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ON MY WAY! and a little about “Reverse Culture Shock”

January 3, 2011

Piazza della Repubblica, Jan 2009, Florence


Today is the day I’ve been waiting to blog about since forever.

Well, maybe not today exactly…since my day today had me out of bed at 4am and on a flight to Chicago by 7:30 am, where I arrived just in time to wait six hours until my next flight.  I’m leaving for Frankfurt at 2:30 and arriving tomorrow morning at 6:00 am. Then I have a short flight to Florence and after just about 24 hours of travel, I will be back in the country that has lived persistently in my dreams for the past two years.

Bucatini al Pomodoro in San Gimignano, Tuscany

It was January 31, 2009 when I boarded my flight back to the states from Florence. As I said goodbye to my host dad, and watched him sink down the escalator waving goodbye to me, I felt a sharp pain in my chest and knew that it was my heart breaking. I sat down in a chair and cried at the airport.  Those tears were not tears of misery or anger. They were tears of love and the heartbreak of losing a place I loved so strongly that I carried its food, its values, and its landscape around with me in my heart for years….and probably will for the rest of my life.  They were tears of longing, and I spent the plane ride home crying all the way.

When I got back to the States, I was very excited to see my parents. I had missed them a lot, especially during the holidays, which I had wanted to spend with my host family in order to experience a true Italian Christmas and New Year and Epiphany.

But I had to deal with a lot of culture shock. According to Middlebury’s Study Abroad office, this is called “reverse culture shock” and in my case was far more severe than anything I experienced when I first arrived in Italy.

I missed the food and the passion Italians have for it (ditto for wine and coffee.)  I missed living with my host family and participating in their family life, especially on Sundays, when the whole extended family ate lunch together and I spent most of the day playing with grandkids rather than pretending to study in my room. I missed the collective mentality, the contentment and embrace of one’s position in life that is sorely lacking in general American culture–and I felt the lack edpecially at Middlebury.

Students would frequently say “I have so much work.” If you asked someone how he was doing (except for seniors, who mostly had realized that there is life outside the Ivory Tower), he would likely say “I have so much work to do tonight/this weekend/for the rest of the semester.” And then perhaps go on to detail every assignment, exam, and absurdly large reading that HAD to get done before discussion on Friday.

Don’t ever expect to hear something like that from an Italian student. Work (lavoro) is paid, and schoolwork (studiare) takes a rightly low ranking on the general priority list. It’s definitely behind family, friends, living well, maintaining your health and beauty, and of course eating well (

It struck me upon my return just what about Italy had meant so much to me: What you have to do is not who you are, nor is it an accurate response to the question “How are you?” Italians know this, it seemed to me, and most Americans missed the memo.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Lindsay Maitland Hunt permalink
    January 3, 2011 12:12 pm

    Good luck Beth!!

    • January 3, 2011 12:15 pm

      Thank you Lindsay! I loved your hot chocolate post today…I will look for that when I go to Paris!

  2. Sara permalink
    January 3, 2011 12:18 pm

    Bon voyage! I cannot wait to hear about your homecoming to Italy and envy all of your amazing photos.

  3. January 3, 2011 12:20 pm

    Thank you Sara! Happy New Year! I am waiting for you to start your blog 🙂

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