Culture shock is a real thing. People experience it in different ways with varying degrees of severity. The time it takes to adjust is also different for everyone. I hardly noticed the culture shock when I first arrived in Italy for school because I was surrounded by so much familiarity in the midst of all of the differences. However, when I decided to stay in Italy with only one friend and my boyfriend there the entire thing changed and I experienced an array of feelings that spanned enthusiasm to suicidally shitty depression and isolation. When I’m in Italy, 90% of the year I miss parts of the United States. I miss my friends, my family, efficiency, and things like “doggy daycare.” The other 10% of the time that I’m in the United States I miss Italy. I miss the food, the long walks through winding streets, I miss being able to take my dog with us to hang out, cheap wine, and grocery stores that carry real food.
There is no real solution. Being an expat is accepting that something is always missing, nothing ever feels complete. You’d think that you could just pop back and fourth to have everything but reverse culture shock is a very real thing too that can be even more of a mind-fuck than normal culture shock that one experiences when moving to a foreign land. When you leave the homeland for years you never quite feel “at home” ever again because home is more than one place now. In the US I miss the places that I met my husband and our memories together. I miss the calm lifestyle, wine outside on the patio with Oliver tangled under our feet. I miss the stench of Florence and the irritating and loud Italian women talking about how stupid are their husbands in the street. In Italy I miss sounding intelligent. I miss talking about sociology and life with the command of language available only in my native tongue. I miss sarcasm and irony which are not common in the Italian culture.
When I come back to the United States, time has passed, my friend’s children are older, I’ve changed, they’ve changed, and while I have the most insane/amazing friends in the world, it still takes a minute for us to get over how weird it is that I’m sitting in front of them in real form and not on Skype. In the US I forget that I can pick up a phone and call people, so I never do it. I feel panicked in massive grocery stores, I try to bag my own groceries, and when people speak to me with an accent of any kind for reasons I can’t understand my brain tells me to switch to Italian. Can I help you ma’am? Si, aspetta…vorrei…a new brain. What the hell is wrong with me!?
I’ve yet to find a solution to this problem. Maybe it’s easier if you do a 6 month split between countries? Maybe I just don’t Skype home enough? Maybe my friends DON’T VISIT ME IN ITALY ENOUGH (bastards!). It’s hard to say. What I do know is that when you move abroad you’re getting so many amazing, new experiences. You’re growing, and changing, and seeing incredible things. Yet, every day for at least a little while you’ll miss your childhood friends, the ones who understand you and don’t think it’s that weird that you hate cooking, swear like a truck driver, and treat your dog like a human toddler (back off! I like my fucking dog okay!?). You might miss the humor that is native to your tongue (and humor is completely cultural, it differs hugely from place to place). You might miss pop culture references, like when I tell my husband that he dances like the 80’s cartoon version of Optimas Prime and he stares blankly at me and says, “What’s the hell is dat?” Is it worth it then to always be missing something? I’m not sure. It’s just my reality now.
I think what I’m getting at is that everyone I enjoy should follow me from country to country and stop depriving me of a complete life. I think that’s fair.
What I Do When I’m Not Writing Here.