Finding Familiarity in Siena: Bonding over Homesickness While Studying Abroad

Writer+Colby+Wood+was+told+to+expect+homesickness%2C+but+did+not+expect+to+find+solace+in+his+interactions+with+Americans+and+other+students+while+in+Siena.+%28Colby+Wood+for+The+Fordham+Ram%29

Writer Colby Wood was told to expect homesickness, but did not expect to find solace in his interactions with Americans and other students while in Siena. (Colby Wood for The Fordham Ram)

Writer Colby Wood was told to expect homesickness, but did not expect to find solace in his interactions with Americans and other students while in Siena. (Colby Wood for The Fordham Ram)
Writer Colby Wood was told to expect homesickness, but did not expect to find solace in his interactions with Americans and other students while in Siena. (Colby Wood for The Fordham Ram)

By Colby Wood

SIENA, ITALY — I am currently sitting in a very unfamiliar Munich airport, all alone, waiting for my plane to arrive. It was scheduled to be here about two hours ago. I normally wouldn’t mind– in fact, I see myself as a patient traveler. No matter what happens, I always think about the fact that I am going back home, where I get to see my family, friends and, most importantly, my adorable black lab.

However, this time is a bit different. Instead of returning to a familiar environment, I am going back to Siena, Italy, where I moved three weeks ago. Instead of returning to my bedroom and cozy bed, I am returning to bare walls and a bed smaller than a twin size mattress. I am going back to the 12 other students, including my Italian roommate, Chiara, whom I met just three weeks ago.

Of course, we have all become very close in that short amount of time, probably due to our one connection: none of us knew anyone at the start of the semester, and we were desperate to find someone who could relate to us. So here I am, trying to find normality in a whole bunch of chaos.

During orientation, Sigrid, who is in charge of student conduct, warned us about “culture shock.” Culture shock, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is, “a feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life or set of attitudes.” Well, it is safe to say that we were thrown into a pit of unknown culture, attitude and, of course, language.

At first I laughed at the idea of “culture shock.” New countries always take time to get used to, but I am not one to get homesick, so I dismissed the idea. Sigrid said that it would hit us all at different moments in different ways. For some, homesickness hit hard and immediately. These students felt sudden waves of uncertainty, followed by panic and tears. For others, homesickness was a bit more subtle.

Me? I wasn’t sure if I “caught it” until I started thinking about fall in Maine, and pumpkins, and how Italy doesn’t really celebrate Halloween, and my dog, and school and my friends. I’ll admit, I was craving familiarity, but I was okay with it. Culture shock is as real as my gelato addiction.

At Oktoberfest, I met a man who spoke English. I was instantly excited and I asked where he was from. He said Seattle, which is far from of my home state of Maine. Meeting someone from Seattle instantly made me excited, probably because I was happy to have a conversation with someone whose words I could understand completely.

Study abroad is supposed to be uncomfortable. I would have been doing it wrong if I had not experienced some form of culture shock. I learned to love and embrace the differences. In these past two weeks of being in Siena, I have seen and done more than I have in my whole life. My travel mates and I met interesting and amazing people whom we never would’ve spoken to otherwise, learned to travel to other countries on my own and became comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Because we are study abroad students, our experiences are going to be different. Our favorite food might not be stocked in the markets, you might not be able to run the laundry machine and the dishwasher at the same time without all the lights in the apartment going out and you might talk to anyone who is American just because they’re American.

So while Chiara, my Italian roommate, may not understand why I would ever put vegetables in my pasta (strictly a side dish, she says), and I may never understand how she eats Nutella croissants for breakfast and somehow stays a size two, some things just have to be accepted.