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Culture shock woes shouldn't keep you from studying abroad

Adjusting to a new country is always going to be a difficult journey, but studying abroad is still more than worthwhile. – Photo by Erik Odiin / Unsplash

When I initially decided to study abroad, culture shock was not something that crossed my mind.

Up until this point, I had always proven myself to be quite independent. I spent my childhood at summer camp spending months away from my parents — flying across the country alone was nothing new for me. I never had the "homebody" gene or craved to be confined in the comforts of my own home. I have always craved adventure and all of the discomforts and challenges that come along with it.

I knew that before graduating from Rutgers, I had to study abroad. There were no hesitations, ifs, ands or buts, so around this time last year, I decided to spend my first semester of senior year at John Cabot University, an American-style university in the heart of Rome.

I was absolutely ecstatic about this decision and envisioned myself traveling to new countries every weekend, making tons of new friends from all over the world and really adapting to the European lifestyle.

But when I arrived in Rome two months ago, I was in for an adjustment much larger than I anticipated. Coming across the world to experience a new place to live in for a chunk of time is vastly different than experiencing it from a tourist or vacation point of view. All around me, everything was different. I barely spoke the language, and I had to get used to so many cultural differences in every aspect of life.

When picturing myself studying abroad, I imagined techno clubs, Aperol spritzes and a jet-set lifestyle. I came to learn that a more accurate depiction of studying abroad is being locked out of your apartment and not being able to communicate with the Italian security guards in your building, being targeted by scammers and the pure exhaustion of traveling and then making it back in time for class Monday morning at 9 a.m.

To be quite honest, I was miserable for the first few weeks of being in Rome. I was constantly calling my mom crying that I wasn’t having the experience I wanted — that all around me, I felt like people had their set group of friends and were doing all of the things I wanted to do. I felt like I was going through each day alone and not looking around to appreciate the beautiful scenery, the wonderful Italian culture and amazing people here. I wanted nothing more than to go home and give my mom and dad a big hug.

Then one day, everything clicked. After weeks of pouting around, I started to let go of my fears and anxieties and immerse myself in Rome as best as I could. I started learning Italian phrases, going to cafes and ordering in Italian, trying my best to make friends in classes and planning as many weekend trips as I could.

I can now say, without hesitation, that coming to Rome was the best decision I have ever made. I have met some of the coolest most interesting people, made amazing friends and went to some pretty awesome places including Positano, Oktoberfest in Munich and Barcelona, with many more trips in the works. At this point, I honestly can’t even imagine myself coming back to the U.S. — I know I'll have to eventually, but I also know Europe will always be there for me to return.

My advice to anyone thinking of studying abroad would be this: Do it.

I'm sitting in a gorgeous Roman cafe writing this right now, and I can say with confidence that I have been having the best experience of my life these past two months. I cannot even believe how fast studying abroad is going by, and I don’t even want to think about going back home. Although there were challenges in the beginning, they only made me stronger and gave me the structure to continue on with this journey.

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