting and enjoying myself. Taking my time.    

I ordered my coffee in Italian but walked away feeling more American than ever. 

For some reason, most likely due to social media, studying abroad was portrayed as a picture-perfect vacation getaway for a whole semester. Before arriving in Rome, I saw myself walking down cobblestone streets, sipping my afternoon spritz, and having my Lizzie McGuire moments.  

Although I have done all those things (okay, still waiting on those Lizzie McGuire moments), I have also done plenty of non-Instagram worthy things that show the reality of culture shock: receiving confused looks when locals try to decipher my choppy Italian, having to wait three days for clothes to dry on drying racks, hand-washing all of my dishes, and even taking a lengthy walk just to take the trash out. That’s right, studying abroad is not one big Instagram spread or viral Pinterest board!  

Don’t be mistaken by these seemingly pessimistic truths about my first two weeks in Rome. Within the short amount of time I’ve been here, I have already bonded with amazing people, am constantly seeing breathtaking landmarks and architecture on my way to school alone, and of course have gotten some solid Instagram pictures. I am learning another language, booked trips to other countries, and have developed a new sense of style.  

Studying abroad carries a connotation of a semester of self-growth and wisdom, but it’s rarely said how that happens. Fully immersing yourself in a different culture is a constant and continuous effort — it’s even a little draining and is definitely not meant to be easy. Feeling uncomfortable and sometimes a little stupid is a normal feeling when you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. I am excited for the many challenges to come, the pending late-night gelato trips, and the opportunity to make Rome my home away from home. Who knows, maybe I will even find my real-life Paulo.  

This post was contributed by Devin Story, a student from the University of Alabama who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Rome, Italy.

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