Italy vs. United States: Understanding Culture Shock While Abroad

Disha Dhananjay ’26 is a Law major studying at Accademia Italiana in Florence, Italy this Summer 2024.

Prior to studying abroad this summer I have visited the Netherlands, France and Spain, but all when I was younger. However, my previous travels led me to believe that I would not really have any culture shock and everything would feel familiar… I was very wrong. Traveling for a few days on vacation versus living in a new city are two very different things that I now know and understand. Regardless of the fact that my parents have well prepared me to be an independent traveler, so many experiences still feel so new, scary and intriguing. Here is a list of the biggest culture shocks I have encountered during my first week studying abroad in Florence.

One of the biggest aspects of culture shock has been through education. The education system here is very relaxed in comparison to Drexel and less demanding. In college campuses across the United States Syllabuses are very strict with week by week and day to day expectations and agendas as well as assignments and examinations clearly listed. In Italy, professors have not been as attentive to a syllabus and handle their classrooms more leisurely.

My classroom!! All the classrooms have beautiful restored paintings on the walls and ceilings.

The No Tipping Culture. In the United States we are so accustomed to tipping for every single service we receive and it is expected of us when we go out to eat or drink. However, I was shocked to learn that waiters are paid a living wage here and therefore tips are not expected at all and are only given for outstanding service.

Late Dinners and Nightlife. In American culture it is customary to eat dinner around 5 or 6 and a late dinner is around 7 or 8. However a typical dinner in Italy is around 8 to 10 and many restaurant kitchens are open until 12. This means that the nightlife here is even later than dinner and going home at 3 or 4 is a typical night out. As a college student, that is certainly different than the norms in the states.

Dinner at a Pasta bar in Santo Spirito.

The Language. While I expected there to certainly be a language barrier in Florence and have a need to learn some basic Italian, I was shocked to learn that most of the people I interact with on a day to day basis either know English or know enough English to communicate. I think because Florence is such a touristy city (which was another shock to me), most of the natives here have adapted to learn English as well.

The Fashion. Everyone is always dressed up here, whether that be to go to the grocery store, to go to class or to walk their dog. Every occasion is an occasion to dress up. In the United States we often attend class, shop and go outside in our loungewear or athleisure and nobody bats an eye at us. However, in Italy people would definitely think that is crazy and I have yet to see anybody at school in a pair of sweatpants.

While many of the culture shocks I discussed are minor details of my day to day life, I am constantly observing and learning about the little and big differences between my life in Italy and my life back at home. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about Italian culture and the lifestyle and am so excited for the rest of my time here!

Sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo <3

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