Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
An American couple from Hawaii is spending their first year retirement in Genoa, Italy. They've been having a wonderful time exploring the coastal city and nearby cities. Learning Italian has been challenging for them. Luckily, they brought their two dogs, which has helped them meet more locals as they walk through the city.
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, but I have traveled extensively and hosted foreign exchange students from Italy, Germany and Turkmenistan before living in Italy.
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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?
We took language classes 4 hours a day, 3 days a week for the first 3 months we were here. My husband quit after that, but I took another month's worth of language class five days a week for 4 hours a day. Italian is very logical to pronounce - the grammar is somewhat difficult, but not insurmountable. My problem is I have no Italians with whom I can hold real conversations. Although the people are very nice, I have not been able to make any close friends here. They also talk extremely fast, so for me to understand them I have to request that they speak slowly.
Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?
How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?
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?
I love the culture of Italy. People are very nice and generally seem happy despite serious economic problems in the country. The only thing that is difficult/frustrating is dealing with the bureaucracy over the permesso di soggiorno. This is something you have to apply for within 7 days of arriving even though you have already obtained a 1 year visa from the consulate in your area of the United States. We started out at the commune of Genoa (Genova in Italian), were referred to the questura, who sent us to the post office. We went to 4 post offices which just told us something in Italian ending with finito before we finally found the right post office which had application packets. The application was all in Italian. After waiting a month or so, my husband and I had to go on different days to far apart areas of the city to take an Italian culture and government course, which was actually kind of interesting. Then, a month after that we finally got the permesso di sogiorno card.
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.
What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?
Genova is a beautiful and interesting city. There are always surprises to look at, i.e. statues, frescoes on old buildings when you wander around the somewhat dirty, mysterious alleys. The piazza around the old port is beautiful. There is a great acquarium and some restaurants where you can have dinner or drinks overlooking the yachts and the water. There is a little village called Bocadese which is now incorporated into Genova. It has a small beach where you can swim and looks very traditional. Another small village, Nervi, has a beautiful seacliff walkway with lots of restaurants. Genova is connected by rail with Cinque terre, Santa Margarita Ligure, Pisa, Milan, and Nice, France - all of which make interesting day or overnight trips. We brought our two dogs with us from the United States. Italians love dogs. They are allowed on buses, trains and in many restaurants. People stop on the street to pet and admire the dogs. There are water fountains for dogs everywhere. Italians seem to have a good sense of humor and are very nice, generally. There are many musical events to attend in various parts of Italy. Public transport is very good compared to the U.S. and traveling in a rental car on the highways is not difficult although Italian road designers seem to be obsessed with building tunnels, so you don't really get to see that much from the autostrada.
What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?
Being able to understand the language.
Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?
Living in Italy and working on learning a new language has been a very interesting way to spend our first year of retirement. It has been fascinating to be able to travel around and see all the cultural treasures of Europe during the off season without crowds. The winter was a bit cold for our tastes, because we are from Hawaii.
We will probably return to Hawaii in the fall, but I would not have missed this wonderful experience.
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