study abroad: culture shock

Study Abroad Florence Italy

FRI. JUNE 12: Day 3

This morning, as a group, we toured the workshop, which is the fashion, design, and photography building. The darkroom is so tiny here!

After dismissal, a few of us went to L’antico Vinaio, a place that sells massive and phenomenal five euro paninis. It is a local hotspot.

There were three cute Italiano boys in line with us (me, Ally, Giuseppe) and we were listening to them speak, both admiring it and wishing we could understand. I smiled at the one in front. I told myself to go for it, to not be afraid of messing up, and to run right into the language barrier.

“Come ti chiami?” What is your name?
“Vincenzo. E tu?” Vincenzo. And you? (Veen-chen-Zo)
“Laurie. Piacere.” Laurie. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
“Piacere.” It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Then he asked me where I am from and I asked him what panino he recommends and he listed off what I should get.

I ordered in Italian, which delighted the employees, of course (they love when you actually try!) I can’t remember the exact words, but I know my sandwich consisted of some type of cheese spread, a spicy tomato mixture, eggplant, and raw prosciutto. I can’t put into words how delizioso it was.

Study Abroad Florence Italy
Photo taken by Ally

Instead of leaving with the other girls who came with us, me, Ally, and Giuseppe stayed and sat next to the Italian boys who were in line with us. We asked them how old they were and what fun things there are to do tonight. They are all twenty-years-old and suggested Space Electronic, a dance club. Then, he said in broken, accented English, to me, “We are going Saturday. I give you my number and you come with us.”

Sooooo… I have Vincenzo’s number in my phone.
It’s day three and I’m already swan-diving out of my comfort zone.

After ciaos and goodbyes, Ally and I sat on Ponte Vecchio and journaled together. It was so cute.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

We went our separate ways to take naps (which never happened) and met up later for wine and conversation. At midnight, we went down to Piazza Santo Spirito and crazy enough, ran into Giuseppe and his cousin Kristin.

The piazza was BUMPIN’. So many Italians (who stay out until 5 a.m.)

After an uncomfortable interaction with two Italian boys on the piazza, we moved to a more secluded location. Kristin told me that Italian boys are trouble. They are trouble, trouble, trouble, she repeated. She apologized for bursting my bubble because American girls think that Italian guys are so romantic and loving and sweet, when in reality, they are just like American boys; they are just more charming. They think Italian women make good wives and American girls, good playmates. There’s actually a joke here where the guys are “just waiting for the next plane to drop off a bunch of American girls.”


We spent the rest of the night talking about Italian culture, the poor work ethic, the difference between northern and southern Italy, travel, and what we’re going to take away from the trip.

“Oh, you’ll miss this,” Kristin said.

“What do you say that?” I replied.

“The culture. You can’t get it anywhere else. Look around you right now. Not a single person is on their phone. They are socializing with each other. Interaction is so much more important to them here; they can’t think of anything on their phone that would be more important than the present moment they are in,” Giuseppe jumped in.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

“The food, too. I hate American-Italian cuisine. It’s backwards. It’s heavy. Italians rarely ever use cream, so I don’t know why Americans add it to all the sauces. And Chicken Toscana? That dish doesn’t even exist! They don’t eat chicken in Tuscany!” Kristin added.

At 2:30 a.m., we parted and I went back to Ally’s. I had a really hard time getting myself to go to sleep because I just…was in deep culture shock…sensory overload. Here is basically how I was feeling:

I’m not sure how I should be feeling. I feel like I’ve learned so much from the culture here, but at the same time, I’m realizing how privileged we are as Americans and how much we take it for granted and it’s weird. While the job security in Italy is greater, the job opportunity is greater in America, as well as our education.

Maybe one country is greater than another; maybe they are just different.

It’s only day three and I already know I’m going to be so disoriented when I go home mainly because in the U.S., I have a type A personality. I overwork myself. I’m so hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist. I am always stressed. In Italy, I’m forced to be the opposite.

And I don’t think I ever want to go back to my old self.

Everyone in America is telling me they are so jealous and that they can’t wait to hear stories. Yes, I’ll tell them a few stories, but it’s just so weird when I know 99.99% of them will never understand what I’m going through.

In America, it’s live to work; in Italy, it’s work to live. America glorifies busy, and while work ethic is good (Italy has no work ethic and is on the brink of bankruptcy), I hate fearing for my life because “I’m not doing enough”.

I want to stop being clustered into the group of “tourist Americans” when the locals find out I’m from the U.S. I wish they could understand that I actually am so passionate about their culture and how they live their life.

I love it here. I may not like some things, but I am happy—euphoric, even—to be immersed in something different. I needed something different. I needed to be…I dunno…woken up from the inside.

Study Abroad Florence Italy

Before this trip, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to get out of it, but not I know I will only grasp the tip of the iceberg that is Italian life while I am here and that is already making me itch to return and I haven’t even left yet.

After two months, I’ll barely have scratched the surface, but even after two months, I will feel weird being back home because no one will understand and I won’t even know what to do!!!

I can’t even imagine what people who travel to India or Africa must feel like.

I’m not overcome by worry. It’s more eye-opening. Like WOW. Wow wow wow wow this world is so VAST and COLORFUL and I know NOTHING.

But I’m trying so damn hard and that has to count for something because I truly love culture and peoples’ lives and that’s more than most can say.

I know the last time I was in Italy, I was a mega tourist, but now that I’m back, and a different person, I am having a different experience. That is fine. It’s just not easy to connect with most people on this trip with me.

I’ve started doing almost everything alone and have found traveling more rewarding. With a huge group, I am unable to get a personal, one-on-one connection with the people of this city. I am unable to just wander and explore.

Apparently everything I am feeling is totally normal, says my friend in the Peace Corp.

I just hate the feeling of being an outsider no matter where I go. Identity crisis has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s a love-hate relationship. I take pride in being different, but I hate the feeling of never feeling like I belong anywhere.

I’m a floater. I don’t know what country I’ll end up in one day, but I hope where it is, I can finally let myself free.

Laurie Hamame

Ball of sunshine. Chronic giggler. A lover of all things sweet potato. An overly friendly, world traveling, body positive warrior. Avid bookworm. Self-proclaimed chef and spiritually Italian. Promotor of daily walks, coffee dates and 30-second dance parties.

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Laurie Hamame

Ball of sunshine. Chronic giggler. A lover of all things sweet potato. An overly friendly, world traveling, body positive warrior. Avid bookworm. Self-proclaimed chef and spiritually Italian. Promotor of daily walks, coffee dates and 30-second dance parties.

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