‘Ass’imilating: We All Do It

This week marks a month since I left my old life behind and moved to Italy for four months. On one hand, time has flown by and on another it feels like I have been here for years. Phoenix seems so far away and not just because of the thousands of miles between us.

Every forum I looked at in preparation for study abroad said there would be a process of assimilation when adapting to a different country. There is the honeymoon phase, followed by culture shock, etc etc. But what does assimilating even mean?? Google says it is the act of taking something in and absorbing it fully. Well, in that case, for the last three weeks I have definitely made an ‘ass’ of simulating I understand anything at all (haha get it? No okay). I don’t know why I thought it would be a piece of cake to adapt right away, but thankfully, life has once again proven to me that I do not know as much as I thought. Truly, I am grateful for the humbling reminder lol.

USAC students attending orientation in Verona during study abroad
Every term students attend an orientation to help prepare for the semester abroad

The thing is, I really struggled in the beginning, specifically when it came to making friends. Weird right? I have always thought of myself as a very social person…I’d like to think I can talk to anybody. However, being thrown into such a unique and amazing circumstance such as study abroad, there is pressure to make the most of every moment or else it feels like you are wasting precious time. So when I got here, I felt I had to adapt quickly, form instant bonds, show people the best version of myself….essentially prove how awesome I am in a matter of days. But trust me when I say, having to prove yourself can get exhausting! I often felt like I was putting on a show, when all I wanted was to be me.

No matter how often I told myself that relationships take time, I couldn’t help but feel like I was behind my peers. Everyone around me seemed to be making friends so easily, whereas I was finding it hard to even be who I am. One night at a bar, I remember the strain it took to carry out conversation. I couldn’t find the right words—or even interest tbh—and I just thought, “What is going on with me?? Why am I trying so hard??” And if you know me, you know I have no problem talking at all. Hell, I probably talk too much, but this night, mingling was truly an exerting effort.

USAC students doing a walking tour of Verona during orientation to study abroad
Students taking a walking tour of Verona during orientation

I yearned for my old friends, missed my family, and longed for some familiarity. For something to just feel easy. The problem was I just couldn’t make Italy feel like home. Discomfort followed me everywhere, as well as guilt. I felt guilty for being so confused in such a beautiful city doing what many wish they could. But still I struggled, and it seemed the more I pushed, the harder it was to pretend I was fine.

“Assimilating: take in and understand fully (information or ideas)…” Weeks later, and I finally comprehend all that this word encompasses. I’ve learned that assimilation is a process. A process that can not be skipped, but must be experienced. And that no one gets it right off the bat—even if it seems that way—because no one can fully grasp what they can’t see. The stress I felt in the beginning was very normal, but premeditated. Now with more experience and knowledge, I can clearly see the pressure I was putting on myself. And isn’t that something we all do? Rush into where we think we ought to be instead of letting ourselves get there at our own pace…

One month down three more to go. Despite the rocky start, I finally feel like I am catching my stride. First of all, I lucked out with my roommates. They each have very unique personalities, are easygoing, and have great sense of humors. The more we bond, the more love I have for them. I also feel like I am starting to make connections with different individuals, of which feel very genuine and not forced at all. I think I definitely was lacking authentic human connection, and now that I have it, I finally feel comfortable enough in my new environment to showcase my personality. This is probably the greatest relief. I still miss my family, but at least I am not silently wishing I was back home. I feel more present and excited to be here. Slowly things are coming into place, or at least, I am enjoying where I am despite the things that are off.

USAC Verona students enjoying gelato in Verona, Italy
USAC students enjoying gelato

Everyone at one point in their life must go through the process of assimilation. Whether its entering college or adjusting to a new relationship, we are all trying our best to adjust to the constant changes around us. As humans, it is our nature to adapt in order to survive. It is what we do best. And in our never ending quest to assimilate, maybe we can continue to persevere with the hope of not only surviving, but maybe—just maybe—learning to thrive in the process.

Venecia Romero attends Arizona State University. She is currently studying abroad in Verona, Italy. You can read more about her time in Verona on her blog http://sleeplessinverona.travel.blog/