Clash of Cultures: Coming Home from Abroad

As a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was given the opportunity to study abroad. JYA (junior year abroad) is a commonly known experience in the United States. Students, a lot of times in their junior year of college, will trek to a different country to continue their education. Whether it be Europe, Asia, Australia, or even somewhere domestic, students are exposed to new cultures and adventures. I was lucky enough to be able to go abroad in Rome, Italy. 

It started out pretty rough for me, with personal issues affecting my health, inhibiting my decision to delay my arrival to Rome. I felt insecure about this decision, thinking it made me “weird” or even broken. While all of my best friends were already settled in their new homes, I was at my parents’ houses watching crappy television. After throwing myself a pity party for a couple of weeks, I went to visit my hometown friends at their schools. I got a concussion from a taxidermied moose head (yes, this is true) and got in a car wreck. I simply could not win. However, I was not going to allow my once-in-a-lifetime experience to be robbed by my seemingly bad luck. 

The time finally came to head to Rome. I was living with 6 girls I had never met or even heard of, which was a unique experience for me (spoiler alert: great decision). I surprisingly did well leaving home and settled in quickly. 

I am not here to tell the story of abroad, though. I am here to reflect on the differences I have noticed and the absolute clash of cultures I have pondered since being home. Our apartment was really small for seven girls, with only 3 bedrooms and two airport-sized bathrooms. There was no microwave, air conditioning, clothes dryer, insulation, or privacy. In the end, our small second-floor apartment on Viale Giulio Cesare was home. I miss the shower that you had to essentially crawl into and the constant smell of burning hair from seven girls using faulty voltage converters. I miss having to buy grocery bags and lug them for blocks just to get to our apartment building and go up three flights of stairs. I miss the 45-minute walk to school passing tourist trappers trying to sell shitty portable chargers. I miss bringing my ginormous Cotopaxi backpack to our 2.5-hour classes and then going straight to the airport to go to another country. And finally, I miss the absolute light that I radiated while in Rome.

I have always been a person who likes to be alone. I am a self-soother. In high school, you could find me in the corner on my phone to “escape” for a minute. But abroad was different. This is so cliche, but from these four months, I learned that it truly is the people that make the place. Sure, our shitty apartment was moldy, wet from condensation, and had paper-thin walls, but we had each other to laugh with. Whether I was stuck on a train for 2 hours in a dark tunnel going from Monte Carlo to Nice or sitting on the most luxurious beach, it made no difference. I was with people who made the place. 

I shared a triple room with two of my roommates and when I wasn’t at our apartment, I was sharing an AirBnb or boutique hotel with other friends. Having been surrounded by people my age 24/7, I had no alone time. I think over the 4 months I was gone, I was alone twice (not counting being in the shower).  So coming home to my empty house was something out of the ordinary. Despite having a 16-hour travel day, the second I sat down at home I was ready to go do something. In Europe, I didn’t necessarily have time to be lazy. I was either at school, walking, or traveling. My “downtime” was drinking wine with my roommates and playing games. Whereas my downtime at home was actual downtime: watching TV, scrolling on social media, and sleeping. The absolute contrast between my free time and infatuation with being alone was caused by this clash of cultures; however, this is not just a clash of actual, tangible cultures between America and Italy, but rather a clash of motivations that was caused by a clash of cultures. Not only was I immersed in the culture of Italy, but the psychological culture of it. Italians are some of the happiest people in the world, and once I picked up their lifestyle, I understood why. 

Now that I am home, I find a deep sense of sadness resurfacing. I find this to be both good and bad; I believe this experience provided me with something that was hard to leave, but this is the thing… I don’t have to. I am only entering my senior year of college, meaning the world is an endless place of opportunity. I can do whatever I want. I can move to Rome, London, Tokyo, or even Alabama if I want (I do not, but you get the point). This sadness that being home and activities not being the same as they were provided me with a drive to figure out how to keep that feeling. My passions in pop culture, social media, fashion, and ultimately music can be used anywhere. Oh, the places I’ll go! (And been to).

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