There we were: my seven best girlfriends and I sitting teary eyed at our favorite Ristorante La Giostra in Florence, Italy. The eight of us, sitting in silence, glancing at each other, the restaurant, the people, the food… all of us, making sure to take in every last detail, knowing it would be the last time we’d experience a moment exactly like this.
Before my arrival to Italy, friends and family prepared me for the all too common, “culture shock.” Sleeping habits, language barriers, unfamiliar places, and loss of comfort zone were aspects that could have made the transition difficult. However, the moment my foot touched Italian soil, I knew something incredible was about to begin.
The city of Florence had a magical way of pulling on my heart strings, making every detail shine a little brighter, every foreign word sound like a beautiful song, and every bite taste like a little piece of heaven. When lost, I explored. When I couldn’t understand, a smile was exchanged. When exposed to something new, I embraced it and let it influence my new, foreign way of living.
At that last dinner, I understood that my time was up, and the next morning once I got on the plane to head back home to the US this reality would only become a memory.
Home. The excitement of reuniting with family and friends, sleeping in my big bed, eating my favorite home cooked meal, were all things I focused on to make the transition back to Chicago a little less painful. After the first couple days, and getting my fix of all the details I missed while abroad- it hit me, that feeling I had escaped experiencing in Italy- culture shock.
No one could have prepared me for the way I was felt after the excitement of coming home subsided. Reality hit me square in the face. Back to the same work, school, locations, and faces I had known my entire life. It wasn’t the case that these elements were flawed; it was my new way of thinking that didn’t match my old environment.
I knew I had to be proactive and shake this horrible culture shock. I decided to make goals: Working two jobs to save money, do well in school to graduate in time, implement the way I saw the world in Europe to my bearings in the U.S., and continue to be the inspired individual I became while abroad.
My time studying abroad in Florence, Italy has left a permanent handprint on my heart. That experience changed my life for better in so many ways, and I came out of my travels a more cultured, open minded, secure, independent, wholesome person. And like my mother always says- “If you’re sad to see it go, find peace in knowing that it at one point made you the happiest you could be.”