They say most people go through specific phases when living abroad. They begin with the honeymoon phase, where they are in awe and excited and happy about everything they see. Then they move to the culture shock phase, where they have difficulty adjusting to a new culture and miss home. It did not go this way for me, so be prepared that it might not for you either. For me, it was the opposite. My arrival into Italy was accompanied by culture shock and it took several days for me to feel like I appreciated Italy at all. This was in large part, however, because I arrived in Italy very sick.
My arrival into Italy was not the most pleasant. Having suffered some major motion sickness on the 3 different flights over, I was not feeling well at all by the time I reached the airport in Rome. The airport was crowded and disorienting (it didn’t help that I wasn’t feeling well), but I was able to make my way to the baggage claim area and then the taxi area just fine. My first job was to get myself a taxi to take me to my apartment, which was easy since there were several parked right outside. The taxi driver loaded my bags into the car and I got in. This is when I experienced my first bit of culture shock.
I had imagined (from scenes I had seen in movies mostly) that Italians drove a bit fast and carelessly, but I was definitely not prepared for this taxi ride! Not only did the taxi driver drive incredibly fast, but he merged in and out of traffic in a way that told me there were no rules on Italian roads. He never waited for pedestrians to cross the street; instead he zoomed by, missing them by inches. If a car stopped in front of him because of traffic, he didn’t wait, he just honked his horn and went around, somehow getting past them in the narrow space available. All the swerving and fast driving only made me feel more sick, and I feared I might puke in the back seat. I tried to ask the taxi driver if we were close to our destination, but he only spoke a little English and all he could tell me was “not close.” I had to endure the ride longer, but I didn’t know how much more I could handle.
Had I not been so sick, I imagine I would’ve felt a little better about the situation. I did find it a little amusing the way he drove, knowing that in many countries the driving is similar, but it was also definitely shocking. I imagined this kind of driving in Asian countries mostly, not a European country like Italy. However, when I’m sick it’s difficult for me to see anything in a positive light.
From the car window I saw scenes of the city passing by. Sickness was suddenly joined by a feeling of fear and anxiety as I saw the neighborhood we were passing through. Graffiti plastered on what seemed like every inch of space (something I’m not accustomed to in my hometown), I did not feel like I was in a safe environment. The neighborhood looked dirty and beaten down. I worried maybe the extensive graffiti meant gangs ran wild here. I hoped this was not the neighborhood I was staying in while in Italy… It was.
I finally reached my destination, paid my taxi driver, and was met by someone from my study abroad program. He walked me to my apartment and chatted cheerfully with me. Feeling even more sick now, I told him I just wanted to lie down and sleep for a while when I got to my room. We got to the front door of my apartment building and I felt as if things had just gotten worse. A shabby, little door covered in multi-colored graffiti, it led through a dark hallway to a tiny, unimpressive apartment. Admittedly, I had expected something a bit grander, newer, so I was both surprised and disappointed. However, my upset stomach was my biggest problem at the moment and I laid down for the rest of the night.
I think it’s safe to say that my first day in Rome was not ideal, but I also know a large part of that had to do with me being sick. When I’m not feeling well, everything else seems much worse than it actually is. But I was finally met with that honeymoon phase I was promised. It took a couple days to adjust to things, but my experiences definitely got better as the days of the first week passed by. I was starting to fall in love with the graffiti-ridden, dirty, yet beautiful city that is Rome.
Here are some pictures I took on my taxi ride over… (I only took a couple since I was feeling so sick)….