Studying in Milan has been wonderful. After a month, I can definitely say that these are the top five biggest culture shocks that I have experienced while living in Italy.
study abroad italy culture shock
- Gone are the days of walking to class or driving down the street to go to the grocery store
My housing situation has been a huge culture shock. I learned from dorm life in the United States that when selecting my housing, my priority was to find the apartment with the highest bathroom to person ratio. However, after being here, my priorities have changed. While my apartment is nice and spacious, it is about 40 minutes away from my school by way of metro. If you are studying abroad in a large city, do your research on your housing opportunities. Is your city spread out or compact? Would you rather have lots of space in your apartment or a close proximity to the school? Keep this in mind when selecting your place. You might have to sacrifice space for proximity.
- There isn’t free water anywhere
This was the biggest surprise to me. Of course, I was warned that this was the case, but I really didn’t understand the luxury of free water in the U.S. My tip would be to invest in a water bottle that also has a filter. This will help so that you can just add tap water to your water bottle and not be worried about any chemicals.
- Most people do not speak English
I was being very optimistic when coming here because I had read that close to the city center and the large tourist areas, there are many English speakers. While that is partially true, the majority of Italians in Milan do not speak fluent English. However, I have come across many Milanese that believe that they are wonderful English speakers, which is a comical part of the problem. I have been lost several times and will ask Italians, “Parla inglese?” They respond, “Yes, I do.” Only to find that they really do not and I continue on a wild goose chase. My advice would be to learn some Italian basics before you study abroad. I did, and it has made a huge difference. Also, you can tell that the Italians appreciate that you are trying to speak their language even if it is very broken.
- Public bathrooms are stressful
For one thing, they are not obviously positioned. It takes a lot of time and strategy to find a bathroom even in very heavily populated areas. When you do find one, it is usually only for paying customers or they are available for a fee.
- It takes time to adjust to Italian eating habits
My first night in Milan, I went to eat around 7:30 p.m. and was very confused as to where the crowds of people were. I was so surprised to find that I was an early bird eating dinner at 7:30 p.m. The Milanese will eat a brioche (croissant) and a very small espresso shot for breakfast. Then, snacks throughout the day until lunch that starts around 1 p.m. Around 4 p.m. all the restaurants close, so snacks again in the afternoon until around 7 p.m. when they partake in aperitivo. Aperitivo is drinks and a buffet of lighter foods. Then, after that, around 9 p.m., they will go eat dinner. It still is very difficult not being able to go to a restaurant at any time throughout the day. However, stocking up on snacks is a way to avoid being too hungry.
With all of these culture shocks, I have still had a very pleasant transition into the European lifestyle.
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