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Sweet Home Chicago - Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

January 6, 2019

I’m home! Though I’m excited about the next semester, there was so much that I wasn’t expecting to be shocked or surprised by when I got home. I knew that reverse culture shock was a thing that I was probably going to experience, but I wasn’t really sure what aspects would bother me. Here are a few things that I noticed were major differences between my life in Siena, and my hometown of Chicago.

One big difference between living in Chicago and in Siena is their actions towards achieving sustainability. After spending a semester thinking about social and environmental sustainability, as well as food waste throughout the world, seeing how the U.S. does things made me pretty concerned. In Italy recycling is basically the law, and it’s so easy to do. Almost every restaurant had recycling bins, and they were also all over the public streets. It made it so much easier to do the right thing in terms of recycling no matter where you were. In Chicago, so many restaurants only had garbage cans, and recycling bins are rarer outside of the main city center. Another issue I became more aware of was plastic use in American grocery stores and restaurants. So much more of what was sold in Italy was sold loosely, in paper, or in glass. In my apartment, we kept so many of the glass containers for storage or travel use. Many of the things sold in glass in Italy are in plastic containers in the U.S. Life in Italy made me way more aware of my environmental impact as an individual, but also the impact of our culture as a whole.

Another difference is food and going out culture. In Italy, going out for dinner with friends is a full experience. You aren’t constantly rushed to get the check and get out. Most places expect you to take your time, and sit around just chatting after your dinner. During aperetivo time, it was very common for friends to buy one drink, get a complimentary snack, and sit there for an hour just enjoying each others company. American restaurant systems want to turn over the table as much as possible, so it seems more rushed and less fun. Same goes for the live music venues in Siena. Our favorite local bar was free to enter to see live music, you were just expected to buy a drink, and that wasn't really enforced. In most places in Chicago, you tend to pay a cover charge, and then have to purchase overpriced drinks to stay inside the bar. 

Another major difference for me was the size of everything. Coming back to my big city home was a bit overwhelming. My first-time grocery shopping trip in Italy was difficult because of the language barrier when I couldn’t understand the milk labels, but my first time back in Chicago was overwhelming with the number of products and options I had everywhere. I had gotten used to seeing 4 or 5 different brands of tomato sauce, not 20. Also, skyscrapers were basically non-existent in Italy (or really anywhere in Europe), and coming home to those massive buildings was both incredible and shocking. I took the time after getting home to appreciate the architecture of Chicago more, and let myself be amazed by the sheer size of it all.

Probably the most difficult thing I’ll be dealing with is my newfound travel bug. Europe was so simple to travel, with cheap flights and busses all over the continent being incredibly easy to come by. I had become adjusted to jetting off to a new city or even a new country every few weeks, and being able to do the whole trip affordably. Now the cost of a flight anywhere costs more than my entire trip budget abroad. 

Overall, coming home was not as difficult I had imagined it being before I left. Though saying goodbye to my Italian home was hard, I have a new appreciation for my life at home, and have come back with passions and experiences that I cherish every day. It has motivated me to be more adventurous, be more daring, and overall be more excited about what I do with my time. I will forever be grateful to the amazing people I met abroad, and for the opportunities I had.

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