If you haven't noticed the theme of "OH NO I CAN'T LEAVE ITALY" going on in my last few posts, this one should send the message loud and clear. I'm getting to the point of wrapping up my classes, my travels, and going back to do my favorite things around Rome. It's extremely bittersweet, but leaving something you love always is. I'm in a happy place now though. I've accepted that although I've learned so much about living here and life in general, there's forever going to be more to learn. I'd call this the final emotional stage of studying abroad. It took a while to get here, and there were definitely ups and downs along the way. When you see your friends study abroad pictures it can look like they just took a half a year break from school and are living worry-free, having the time of their life. This is definitely not the case. While I too had similar thoughts of what it would be like, studying abroad is tough. It takes a lot of bravery and perseverance. So what is it really like then? It looks different for everyone, but for me, here were the five stages of studying abroad:
1.) The "WOOOOO THIS IS AWESOME" Phase
This of course is the initial "you feel like you're just on vacation and going to have a good time and kick back and relax" part of the emotions. Trust me, it will take a while for it to settle in that yes, you do really live here now, and that you won't be going home in a week. This is the fun and easy part...
until phase two hits you...
After the WOOOOO phase ran its course, the emotion that took over was frustration. This is where you decide that you're ready to adapt to life in a new country and figure things out, but it gets extremely difficult. It was so hard for me to do simple tasks like buying groceries and connecting to Wi-Fi because of the language barrier and cultural differences. Although I believe people across the world have more similarities than differences, this is the phase when I saw ALL the differences.
I’ll use something as simple as connecting to Wi-Fi as an example. I’ve never stopped to appreciate fast, reliable internet while living in the US. The only time I really noticed was when it didn’t work, which was rare. The internet here is slow and spotty if it even works at all, and on top of that I have to use a VPN to access the sites I’m used to (which still doesn't work half the time). I had no idea how to problem solve an internet issue on my own because while my Italian is fairly decent now, I still don't know the vocabulary to be able to ask questions and discuss technology. So when there was even the smallest issue connecting to Wi-Fi, or the heating at my apartment went out, or I couldn't fully translate and understand an Italian website, it felt like being alone on a raft at sea. I know that’s dramatic, but I was desperate to feel connected to familiar faces and processes.
Frustration also came in the form of finding good drinking water, figuring out how to cook in a new kitchen with new ingredients, asking our landlord about issues in our apartments, confusing interactions while trying to buy anything, and countless other acts that would be fairly straightforward had they taken place in the US. Luckily, when learning a new set of skills, frustration is usually followed by confidence.
3.) CONFIDENCE TO THE MAXEventually I did figure out how to do all those simple life tasks that needed to be done. I was able to use public transportation with ease, I was having successful outings on my own which resulted in exploring gorgeous areas of Rome I never would have thought I would see, and simple things like learning to tell the lady at the grocery store that I don’t need a bag. Cue major confidence boost. I was succeeding. Fearlessly crossing the streets in true Italian fashion to go eat at a restaurant where they knew my order or to check out a new store I heard about really is what began to make Rome feel like home. It was so great, but confidence, of course, comes in waves.
4.) DefeatThis brings us to defeat. This one is tough because I'm someone who never gives up, but I’ve definitely had moments where I wanted to pack it all up and head home to familiarity. I had a solid week of feeling defeated after just a few minor frustrations. It's tough when you're feeling confident and then some minor issue pops up and it sort of blows up all over again. It's a bit sad to remember this, but I think it’s important to share. Weirdly enough, the act of mentally giving up and snapping out of it is what took me out of this phase and into the next.
5.) HumblenessFrustration and confidence still come back in small waves, but humbleness and openness flood my mind. I’m in a state of mind where I realize I really don’t know anything about Italy or Europe in general, and that’s okay. I’ve gotten to a stage where I have my basic daily needs fulfilled with no more effort than it took in the US, and I have time to learn, explore, and try new things. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. It’s a humbling idea, and one that weirdly calms me, because I realize all I can do is try my best to keep learning, trying, and moving forward.
This week I am headed to Denmark and then onto Norway for Thanksgiving break! Norway was sort of a given because my grandma would have never let me hear the end of it if I didn't make it to the "homeland" (yes my grandma is a cute, little, old, Norwegian lady who makes lutefisk and lefse for the holidays). Tomorrow also marks the first annual friendsgiving. My heart is full and happy.
Keep checking out my photos page, and have a lovely Thanksgiving!
"Wherever you are, be all there." -Jim Elliot
I'm Liz Bixenman, an interior design student living in Rome for the semester. When I'm not doing schoolwork, you can find me wearing a cat shirt, reading a book, and most likely eating more carbs than I'm proud of.