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5 Culture Shocks of Life in Italy

Although I’ve only been in Rome for a few weeks, I have noticed many differences in my experiences in Italy versus the United States. In this post I will talk about 5 culture shocks that have stood out to me. While most of these I was somewhat aware of going into my time abroad, they still surprised me once I arrived.

1. Smoking is very common

Although I’ve heard from many people that smoking is more common in Italy than the United States, I didn’t expect it to be so obvious. From the second I left the airport I saw cigarette butts all over the ground and I could smell and feel the smoke as it entered my lungs. Additionally, there is a smoking area for students at the entrance of the American University of Rome. This is especially surprising because my host university has primarily American students. Vaping is also pretty prevalent here. This has definitely been something to get used to, I can’t really walk more than one block without seeing at least one person smoking.

2. Dryers are very rare in Italy

Our apartment came with a small washer on our balcony that fits a few days worth of clothes. So every couple of days my roommates and I need to coordinate when we are going to wash our clothes. Once they are done in the washer, we hang them outside to dry on our balcony. I am impressed how fast my stuff dries, but there is just something about freshly dried clothes that makes them seem cleaner.

Clothes line and drying rack on my balcony

3. Small portions at grocery stores

Everything sold at the grocery stores are sold in small portions. For example, the largest quantity of milk I have been able to purchase is 1000 ml (~34 oz). This was a big change from what I’m used to, going to Costco and picking up 3 gallons of milk at once for my family of 5. Italians don’t use the preservatives that we use in the US to keep our food good for a long time so everything goes bad faster. One of my roommates bought peaches and they actually went bad before they even got ripe, while this was an anomaly, all of the food (fruit especially) goes bad very quickly and we have needed to keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t get wasted.

4. Air conditioning is rare

I knew that air conditioning was rare in Italy before coming and I am very susceptible to the heat so it was one of the things I was most worried going into this journey. Our apartment has one air conditioner in our living room that does a great job at cooling the one room but doesn’t cool the rest of the apartment. The first week that we were here, it was very hot in all of our rooms which made it difficult to sleep. There is a tech and appliance store called Unieuro (think a smaller Best Buy) downstairs from our apartment building that is mostly filled with American students. All of our bedrooms came with one fan but they were attached to the wall and we couldn’t control the direction they pointed so some of us went to Unieuro to buy another fan. Clearly we weren’t the only ones who were struggling with the heat and thought of buying a fan. Many of them were already sold out and we saw an entire group of American students buy 5 fans just in the time that we were down there. My roommate and I ended up getting an oscillating fan to angle at our beds so we could get some sleep. While the outside temperature is about the same here as it is in Philly, you would normally be able to escape from the heat by going inside to air conditioning. Here, most restaurants, museums, churches, etc. all don’t have A/C. I think I have started to get used to it because the heat is a lot more bearable now and it hasn’t really cooled down yet.

5. Food is inexpensive in Rome

The most surprising and enjoyable culture shock of all is how affordable the food is here. Whether it’s food from the grocery store or at a sit down restaurant, it is significantly cheaper than it is in the US, even once I account for the currency conversion. All of the food below is from sit down restaurants and was below 8 euros each ($9.45). The portions were plenty big enough and were from highly rated places. This is a culture shock I can definitely get used to!

A Message from the Office of Global Engagement:

The safety and security of Drexel students is a priority for the University. As part of the efforts to support Drexel students that are studying abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Global Engagement has conducted a rigorous review of programming and provided additional support to participating students with customized pre-departure orientations and regular check-ins during the required self-isolation period and the term.

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