Traveling and living abroad seems like a scene from out of a movie- beautiful architecture, amazing food and having the opportunity traveling. There are a lot of challenges that this situation presents as well. Blending in and understanding a new culture is a difficult task and can feel a bit intimidating at time. Working abroad has added another layer of difficulty to the mix.
In my opinion, the toughest part of adapting to Italian culture is the food that is considered common and every day. I don’t eat meat or dairy, and those two ingredients are in most Italian food. This is something that takes time and patience to navigate around because there are definitely options for the limited (or picky) eater like myself. Asking for items on menus to be served without certain ingredients is something that has helped me find foods that I enjoy. In the same vein, having these limitations has allowed me to try traditional Italian recipes that I never would have; ribollita soup is now my new favorite. Having the ability to cook my own meals at my apartment is another way to not only try to cook my own take on Italian recipes, but also learn to navigate Italian grocery stores and markets. I love shopping for fresh produce or locally sourced ingredients at the many markets Florence has to offer; definitely check out The Central Market or Sant’Ambrogio if you ever find yourself here!
A major challenge that presents itself in my internship is the cultural differences between myself and clients. Working in social media marketing, this challenge was one that I anticipated because your reach to audiences is unlimited. Still, having to create content that targets multiple cultural backgrounds all in one post is the biggest challenge in my work. I am solving this issue through the use of social media analytics. I am learning how to read data analytics on our platforms to gain a sense of where our audience is mainly based, what their ages are, and what posts have the most engagement so that we can create content around this data.
Working in the store, I also get to communicate with clients face to face and learn more about the types of clients we have this way. Not only to get a better sense of who are audience is, but also their preferences, shopping habits, and niche cultural details that analytics couldn’t tell me. For example, an Arab couple came into the store and only the guy spoke, talking about what type of bag the woman he was with was looking for. I thought that the woman couldn’t speak English, but when they left, my boss said Arab men speak for the women and that it is part of their culture .
Being in an unfamiliar place, possibly not knowing anyone apart from a couple people in your program, and not speaking the native language is a scary experience. It takes time to become adapted to your surroundings and to become comfortable with living in this type of environment. At first, everything may feel like your life is a dream, but culture shock may eventually sneak its way into your being. It is important to remember that everyone in your shoes is most likely going through the same thing and that you shouldn’t panic or wish that you didn’t come. This is a learning experience in every sense and at the very least, you will come home with some interesting stories. Try new things, go to museums, cafés, and markets to immerse yourself in the culture. Maybe you’ll make friends with the locals and have a place to stay if you ever want to come back and visit!