In my last weeks with IES Rome, we had a meeting with some of the staff to talk about preparing to return to the United States. We talked about reverse culture shock and how to overcome the obstacles of our friends not giving a you-know-what about your unbelievable, unforgettable, unmatched experience in Europe. These things all sounded like a joke to me and to be honest (sorry guys) I only came to the meeting for the free snacks.
But there is something to be said for re-adjusting to life post-semester abroad. It sounds silly – why on earth would I need to readjust to the country I’ve known and life I’ve lived for all but 4 months of my 21 years on Earth? I would argue that returning home was harder than adjusting to life abroad. When you first arrive, you have some time of orientation and activities and it’s like freshman year of college all over again. You figure out how to get around campus (Rome), you figure out who you want to be friends with and where you’ll fit in socially, you figure out that everyone in Rome speaks English so if you haven’t studied Italian yet, you’re covered. Then eventually once classes start you begin the familiar game of balancing work and play.
You adjust to your new life and your new friends and your new “usuals” (for me, a cappuccino in the morning, lots of walking, prosciutto and mozzarella for a snack, and given the option at dinner, carbonara) and you get comfortable in the routine of seeing the same people nearly every day. Then you go home. You’re American abroad friends are now scattered about the country, your European abroad friends are an ocean away, and there’s no telling when you’ll get the chance to see any of these people again. The coffee culture of ordering at a bar and having a small cup of espresso or cappuccino on your way to start the day has disappeared and you’re back to watered-down ground coffee in containers four times the size. You have to remember to say “May I have…?” instead of “Posso avere…?” and “I would like the car-bon-air-uh, please” instead of “Vorrei la carbonara, per favore” with your most elegantly rolled r’s.
It’s a weird feeling to understand that everyone at home doesn’t have the same worldview as you do thanks to having traveled a solid bit of the world and learning from new cultures. But it’s important to remember that Italy will always be there to go back to. You don’t have to be ashamed and censor yourself when you’re just remembering your Roman “usuals”…just try not to sound like too much of a pretentious jerk. Because you’re not. You were blessed with a semester abroad and if you didn’t bring some Italian flavor back to the US to share with your friends and family, then your time abroad was wasted. So be proud of all that you’ve learned. Share your knowledge rather than discount anyone else for not knowing what you know. Remember how lucky you are to have had this experience.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Heather is a junior majoring in Neurobiology at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Harvard she volunteers with CityStep, a community dance program for middle school students in Cambridge, plays club field hockey and lacrosse, and is a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta Greek-letter fraternity for women. When she's not at school, she's traveling as much as possible--Heather has been traveling outside the States every year since 2007. However, this Cleveland native is a homebody at heart and can't get enough quality time with her cats and a good, trashy romance novel.</span></p>