Colin’s Semester at JCU: Culture Shock

There are infinite cultural differences in our world, and every location has a truly unique identity. By studying abroad or traveling in general, you expose yourself to these foreign environments. You become the outsider trying to navigate through a new way of life abroad, and adaptation is necessary. The shocks of adjusting to a new culture will undoubtedly affect you during your time at John Cabot University, and I’m here to tell you: that’s a good thing.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Colin Barnes, I was born and raised in South Boston, Massachusetts, and my home university is the University of Massachusetts in Boston. I’ll be graduating in 2020 with a degree in Economics. I spent the spring semester of my sophomore year studying abroad at the University of Limerick in Ireland, and it was the most enriching, life-altering experience imaginable. So much so, that at the time of writing this piece that you’re currently reading, I’m in my third week of courses on an exchange experience once again, right here at John Cabot University in Rome.

Due to this new excursion in Italy, I’ve been getting constantly questioned by friends and family over these past few months with statements like “I can’t believe you’re going again. You’ve already had your abroad experience,” or “You can’t beat that experience you had over there in Ireland!” But the truth is, the two experiences are utterly incomparable. It’s an entirely different country, entirely different culture, and an entirely unique experience. That’s precisely what I love about it! Thanks to a newfound passion for experiencing culture while meeting new and diverse people, going abroad for a second semester was the easiest decision of my life.

As I’ve stated, engaging with differing cultures is something I always look forward to. Despite this fact and despite being the self-proclaimed study abroad veteran at my home university, I’m aware that I’m going through the stages of culture shock at this very moment. Culture shock and adjustment are bound to affect each and every one of us–maybe not in the same exact ways, but it will influence you during your time abroad. I’m here to say that culture shock is not something to be afraid of. By experiencing it in some form, this only means your mind and body are reacting properly to being thrown into this entirely foreign environment. It’s a natural reaction to this situation.

I’ve personally struggled to adjust to life in Italy, despite loving the way of life here and having a prior study abroad experience under my belt. From struggling to communicate with my basic Italian skills to dodging oncoming scooters when trying to cross a road, there are dozens of cultural differences you notice here just in the first days and weeks. Nonetheless, by keeping an open mindset, you are bound to gain cultural background, improve your knowledge of this part of the world, and understand the way of life and survival here in Rome.

Adjusting to a new and sometimes ‘different’ way of life, as well as having a full dose of independence on the other side of the globe, is not easy. This experience is bound to change you: it can make you think differently about your typical way of life back home, it can allow for self-growth, and it can broaden your perspective of the world if you allow it to do so. I’ve found that open-mindedness, curiosity, and the willingness to adapt are all keys to fully unlocking the potentials of a study abroad opportunity like this. And who knows, you could even find a new passion for culture and exploration as I did two years ago in Ireland. The positive influences of the experience we have here at JCU are limitless.

If you find yourself being held back by the shackles of culture shock, my advice would be to do exactly what you would to decompress back at home. Whether you chat with loved ones, go out for a stroll and explore the ancient city, or just stay indoors to watch your favorite show on Netflix, your go-to decompressing method can be a source for massive relief in this predicament. There are bound to be some highs and lows during this experience as we are here for a full semester or a year. However, one thing is for sure: we are attending a great university in the heart of the world’s Eternal City. The opportunities around us are endless here in Rome. It’s important to take full advantage of your time here, whatever your priorities may be.

Colin Barnes
Economics major
Study Abroad Fall 2019
University of Massachusetts Boston

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