One thing that is often looked over when traveling is how cultural differences can effect the way you experience life in another country. It is true that most people recognize that different countries have different cultures and know that you have to prepare before traveling abroad. However, I feel like the various kinds of culture shocks aren’t really talked about. Sure everyone hears about how you don’t tip in other countries, how people don’t really smile when you make eye contact, and how you should always be on the lookout for pickpockets, but there are so many things that I experienced that I would have never even thought about before my trip. I spent so much time researching and trying to prepare for the well-known culture shocks that I didn’t give much thought about what I should do in an unfamiliar situation until I was actually in one. Luckily, I was not in any danger in any of these situations, and I always had others around that could navigate situations with me, but there were a number of instances when I was genuinely taken aback because I was so used to the way my life was back in the US.

It’s important to recognize that every person in every country is going to have different experiences and interactions than the next person. I would like to share some of my personal culture shocks when studying in Italy this summer so that others can have an idea of how they should prepare if they have the opportunity to study abroad.

  1. Water and drinks in Italy are much less accessible than in the United States. While traveling around Italy, it was a common theme between my friends that we would have difficulty finding water. In Italy there are ancient fountains in the streets that you can drink from, but these can be few and far between, and they don’t have drinking fountains inside like we do in the US. Drinks in restaurants are also much more expensive in Italy, usually 4-5 euros for a can of soda and not much less for a bottle of water. They also do not do free refills, so you will have to buy a new drink every time you finish one. Of course, there are stores and shops you can buy bottles drinks in for a reasonable price but when you’re on a faculty led trip, you don’t always have control over if you will be near a store or not.
  2. While large cities like Rome are beautiful, they are often messy and noisy which can take some getting used to. When we stayed in Rome, I noticed immediately that there was a lot of graffiti and litter in the streets. Nearly every building I saw was graffitied, except for museums and highly regarded churches that are protected. It is also incredibly noisy in Rome, you can hear cars honking and sirens every hour of the day. The air quality is also slightly worse than in the US, and it might take a few days to get used to.
  3. There are lots of tourists in Rome. A large majority of people in any setting in Italy are tourists, especially in places like Rome and Florence. This can be both a good and bad thing. The large number of tourists means that businesses and native Italians are well-equipped to deal with foreigners and you shouldn’t have much trouble getting around, even if you don’t speak Italian, but it also means that it is easy to be taken advantage of in some situation because people recognize that you are probably unsure of how to do things.

None of these things should discourage people from wanting to go to Italy or any other place they find themselves interested in, because there are far more pros than cons when it comes to learning about other cultures and I consider my experience to be invaluable, and something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. That being said, it is important to be prepared for these situations, but know that even if you do your best to learn all that there is to know about the place you are traveling, you are still going to need time and space to adjust when you get there.