Reverse Culture Shock

*Note that I started writing this on May 8th to May 10th*

It’s my third day back in the US, and just like my entire abroad experience, it’s been a total rollercoaster.

I am currently at my college visiting friends, I slept over, it’s 6:48 am the next day as I am writing this, and I have been wide awake for two hours.

I know for three-and-a-half months straight I had to wake up early every day for school, weekend trips, spring break, etc, and now that I’m back home, I am constantly waking up at 5 am or earlier and not being able to fall back asleep.

Why?

Time zones.

Italy is 6 hours ahead of the East coast. And traveling backward from Italy to Boston, I went from 6 hours ahead in Italy, back one hour in London, and London is 5 hours of the East coast, and then I went back to the “normal” time zone.

When I started traveling for study abroad in mid-January, I had all sorts of feelings and emotions.

And to be honest, after hearing about terrorist attacks in touristy areas for years and tragic stories of abroad students passing away just a few months before leaving, I did not want to leave my home country.

I never said it to anyone but had I anxiety and stress about these things all the time before going abroad, and I was wondering if I would even make it out alive.

But I did.

I didn’t run into any problems like that while abroad.

It was just all in my head.

And once again before going abroad, I was wishing my time there would fly by–which is not something the average abroad student would wish.

If you’ve been following my blog since it started, you know that I had experienced a bad month of culture shock, and while most of those feelings left, others did not, like homesickness for example.

I was never not homesick. I’d travel with my close friends, and while traveling to different places was great and all on the weekends, it wasn’t the same because I didn’t have my people with me.

And that was one of the many hard things I had to deal with going abroad.

Of course, I love the people that I met and held close to me during my abroad experience, but it wasn’t the same.

 

I know I came back as a changed person, with more creative ideas spewing out in my mind twenty-four-seven, being open-minded, loving myself a little more/more confident, more independent, the list could go on.

Although I have changed in ways, I am still the girl who is sensitive, and who still has an obsession with makeup, fashion, photography, and art. The girl that can be easily entertained and just laugh at everything, and the girl who still has anxiety and stress. But that’s normal…for me anyways.

It’s difficult to move to another country for three-and-a-half months, but it’s also difficult to move back and attempt the same morning routine you had before leaving, and getting accustomed to everything.

Truth is, that morning routine you had before, won’t be the same now. Mine definitely isn’t.

A friend told me, “It’s hard because you’re sleeping when you’re supposed to be eating meals and vise versa.”

I honestly didn’t think that reverse culture shock would hit me that hard because instead of wanting to live in a country I’ve always dreamed of visiting, I wished I was home. Every day. All one-hundred-and-six days I was abroad.

Within these past five days, I can’t eat American food the same, and I’m never hungry. Before going abroad I wouldn’t say I was never hungry, but I got full very easily and I still do, so I didn’t eat as much as others during the day. While abroad, I walked everywhere, and the food was too good, so I was eating all the time. Now, it feels rare if I get hungry during the day. Most of this has to do with the time difference, and because of the stress from experiencing reverse culture shock. I tried eating a piece of pizza while visiting school friends, and although it was tasted pretty good, it wasn’t the same, and it won’t be the same.

Now it’s a day later (May 9th), and the reverse culture shock is hitting me even more. I’ve read a lot of articles about the topic and they all say you will go through different stages, and I feel like all of those five to ten stages are hitting me all at once.

The exhaustion (oh boy more than anything) and how I could fall asleep at any location anytime, the loss of appetite, having so many ideas and tasks in your head that you think about being confident in completing them, but you never actually act upon them. The stage where you just want to tell close ones your experiences, but you don’t want to say everything and have nothing to say about it for the rest of your life. The stage where you’re feeling stressed, depressed, and have anxiety hitting you all at once. It’s just one of those things where you don’t know how to handle it and sometimes you have to learn to deal with it and wait for the feelings and emotions of reverse culture shock to fade away.

If you were in my position abroad, student or not, I’m not going to sugar coat anything and I will tell you that it’s not fun, and it will suck. Out of all the articles I have read from real people and hearing about it from people I personally know, I’ve never heard one person say that it didn’t hit them as hard, or they didn’t experience it. This is 100% a real thing, and I myself was warned about it before I even got culture shock.

It’s something that will happen, and it’s kind of one of those bumps in the road that may take awhile to get up and over, but once you’re over, you’ll be fine. I’m not saying I’m at the final stage yet, I’m nowhere near halfway, but I know I’ll get there, and so will you.

As for my career, I still consider myself a freelance photographer. I’m the type of person, depending on what it is, can get sick of something quickly, and so I personally don’t and cannot take photographs of one subject for the rest of my life. I love taking pictures of everything.

I attended my photography final last Tuesday, which is weird to think about, and each of us in the class told everyone what kind of photographers we are, and small stories behind each photograph that we chose. My photographs included a little bit of everything, where there were nature and food, and other things that I photographed. Everyone had a little over ten pictures printed on really nice, high-quality photo paper. After explaining my stories behind each photograph, I went on to say why I consider myself as a freelance photographer. Life is so beautiful to me, and I want to capture just about anything.

Something that struck me the most a few years ago was that on some social media app, there was a quote about photography, and it said, “A photographer takes pictures of what they are afraid to lose in their life.” 

So now photographers you follow on social media, photographers that you know in real life, and also yourself based on what YOU photograph, you’re thinking of what everyone including yourself is afraid to lose. And your assumption is probably right based on my photographs–I’m afraid to lose a lot from what the world offers us. I never really thought deeply into what people photograph until I came across that quote. It’s so true though if you really think about it.

It’s May 10th, and I’m just slightly better. It’s only been five days. I went to bed just a tad later than I have been, and I still woke up after 5 am, but I was able to go back to sleep and wake up a couple of times, and I consider that as improvement.

All in all, reverse culture shock is real. Keep yourself busy. Seriously, take those naps if you feel like you have to. I’m happy to say I have my boyfriend, my family, and my friends by my side through each step of this process, because going through culture shock was hard enough without them there.

 

 

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Florence vs. New England

After being in Italy for bit, I have noticed a lot of differences between Florence & New England. An update on school: if anyone didn’t know, my program is a four-day week schedule for classes, but each class is about 2 – 2 1/2 hours long. MW I have a class in the morning, and a class after 2 pm. On MW I have a two-hour break after my first class. On T TH I have 3 classes. After my first class on Thursdays I have an hour break, but then I have two classes in the afternoon pretty much back-to-back. Mon-Thurs I am at school from 9 am – after 4 pm. Stressful? Yes. What time do I have to wake up Mon-Thurs.? 7:40 am. Yup. I have 9ams, and I have to wake up at 7:40 am to get up and get ready to leave my apartment at 8:20 am, because it’s a 20 min walk to and from school, get breakfast, and then go to class. I either get out at 4:10 pm or 4:40 pm, so you can only imagine how exhausted I am. If I am waiting for my next class, you can most likely find me in the library, or lost somewhere in the city because I get lost at least once a day. A majority of the time I get lost is between classes trying to look for a place to buy something I need.

I eat a lot of carbs, but it’s kind of impossible not to. The carbs are everywhere. Whether I am in the US or a different country, I will always be eating pasta and pizza, and I’m not ashamed! They are my favorite foods and make me happy! Everywhere you look there’s a restaurant, a gelato place, a bar, a grocery store, and even Valentino. And Gucci, and Pucci (not related), and a big Lindor chocolate shop, and MORE high-end stores. I’m literally surrounded by high-end stores, it is so hard NOT to shop. I will buy an extra suitcase and pay the fee to check it along with my other suitcase when I fly back, it’s happening. I already bought two clothing items…but hey, they have two H&Ms so.

Having a lot of shopping around me is definitely something different from New England. I have always been used to living in the suburbs, and walking on the street and across a bridge to get to school and back to my apartment is different.

Differences (not in order)

  • Like I mentioned before, living in the city. I guess this depends where you grew up and where you currently live, but I’ve never lived in the city
  • No trees, no grass. If you want to see at least one of those, then you go outside of where I live, and there are some parks around, and there’s Tuscany, but as far as I know, that’s about it for greenery
  • People don’t say “excuse me,” or “scusa”
  • You don’t wave to someone who’s in/on a vehicle that lets you cross
  • You’re only supposed to spend 2 euros on gelato and nothing more
  • There are guys in your face trying to sell you selfie sticks
  • There are other guys/girls trying to put bracelets on your wrist and persuade you to buy them…aka keep your hands in your pockets
  • dog poop on the sidewalks…there’s no grass
  • puke on the sidewalks…not all the time, but I’ve seen it a few times…unfortunately.
  • Bad news for those who party all the time: you can get arrested for getting drunk in Italy, so yeah don’t be stupid
  • Also bad news for those who smoke weed: it’s illegal to smoke/carry marijuana in Italy, and without a doubt they will catch you, and you will be in jail for seven years. The police told us and they ain’t kidding
  • Because you can’t smoke weed (not that I do), everyone smokes cigarettes (once again, I don’t do this either), and you will see evidence of it everywhere on the ground (Rome is 100x worse with that though)
  • Flying into Rome, I thought it would smell like pizza and parmesean cheese. The entire time it smelled like cigarettes, and I really wish I was kidding.
  • Crossing crosswalks can be difficult because the people in/on vehicles will keep going towards their direction as you are walking and it can be scary
  • ^ If you thought the people driving on your college campus were bad, you haven’t experienced this yet
  • Not having my absolute favorite, go-to stores around. American Eagle, Garage, ULTA, (they have two Sephora’s, and one of them sells Chanel), PacSun, Aeropostale (judge me if you want but I’m starting to like that store again), Forever 21, you get the idea. I’m really starting to get into H&M because the clothes they sell really go with the style here in Florence, and I notice that I am slowly starting to transform my wardrobe. Believe me, I am having withdrawals from not wearing my brighter colors, but that’s just not a thing here and I just have to deal with it.
  • You buy your groceries for the next few days, not a whole week
  • Everything is fresh
  • Italians take their time–especially when making food because it’s all fresh and handmade
  • Italians are definitely in no rush when it comes to anything
  • Wifi/internet can be spotty…be grateful at your college and your home that you have fast working wifi. My apartment has better wifi, but it can be spotty here and there
  • Target isn’t a thing here either, but there is this store in Italy called, “TIGER,” and it is just the cutest store ever. It has literally everything you can imagine for home decor, school & art supplies, kitchen, technology, just everything. Except for clothing. I even found a carrot sharpener and a banana box…weird…but cool! Highly recommend if you travel to Italy or any other country if you can find it
  • Although I have not yet been here during the summer time, you will probably never see a preppy brand here like Vineyard Vines or Lilly Pulitzer. Once again, bright colors are not a thing here
  • Everything is more fashionable, fancy, & sometimes sophisticated

I could literally go on and on and ON how different Florence is from New England. I am still putting together my similarities list because everything is just so different here, that it’s almost hard to find similarities. But I am doing my best! I hope this post gave you a little more insight on what it’s like living in Florence, Italy from an American perspective.

See you in the next post!

xx   Jordan

London Days 1 & 2 2017

After getting off the plane in London, I had absolutely no idea where to go. The same girl who I had met on the plane, I asked if I could come along with her & her friends. Coming off a plane at Heathrow airport was more confusing than any other airport I’ve been in. There were so many steps to take.

After finally going through customs & luggage, we made it to a sit down area where the rest of the students were from the flight. We still had to wait for people, so I was probably standing for about 45 minutes to an hour. All I wanted to do was sleep. Sight-seeing in a country you’ve never been in is great and all, but all I wanted to do was take a nap.

Now that it’s three days later writing the rest of this post, I’d rather not do a play-by-play. Only because this post would be way too long, & I can update you guys more  on my orientation in Rome & other things.

Our hotel in London was nice, except for the wifi. I couldn’t get on any app or even my laptop. 

The afternoon arriving in London, a group of girls and I visited Abbey Road, which was very busy & hard to take pictures, & Platform 9 3/4. There was an extremely long wait to take pictures for Platform 9 3/41, but it was so worth it.

London day 2 the program did a bus tour of some main sites of London, including The Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guards and other places. You know in movies where you see shops all lined up next to each other (i.e. pet store, market, home goods, designer brands, beauty, etc.)? That is what Kensington & the city of London pretty much looks like from my point of view. It’s great though, I love places like that!

After the bus tour, the group of girls and I had gone to a pub to get lunch. I got some traditional fish & chips — 10x better than the American version! Keep in mind that we took the Tube A LOT while in London. We took the the to go see Big Ben & The London Eye which unfortunately was under- construction. Still a great view all around that area! Everything in London is beautiful. Some areas made me feel like I was in The Parent Trap (the one with Lohan).

After taking the tube back to Kensington, we went to this little tea shop called, “The Muffin Man,” and if was just the cutest! REALLY good food and tea as well.

Overall, I would say that I like London. I don’t quite love it. Not everywhere is for everyone. And that’s the best part about traveling: experiencing it. Experience what you can, do your best to enjoy everything around you. If the place isn’t for you, no one is forcing you to go back to it. Keep moving forward.
xx   Jordan

The Reality of Traveling Alone for the First Time

Excitement. Happiness. Homesick. Joy. Fear. Frustration. Confused. Sadness. FOMO. Anxious. EXHAUSTION. All emotions & symptoms, and maybe more that I have gone through within the past five days.

My parents drove me from RI to Boston, MA to the Logan airport on January 20, 2017 at 4pm. Snapchats were sent and received. Carsickness appeared. Teary eyes almost turned into waterfalls…but I blocked the spout with positive words running through my mind, like for example, “You can do this!”

By the time we got to the airport, I thought I was going to throw up. The carsickness really got to me. I was sweating from wearing layers, & I was so distracted that the only thing I had to drink that day was a detox smoothie. I luckily founda water bottle  in the backseat, which I chugged. 

My Dad dropped my Mom and I off so I could check my big suitcase, & to wait for my boyfriend to come. My suitcase ended up being 55 pounds, and the limit is 51 pounds. I thought it was 50, but maybe it’s different for international flights. The lady was nice and let it slide, but reminded me that London is very strict when flying out of there. My backpack & carry-on were both so full that there was no way I could fit anything else in there. You can’t blame me though. Packing for 3 1/2 months is difficult. 

After a little while, my Dad was siting with my Mom and I, and my boyfriend came. It was our three-month anniversary. Imagine that. Leaving the country on your anniversary. It was tough to say the least. I’m tearing up as I’m typing this. I didn’t want to let go of him. I didn’t want to let go of his hands. I didn’t want to let go of his warmth. I did not want to let go of him. But something we would never let go is our relationship. Yes, we’ve only been dating for slightly over three months now, but our relationship is so strong. We’ve known each other for over a year before dating, and we’re definitely not the type of couple to “take a break,” while I’m away for 3 1/2 months…that’s silly. There’s no doubt in my mind that when I come back, we’ll be even stronger. We communicate everyday, and it makes us both very happy. 

My Mom, Dad, & boyfriend walked me to the front of security. They could not go through there with me. This is when the waterworks started happening. I hugged my mom, started feeling it, and tried to hold back the tears. I hugged my Dad, and that’s definitely when I started getting teary-eyes, but once again, tried holding it back. Then I hugged my boyfriend. The waterfall broke through the spout. His response? “You can’t ruin your makeup!” God I love him. That moment was difficult for sure though. Once he said those words I  quickly started wiping my undereyes because I did put makeup on, and I was not about to look like a hot mess walking through the airport while trying to make friends. No no. You could definitely tell that I cried, but thanks to makeup setting spray and setting my concealer, black streaks did not appear on my face. 

I started to walk through security by myself. I had always traveled with family, so I knew what I was doing, but I was alone. 

But in fact, I wasn’t alone. 

God was with me. Everyone was beside me in spirit during the process. My gut was there to trust. There were at least forty other young adults going through the exact same thing, in the exact same airport. And all of those young adults were in my program.
 

I walked through the line to security with a million feelings and emotions, handed the person my info & passport, and headed towards a line of strangers. It was a little after 6:30pm at this point. I got into a line and realized how much I had to take off and take out. I didn’t realize we could keep our jewelry on. I took off the necklace my boyfriend bought me – that felt weird. I didn’t want anyone to steal it. It reminds me all of his love for me, and that he’s always there for me, even in spirit. I took off our distance bracelets, and I basically almost broke a bracelet that one of my best friend’s bought me for my birthday. But it’s all good, it was just tight squeeze, and I had to get it off my wrist quickly. I took out and took off the normal stuff. Lucky me. I had to get my carry-on checked. What in the world did I put in there that made someone take out everything in front of everyone. Surprisingly, I wasn’t embarrassed. The man started looking at my vitamins and my power green powder that basically determines if I have energy or not that day. He really started looking at the powder containers (both unopened). And no, there are no drugs in there, sir. You’re looking at the wrong girl for that one. Can’t a constantly tired & low-energied (is that a word?) girl just get some safe, natural energy around here? Jesus Christ. It was not the power greens powder, it was a tube of toothpaste. I had to go buy a travel-sized one. 

After leaving security and the small shop, I had to go find my gate. Gate 8. I went the opposite direction, because that direction had gates close to the number 8. Naturally, I thought it was over there. Nope. Anxiety & frustration started kicking in. I thought I was going crazy. That direction said gates 9-whatever, and the other direction said gates 1-7, and pardon my language, but I was like, where the fuck is my gate. There was not a sign in sight. I finally had the courage to ask someone because I was ready to lose it…in the middle of an airport. I headed in the direction past security and found my gate. Weird looking gate area, but hey, they had charging stations. I plugged my phone in, and I had to sit at a weird angle with all of my stuff, because my cord was long, but not long enough. After looking around, I realized there weren’t many students in my gate. I texted our Facebook group for the Boston flight, and asked if anyone was in gate 8. Most were in gate 9, which did not make sense to me. A girl from the program replied back saying she was walking towards gate 8, and I saw her, and we started talking. There was a guy that she had previously talked with who was sitting diagonal from me, and I had no idea.

This girl helped my anxieties go away almost immediately, and helped me any questions I had with boarding and the plane. 

It was time to board the plane. There was quite a lot of people on that flight. It was the biggest plane I had ever seen/been on in my life. I had never been out of the country, so it was all new to me. The plane went on forever. My seat was 24E (I may be getting that mixed up with another number from my other flight, so I’ll check on that later). I have no idea why, but I kept thinking my letter was C, even though I was looking for the number, and the letter E the whole time I was walking on the plane. I’m thinking it was one of God’s hints. I sat in the row with the letter C. I met another girl who was also in the same program, and we started making conversation. About 10 minutes later, I was informed that I was in the wrong seat, and I had to move my stuff to the four-seater across, and I was unfortunately not in the aisle seat. I was in the second seat to the left, with no room. My backpack didn’t fit under the seat, so I hid it with my jacket, and I was not getting up again. The plane was so hot and I was sweating just from struggling to put my heavy carry-on in the overhead, and going from one row to the other. I was also stuck in between two men. One in the aisle seat who was older with an accent, and the other one who was probably around my age. He seemed like a nice person, but he was uh, interesting. 

I had never been in an airplane with mini tv screens on the backs of the seats, and your armrest was a remote with a headphone jack. If I remember correctly, I had never been on a red-eye flight. They provided thin-ish pillows that looked like they were made out of paper towels. I gotta be honest with you…sorry British Airways. And also on everyone’s seat was a blanket in wrapping. I had my 2-in-1 blanket and blow up mini pillow with me, and the blanket the plane provided was surpringly extremely warm. They had good movies. Guys, I watched Finding Dory. It couldn’t get any better than that. BA provided meals on on the plane. You choices were either Pasta or Curry Chicken. Can you guess what option I went with? The pasta was actually really good, but I was also starving. There was a mini salad and dressing on the side, a roll with butter, a teacup, a mini container of water, a plastic untensil pouch with salt packets and what not, & a mini dessert item. The dessert had a mix of milk & dark chocolate and it tasted great, until I started tasting cherries, and that was about it for me. Fruity flavors mixed with chocolate & the texture of nuts & chocolate I cannot handle whatsoever. 

Then there comes the late hours of the night, and I started doing that head bobbing thing that I do when I’m falling asleep in public. Yeah, I did that a lot. Thank god the lights were off and the two men were asleep. 

I barely slept on that flight. We were pretty much flying over water the whole time, so the turbulence was keeping me up and scaring me, but I literally told myself to chill every time I felt scared. 

And before I knew it, it was after 7am, and I was five hours ahead in the London time zone. I finished Finding Dory, and started watching Rio. Guys I’m telling you, you gotta get yourself on one of these planes. 

I got my heavy carry-on, backpack, coat, and a new mindset ready to go.

 I will actually be continuing this story in another blog post. A blog post starting from where I left off, to my last day in London. Then Rome, & so on.

The point of this blog post is of course to update everyone, but also because I wanted people to read & understand the true reality of being young, & what it can be like to travel for the first time alone. Everyone’s situation is different. This was my experience. A good & frustrating one. One I won’t ever forget. It was the start of my new journey. No matter what age you are, always remember that you are not alone.
xx   Jordan