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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reverse Culture Shock: Returning Home After Being Abroad

It's a strange thing you feel when you realize you no longer fit into your native culture the way you used to. Traveling changes you, opens your eyes, your heart and your mind. After being in the US for almost a month and coming back to Italy, I see a lot of differences in myself I hadn't noticed abroad, as well as seeing my own culture through a new lens.

The first week back home in LA was kind of a blur. I was jet-lagged, scrambling to see my friends and family, and constantly thinking about my visa application I had submitted the day after I landed. Being surrounded by the people I love was a great feeling and I really missed everyone, but I couldn't help but notice something With every conversation I had, my suspicions had grown into the obvious truth: I don't fit here anymore. While everyone around me seemed to be talking about money, status, and striving for the way to live, I found myself witnessing things as an outsider. Sometimes I felt like I wasn't even in the room. I didn't relate to anything they were talking about anymore and that's when I realized.

I've changed, I've grown.

I don't see it as a bad thing, but I knew that I felt different. I'd been living in another country for the past three months and have grown accustomed to the Italian ways of doing everyday things, so of course I felt out of place. I had forgotten what full-fledged capitalism felt like. Everyone-out-for-themselves-dog-eat-dog-money-hungry hustling. Oh yeah...this is America. I was now seeing what people from other countries were talking about when they spoke about typical American culture. It was weird seeing my own culture through a semi-Italian lens. I'm not saying it's bad or wrong to think or behave the way most Americans do, it's just different than what I had gotten used to. I was forced to adapt, but I had done it much better than I realized. Italians are about family, community and helping each other out. I will admit, I had a pretty hard time taking help when I first arrived. I had my American pride. I wanted to figure things out on my own, get what I needed, and feel proud to say that I did it myself. But this way of thinking caused me a lot of frustration and it wasn't until later that I realized I need people around me to care and want to help. Once I accepted that, I felt much more at home. Call it maturation, realizing I can't do it all on my own, or adapting to the Italian way. Whatever the reason, I needed to be humbled, and I was. After awhile, I found myself helping people out whenever I could, too. Plus, you know, seeing confused tourists looking at an upside down map just got annoying, so I figured I might as well try to be part of the solution for everyone and send their simple asses on their way. The sidewalk needed to be cleared for people who actually have somewhere to be. You're welcome, Florence.

"Where is the Duomo? I can't see anything with this huge church in the way!"

Another thing I noticed was how inadequate I felt when my friends talked about their ambitions. According to everyone around me, at my ripe age of a 20-something with a college degree, I should have started a full-time career with benefits by now, living in my own apartment, and planning my next steps for the future. In Italy, I literally have none of those things. I am barely getting by stringing a few part-part-time jobs together to pay for the room I rent in an apartment with my three Italian boy roommates, I'm without health insurance and I am nowhere near being financially stable as someone my age "should be".

I have no idea what my 5-year plan looks like. I can barely see past next week, let alone five years from now! I do, however, get drunk on fancy Italian wine a lot, so there’s that. It felt so great being back in LA (sarcasm alert--read: It fucking sucked). Yes, I also saw that so-and-so from high school is working at that big company with a nice salary and is newly engaged, thanks Mom, now get off Facebook. Is it just me, or does it seem like social media was specifically designed to allow people to over exaggerate small bullshit victories solely to make other people jealous, yet we all secretly feel insecure so we continue the cycle of bragging to make ourselves feel better? Nobody seriously loves their job that much or truly can’t get over how amazing their significant other is to where they have to tell the world every fucking Monday and Wednesday how in love they are or how hot they think their boyfriend is. Yes, we get it. Woah, that escalated quickly. What was I saying? Oh, right, my crappy little life.

Sounds way more awesome if you ask me.

But in all seriousness, it was much different being home than I imagined. First I didn’t want to have to go because I felt I was just getting into the rhythm of things in Italy, then when I knew there was no getting around it, I got excited to go and see my friends and family and be somewhere familiar and actually be able to talk to people in public. Then, once I arrived, my expectations were completely turned upside down and I felt like an alien. The hardest part was feeling disconnected from my friends. They were talking about the same old things and there I was, having only been gone three months, yet feeling I lived on another planet for a year. On the bright side, everyone told me I seemed happier than ever. That much was true. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what my job is, how much money I have, or what people expect of me; I made the leap to do something not many people I know would have the guts to do. For that much, I am proud. I have the courage, ambition and faith to follow my dreams. During those times I start to get down on myself when I think of where I thought I would be at this point in my life, the career I wanted and the type of American Dream I had when I was younger, I have to stop and realize that I am doing something amazing and completely different than I thought, but in the best way possible. It takes time to build something out of nothing, and that’s exactly what I’m doing—starting my life in another country. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.