Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
One expat who moved to Scandriglia, Italy appreciates the absolute beauty and says that where she lives brings the most joy of anything she has ever seen. Language has been the biggest challenge since her daughters are older and the local school wasn't prepared to handle that. So, they are being home schooled.
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?
No training but experience. We (my daughters and I) stayed for a month each year with my fiance. Fast lesson; visit is not the same as living.
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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?
I don't speak the language and struggle. It was worse for my daughters as they were older and the schools are not prepared for students that have limited knowledge. We found that to be the most difficult challenge. After two years we had no choice but to implement home schooling as well. The other children were wonderful however the teachers would not even slow down for them and would yell increasingly at my older daughter (middle school) that she learn the language of give an answer that she didn't understand. This was too much pressure and frustration for them.
Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?
No. I had wonderful visits each time and the schools were interviewed beforehand. The administrator was very enthusiastic to have the girls and we foresaw no problems. Any other time we were treated very well for being tourists.
How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?
To us it was very significant. The language is only one part (a huge part however. Every and any relationship with other Italians are based on that). I do still have problems finding some basic medicines that have to be sent from the US (migraine meds like BC, etc). As others have posted, stores are limited, goods are a different quality and for much better clothing, etc (we can go to Rome) they are very expensive for quality and comfort. It is difficult at times to be known as , "la signora di America" instead of my name or stared at in many moments when we are known to be from elsewhere. At the local place we go bowling, we spent some hours there. In that time, there had been two birthday parties and then just the workers. Each group of people would stop playing their games to watch us for many minutes and the man whom worked the other side of the alley settled himself at the end of our lane to just stare at us any time there were not people needing any shoes, etc. Only one example but it does happen.
Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?
YES to all! There are still moments of anger for some differences that are frustrations for Italians as much as for me (some beaurocracy, red tape, limits, etc). Then there are moments I am aware of that I know I could never in my life have in the US for the wonderful culture some keep to them (meeting people from the older generation here stays very close to my heart; there are no others in the world with the stories, the perspectives on life and the advice they give to another in a moment you never would expect it).
What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.
For certain there was anger as well as depression. I have gained quite a bit since moving here and homesickness has hit hard (especially the holidays). I can add that my husband is fluent in Italian (well he is Italian) and that has been the most contributing factor to our stress. While trying to struggle with the language, it is difficult for many Italians to be able to slow down in conversation and sometimes becomes an irritant to them so they ignore us completely or speak over me to speak only to my husband. This is especially true with schools to the point where I have just waited outside the office for the frustration.
What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?
Oh my dear, the absolute beauty. Where we live brings the most joy of anything I have ever seen. While it is true that there is crime in some robbery it is also true that you are really safe from shooting, drugs, gangs, etc. When we searched for a home to buy I was really amazed to be looking for a home in prices based on the distance from services and age of the home as vs what I would have done in America; searching based on crime in the city or areas. It is true that when you are finally accepted you have true friends here and they are very close.
What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?
Nough said on language. Being accepted can be difficult. People are very good here. You can run into people wary of you because you are not Italian, however. I have found there is a difference in how you are treated in many cases based on being a visitor or living here. Many neighbors, etc were very excited and eager to talk to us as visitors but closed up completely when we were known as occupants. Limits for a future for my daughters was frustrating. It is frustrating for Italian youth as well but we have had to face, after much research, that there are many limits to succeed here for young people and even more for young girls whom do not have an appearance in weight and looks that are preferred for occupations open to them; our nearest city, Rome is especially true in this.
Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!
Yes, absolutely. In one I can't even tell you because I somehow spoke the words in translation in a different order and insulted the other person. My husband was unconcerned and said if you understand I am not fluent then I was easily understood but somehow I said something I am not sure of to this day (smile). The other was when I was sick and had to get the girls to the bus stop so I just walked down there in my very large, fuzzy penguin pj's and oversized t-shirt. When I got there I was still half asleep and didn't notice all the parents had stopped talking and were staring at me. My daughters looked at me, looked at them and moved to the other side, stating that I wasn't really their mother in Italian. This did make the other parents laugh.
Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?
The same as anyone else before me; prepare for a simpler life and don't compare the cultures. Not even in your own mind. Learn as much of the language as you can and never say that there is something better in America then here. Answer questions truthfully about America but add something positive about Italy in the next breath. Italians still do the same as Americans in complaining about many things from their country but you have to always be respectful that you are not from their country and have boundaries in respect to their country. Don't be so hard on yourself and get a thick skin. The culture is different even in the way respect is given. Until you are very good friends, be more brief in first encounters and be open about the fact that you need their patience. Never speak to anyone as if they are wrong for not knowing your language and always convey your awareness that you need to learn theirs better.
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