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Welcome to Rome: How to cope in a new environment

Making your way into a new land, especially one where you don’t know anyone, is often a challenge and can be a strain. However, being able to study in a different country, especially Italy, is too good an opportunity to miss just because you might get homesick or face challenges.

Rome is a beautiful city, with friendly people, beautiful sites, and amazing food; however, Italian culture and norms may be new to you. Here are some suggestions that can help you settle and blend into your new society:

Culture is relative

Culture is relative, which explains why individuals from different cultures may perceive Italian norms differently. As an international student, you will be exposed to many new customs, habits, and ideas. Try to avoid labelling them as either “good” or “bad” based upon the culture you are from. Remember that there may be parts of a culture you dislike or disapprove of, but that they are part of a broader social system, and therefore make sense inside that system.

Be open-minded and curious

Adjusting to a new culture does not mean that you have to change your own values, but it is equally important that you respect those of other people. When you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, try to think of it as a new adventure. Allow yourself to be curious about the way things are perceived and done in your new environment.

Use your observational skills

Since you will encounter unfamiliar rules and norms, observing how others act in such situations can help you understand what behaviours are expected of you. Pay attention to both the verbal and nonverbal communication of others in order to get a more complete picture of what is going on.

Ask questions

Ask for help when you need it. Asking for assistance or an explanation does not have to be viewed as a sign of weakness. Understanding others and making yourself understood in a new language (or context) requires lots of rephrasing, repeating, and clarification.

It’s ok to experience anxiety

Learning to function in a new environment is not easy. It is natural to sometimes feel anxious or frustrated. The key is to remind yourself that these feelings are normal and are likely to be situational and temporary.

Allow yourself (and others) to make mistakes

You will inevitably make mistakes as you explore a new culture. If you can find the humour in these situations and laugh at them, others will likely respond to you with friendliness and support. Keep in mind that others will probably make mistakes too; when someone makes an inaccurate assumption or a generalized statement about your culture, it may be due to a lack of information. If you’re comfortable with doing so, this can be an opportunity to share information about yourself and your culture with others.

Take care of your physical health

Be mindful about keeping a healthy diet and getting enough exercise and rest. Try to find an activity that you enjoy and make it part of your routine. Being physically active can help reduce your stress level.

Find a cultural ally

An Italian friend (or another international student who has been in Italy for several years) can be a great consultant on cultural expectations. When you have questions or need a second opinion on something, this person can help clarify any confusion and provide support as you adjust to your new environment.

Seek support from other international students

Many international students find it helpful to discuss their concerns with others who are going through similar transitions. Talking with others about their adjustment to a new culture can provide ideas and insights relating to your own experience.

Be patient – don’t try to understand everything immediately

The process of adjusting to a new culture requires time. Different areas of adjustment may also require different lengths of time. Try to exhort yourself to be patient with this experience and not to be overly critical of yourself.

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