How Culture Shock Tore Me Apart

I’ve been putting off this blog post for a number of reasons: school, traveling, being sick, and waiting for myself to not feel the shock anymore. It took almost a month, but I’ve heard it’s all normal. I’ve never heard someone having culture shock for more than a month, but maybe I’m wrong and there’s someone out there that has.

Of course culture shock sneaks up on you when you’re in my position traveling out of the US for the first time pretty much by yourself, but I think it snuck up on me at the worst possible time. But towards the end, aka one week ago, it all stopped, and motivated me to get back up again.

It didn’t hit me in London, and I think it’s because everyone spoke English and to me it was like New York City & Boston had a baby. I’ve seen some suburban-like neighborhoods, but I stayed in a city hotel. There were trees and grass though, so let’s just keep that in mind.

In Rome it started to slowly creep up on me. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to make friends when everyone came with their friends from school, and I was just kind of sitting there in the dust.

Of course I met some people, but it wasn’t quite the same. Back at school, especially freshman year, I had no problem going up to people during orientation, and even just throughout the year saying hi to someone, or complimenting someone on what they’re wearing–something I still do and you should too. This time it’s a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a LOT of nice girls in my program, friends and acquaintances, but there are just some people who seem very intimidating, and sometimes it’s actually just me who is afraid to go up and start a conversation with someone. I’ll admit that I’ve been super quiet and anti-social this semester, and I didn’t expect that to happen. I’m getting better as I am currently making my way into a friend group, but the bottom line is that it’s still hard for me.

I remember one of the nights in Rome, I was sitting alone in my hotel room. If I remember correctly, I think it was a night I was supposed to go out with some people I just met in Rome (still love them to this day), and I was all excited and I put my going-out makeup on, eyeshadow and all. I put on my moto jacket on with a nice shirt, black jeans, and booties. I needed something to lift my mood, clear my head, and get out of the hotel room. Considering there are over 130 people in my program (maybe more, maybe less), the wifi was NEVER working because everyone was trying to get on it all at once. Part of this was my fault for not getting any of the people’s numbers, I just gave my number to one person, but at the same time, it wouldn’t have mattered because the wifi wasn’t working. I knocked on a few of the people’s doors, but there was silence. I went back to my room and tried messaging them on Instagram, because I thought that would work better. It was about 25 minutes that had gone by and I was getting a little worried. I went on one last round with the knocks, and once again, silence. At this point I gave up and went back to my room. I was so tired, and a little mad and frustrated to be honest. I ended up taking a shower and then going on the House Party app to finally see Kevin’s face in action. I was trying SO hard not to cry in front of him. This was when the culture shock was hitting me even more. I’ve balled my eyes out multiple times in front of him since last year, but I was trying to stay strong for the sake of myself. I got a little teary-eyed, but I held back the tears. After our conversation ended, the tears absolutely exploded out of me. I couldn’t control myself. I was holding the tears in for one weekwhich is SO unhealthy. It was the worst feeling ever. All the thoughts came to my head of, “How am I going to live without everyone for this many months?” And, “When is this awful feeling going to end?” After a little while, I was able to stop crying. I collected myself. In my opinion, crying doesn’t make you weak, crying makes you stronger. Crying is absolutely normal, and if you need to cry, just do it. Crying always helps me feel better. Sometimes you just need to let it out. Don’t let things bottle up inside you. Even I still do it sometimes, but it’s best that you don’t.

Even after I cried, I still thought, “How am I going to communicate with people without wifi?” I know that can come off as me being attached to my phone, but do you know how hard it was to move to another country and wanting to tell people about everything you’re doing, and this ONE thing was preventing you from doing so for over a week? Very hard. Someone had said to me, “It’s just a phone.” Yup, it’s just a phone that just so happens to have my whole life on there and different ways to communicate with people that I love and miss dearly from home and school who are more than 4000 miles away. Yup, just a phone.

I eventually found out the next day with the people that I was supposed to hang out with the night before, that no one could get in touch with each other because the wifi was awful and that some people who did leave the hotel, got separated from each other.

Now, fast-forward to officially moving to Florence, my birthday, classes and pmsing. TMI, but it has to do with a lot with how I was feeling.

Moving into my new and *first* apartment really lifted my spirits. I’ve mentioned in a past post where my three other roommates and I had such low expectations, and we lucked out because we ended up getting one of the nicest apartments compared to everyone else in the program. Brand new building, two brand new apartments, one of them us four live in, and then four other girls live in the other one across from us. I feel like I am living in a cross between a five-star hotel suite, the Princess Diaries 2 suite, but also kinda modern, and chic, omg it’s everything. A towel warmer guys…we have a towel warmer attached to the wall. My life was made.

We moved in on a Saturday, and classes started that upcoming Monday. I always get so nervous for new classes for a new semester, but it turned out just fine. I was extremely exhausted, but it was fine. For about 2-3 weeks of living in Florence, I was miserable. I don’t know if it was showing on my face, but I was not happy. After all that paperwork I had to do in October and run around like a crazy person on campus getting signatures, and more paperwork, and mailing and faxing and emailing and at that time, I would’ve thought it would be worth it in the end, but I didn’t think that at all. Of course our first week it was rainy every day and I was pmsing, and in the words of one of my best friends, “Your pms is no joke.” Absolute most awful time of the month, a lot girls can agree, and for some reason, I feel better on the first day my period comes, and after that first day, everything turns to crap again. I was so moody, and I didn’t want to be in my dream country whatsoever.

Culture shock was tearing me apart, and I didn’t know what to do.

I was trying to make myself inspired by everything around me, and see the beauty in everything. My eyes were always teary, so everything was blurry, and all I saw were blobs. I didn’t see beauty in anything. I tried. It wasn’t sunny. It was cold. It was rainy some days. The mornings are always so cold when I have to get up early and leave early to walk to my 9ams. The streets can get really gross sometimes with cigarettes, smells of the sewer, trash, dirty puddles, dog poop, and sometimes puke. Yup, really beautiful right there.

I felt worthless. I felt like I lost all excitement and passion for wanting to come to Italy. For wanting to jumpstart my career with photography. All inspiration, all passion–gone.

I had to force myself to stop looking at people’s snapchat stories from home, especially on weekends. Weekends are for partying at college, and relaxing, and hanging out with friends, and then there’s some studying. And although I was always with everyone at separate times during the week at school, on the weekends it was different, because we were all in the same room having fun without a care in the world. And this semester, I’m not in that room. That room is 4000 miles away.

It felt like no one wanted to hang out with me. I was always the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, choice. I didn’t feel wanted. I wanted my school friend group back, where I actually felt wanted. Sometimes I still have that feeling.

I knew culture shock for me was going to end soon, but it felt like it was never ending. Last week, was the last time I had culture shock to the fullest. I was once again, holding in my tears for almost week. I almost started crying more than 5 times during a field trip in Tuscany. Everyone was so happy and giggly, and I just wanted to curl up in a ball, hide in my room until the day I leave in May. 68 days…but who’s counting.

It was a Thursday, my friend/neighbor’s birthday, and the day I got my period. I felt so relieved and happy that day. That’s when I thought the culture shock ended, but I was wrong once again. We went out to a bar, and it was actually a great time. They wanted to go to a club that I absolutely do not like after going there once. It would have been great if the guys weren’t touchy and gross. The amount of times I said, “I have a boyfriend!” was uncountable.

I went back to the apartment, and two friends walked me back. The bar is super close to my apartment, but you always want to be safe at night no matter what. I was alone in my apartment, and granted I did drink a little, but I definitely wasn’t drunk. Getting drunk is illegal here, and being a lightweight can be difficult, but I was just buzzed, nothing more. And I started crying. A lot. It was a loud cry, and thankfully I was alone. I wanted to scream. I ugly-cried for an hour. A cry where I really tried to stop crying, but I couldn’t and just kept crying and crying. This was when I thought I couldn’t do it. I was waiting for the headlines to say, “Girl Couldn’t Handle Being Abroad.” I couldn’t handle it at all. I couldn’t figure out why this had hit me so hard and for such a long time.

But then I thought to myself,

“Jordan, this is normal. Everyone who travels abroad with school or not, goes through this. It’s okay. And it’s okay to not feel okay, but you’ll eventually get through this. When May comes, you’re not gonna want to leave this country. Think of how good the food is here. The pizza, the pasta, the gelato, the wine, etc. You are one of the luckiest girls right now to be studying abroad and following your dreams. Most people haven’t been able to make it as far as you have. You can create beautiful photographs, even if they’re not exactly like the ones you see on Instagram, which is fine, because everyone has a different style–but you’ll get there. You can paint, heck you’re not just in regular painting, you’re in an intermediate/semi-advanced painting class. Painting II to be exact. You’re finally not stuck in a bubble, and you have different places you can go to take pictures, not just your campus and your small home-state. You have a city. You live in a city. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’ve always wanted to do it at least once in your life. Your Photography for the Media class is challenging you in a good way. Your photography professor is the only photography teacher that has made everything you’re learning about how to use the camera actually stick in your head. Your painting professor is your favorite. He is the one who is challenging you the most with art, and now you’re the best painter than you’ve ever been before. You live near high-end shops, and have two 3-floor H&M stores, 2 Brandy Melville stores, 2 Sephora’s, MAC, etc. You may not have your favorite, go-to shopping stores around, and you can’t wear bright colors or sweatpants outside, but you know that Florence fashion, and even the girls’ style in your program is inspiring you to try out new clothing. You are living the dream Jordan, and you can’t even see it or feel it. But that’s all going to change now.”

After that I really collected myself. Yes, I was on my period, and our mood fluctuates, but from the moment I said that to myself, and the day my period ended, I could finally see. I felt like my eyes were finally opening from the darkness, and I was able to see light. I was able to stop and look at what’s around me (all food & clothing stores). It all started to feel real.

Oddly enough, traveling to Switzerland last weekend helped me. Switzerland was unreal and super expensive. Although I didn’t want to leave the great scenery behind, it made me realize how much I was missing Florence. How much cheaper everything was mostly, but also the friends and the food. Thankfully there were trees and grass in Switzerland, but in order for me to get used to living in a city, I need to learn to live without a few things first.

Coming back from Switzerland, I got sick, and still currently am with the stomach flu. Some things aren’t easy here, but at least I am doing my best to push through these obstacles.

Besides the stomach flu, culture shock was probably the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Culture shock is something that is real, and it can be awful for awhile, but if you ever find yourself stuck in it, talk to yourself about these things:

  • what is around you
  • who is around you
  • what are some good things about the place
  • why did you choose to come here
  • what are your goals for here that may relate to your career
  • what can you do to fix your mood
  • what can you do differently in general
  • what are you good at
  • what are you accomplishing

 

Remind yourself that you are not worthless. You have people who love and care about you a lot. That’s something I constantly remind myself everyday. They’re waiting back at home to hear stories and accomplishments, and see a smile on my face, not a rain cloud above my head.

Yes, school can be dreadful with those early times, and long hours, but everything is starting to fall into place. Everything is getting better.

 

xx   Jordan

 

 

 

 

 

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