Sometimes Culture Shock Occurs After It All by Spencer Smith

Like eating a big Italian meal, spending two and a half months in Italy requires some digestion.  Sitting on a couch in my house in Springboro, Ohio, I find it difficult to write about my adventures in Italy.  I’ve been busy since the last time I wrote, and every experience wants to have release on paper (or a computer screen).

I spent Thanksgiving in Heidelberg, Germany with six other Americans.  Our program directors reserved a quaint little German restaurant for us, and we were served a Thanksgiving dinner to make us feel at home – turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, stuffing and pumpkin pie.   We spent the weekend touring the university at Heidelberg, which was founded in the 1400s – so there is history teeming around every corner of every building.  We were blessed with a tour guide who knew all there was to know about the area.  Heidelberg was extremely different than anything that I experienced in Italy.  It was quaint and small and friendly.  Strangely, though, I was happy when I arrived back in my busy, big, hectic Milan.

I spent the last month of my time in Milan working hard on my final paper.  I spent a lot of time in the philosophy library at the University of Milan, and on my last day there, the office awarded me with an official University of Milan library card.  Maybe it’s not all that useful at this point, but it seemed like an appropriate way to finish my time at the University of Milan.

The program I went through in Italy, EuroScholars, is set up in such a way that my main academic work was research with an advising professor.   My two and a half months were dedicated to research in metaphysics in philosophy and in the end, I was able to write a ten-page, single-spaced paper of original scholarship in the field.  It may not sound like much, but I’m ecstatic with the work I did in Italy as well as with the amazing cultural experience I was able to have.

After a couple of delayed flights, I finally made it home on December 17th.  I think I experienced more initial culture shock upon returning in America than I did when I arrived in Italy.  There’s something about returning to your own culture, your own slang, your own stories and your own family and friends that is surprisingly shocking.  I had a difficult time picking up on American slang when I got back, as if my ears weren’t capable of picking up on the words that had been absent in my European friends’ classroom-learned English.

The return also revealed new positive changes.  For example, the meek college student who tried to get away with asking minimal questions (aka pre-Italy Spencer) was nowhere to be found when I arrived in Newark, New Jersey and had 20 minutes to find my plane back to Dayton, Ohio.  I asked questions of every official I saw, rocketing myself through the airport with lightning speed.  This never would have happened before I was thrown into Italy without a single familiar face and hardly two words of Italian.  But once you have communicated with someone across languages, I guess communicating in your own language really isn’t that big of a deal.

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