By Emma Piziali
Studying abroad has been an experience. An experience that has taught me a lot, but most importantly about adapting my role to fit any environment, or culture, that I may encounter. I’ve learned to be flexible and when to lead versus when to take a step back and simply go with the flow.
My journey abroad began in Paris with my cousin Emily. The two of us traveled to various cities throughout Europe during the two weeks prior to my study abroad session in Rome. When it finally came time for me to leave Paris–where I felt extremely comfortable being “at home” with my aunt and cousin–it was difficult yet exciting for me. While I was not quite ready to return to the life of living in a college apartment and attending classes, I was very excited to begin my journey on my own and finally be able to speak italian with the locals.
Upon arriving, I immediately discovered a new culture. There were some familiar faces, but overall everything seemed very distant to me. Looking back now, I am shocked at how close we have all gotten and how much of a community we have developed. Together, we have learned how to take the tram, shop at an Italian grocery store, and order a coffee: “un cappuccino con latte di soia”.
Exploring our new home together in an entirely unfamiliar situation quickly taught us the benefit of sticking together and formed a basic underlying assumption that we would be sure not to leave anyone behind. This created an overall culture among the fifteen us, which I personally find to be very comforting and homelike. A culture is a shared understanding of certain norms among a group that affects one’s attitudes and behaviors. It typically includes three key characteristics: observable artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions.
Among the fifteen of us we have several types of business majors, a bio major, some english majors, a couple economics majors, and a sociology major. Yet in Italy, we all take the same main courses. Back home at LMU, we belong to our individual organizations on campus, but here, the fifteen of us are an organization. We still have the same espoused values from LMU, such as our school’s mission statement. However, we are all in a foreign country, trying to learn how to adapt our living styles to those here. We may not all agree on everything or have even been friends if not for this trip, but here we are our own group and there is a certain understanding amongst us that we are all in this together.
Being that we are such a large group, however, some subcultures have certainly developed. Subcultures are mini cultures of smaller groups of people within a larger organization culture. There is one subculture specifically, which includes nine of us, that has had a significant impact on my time abroad.
Me and eight of my fellow classmates recently took a weekend trip to Sorrento. We were somewhat close already and had spent much time together prior to our trip. On our adventure, we created many memories such as spending an afternoon talking and lounging in the pool. We also came back with some funny stories like accidentally walking up a massive hill because google maps said it was only a pleasant 30 minute walk. These experiences, or observable artifacts, further developed the dynamic of our group culture and made us closer than ever, with plenty of memories and stories to remember and talk about.
One of the greatest lessons I will take away from my experience abroad is that each environment brings a new, unique culture with it. While some are certainly favorable to others, they are all important additions to the experience as a whole. Groups may develop subcultures, but will still have an overall sense of community such as the one that I am a part of here. Although I know our group culture will vanish when we return back home, I am extremely grateful for the experience that it has given me and will forever cherish the special memories I have made during my time abroad.