As I reflect upon the last week I spent in Perugia, Italy, I cannot help but still feel confused. At the time, as my friends and I took our final bites of homemade pasta and last gazes at the panoramas from Corso Vannucci, I, of course, knew that I would miss this beautiful country and all it has given me, but, at the same time, this slight nostalgia was overshadowed by my excitement to return home. It was not like the saddening homesickness that I felt in the very beginning of this journey; rather, it was a joyous eagerness to embrace my loved ones, to catch up with the goings-on back at home, and to share all my stories and lessons from my Rite of Passage abroad. This conflict of emotions confused me even more at 1:00am when my friends and I said our goodbyes before boarding the buses for the airport. I said my farewells and hugged those of my second-family, yet I did not shed tears as the majority did that early morning. I am usually one to get emotional, especially when it comes to separating from loved ones. However, as Slimbach writes in Chapter 8, “Mixed emotions are a natural part of our attempt to narrow the cultural distance between our hosts and ourselves” (Slimbach 205). The more I reflect on this emotional confusion that I experienced, the more I am starting to realize that everyone undergoes the Reincorporation phase differently.
The Reincorporation phase is a time of “cultural in-between-ness,” a time where the sojourner becomes a liminal being once more as they separate from their second home abroad and return to their native home (Slimbach 219). I certainly experienced this betwixt and between sensation that last week in Italy. One night, I was out to dinner at Osteria dei Priori for the final time with my closest friends from the Umbra Institute. The next night, I was calling my parents and boyfriend at home in excitement while packing my bags. Slimbach’s definition of “home” has allowed me to come to terms with the mixed emotions I was experiencing: “‘home’ isn’t just a physical space we inhabit but a lifestyle we construct. It’s a cherished set of values, relationships, places, and rituals that we learn to assemble wherever we are” (Slimbach 208). I shared this quote with my family in my Reincorporation Letter to them. Although the wave of nostalgia over leaving Perugia has not quite hit me yet, I know it will. I felt the need to share this definition of “home” with my family so they can understand that there is truly such thing as establishing a home away from home, even when it’s in a country other than our own. I hope that by sharing this definition, I can relieve them of any future frustration or confusion when I begin to miss my days spent in Perugia.
I began experiencing the beginnings of this wave of nostalgia via reverse culture shock during my first week back home. My mom and I went grocery shopping up the street to what she calls our “little Italian market” in North Providence — a sliver of our capital, the “Little Italy” of Rhode Island. As we walked through the aisles, I could not help but get frustrated over not hearing the Italian language, the language that was like music to my ears when I did my weekly grocery shopping in Italy. My eyebrows furrowed in disapproval as my eyes scanned industrial products proudly bearing the Italian flag — what Americans consider the official label of supposedly “genuine” Italian goods. Mio Dio. Although reverse culture shock experiences like this one are typically viewed as negative, there are positive aspects of returning home that have changed me for the better.
One of the major changes in my character that has become extremely evident to me is that I am more appreciative of nature and the simple charms of my surroundings. I was so used to taking the time to cherish every panorama and every new sight in Italy that I am beginning to look at my native environment with new eyes. I appreciated the blossoming trees that line the back roads of my hometown like the ones I visited with an Italian friend in the botanical gardens of Perugia. I let my mind zone out as I gaze at the differently shaped clouds in the baby-blue sky like I did when I watched sunsets from my living room window on Via Dei Priori. I find the little critters that occupy our backyard and local streets very amusing like the friendly pigeons in Perugia’s city center. Not only do I possess a renewed appreciation for my environment, but also for my friends and family. I spend so much more time talking in depth to my loved ones, and it’s not because of me extensively sharing study abroad stories. Instead, we take the time to talk about our current opinions and interests, discuss our plans for the future, and share laughs amidst sharing past memories. These two lessons that the Italian culture has taught me have made me a more grateful individual for things that money can’t buy: natural beauty and time shared with loved ones.
There are many ways that I plan on carrying my study abroad experience forward. I applied and got accepted to be a student ambassador for the Umbra Institute at Quinnipiac University. In doing so, I work with my home University’s study abroad office by sharing information about Umbra to students who are interested in studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. I also hope to share this information with first-year students who I interact with as an Orientation Leader this summer. Once I have oriented them to their home University, I hope to encourage them to eventually broaden their horizons and take their education beyond the borders of America like I did. I also plan on having more conversations with my grandfather about his father, Trendino Petracca, who was a State Trooper for Rhode Island and had Italian roots. It would be amazing to appreciate the Italian culture even more than I already do by delving into the history of my distant family ancestors. I would also like to do more research about the cultural origins of my other ethnicities, as well.
The following quote from Slimbach reflects my thoughts, feelings, and actions at this time of Reincorporation: “The act of homecoming is just one of many points in our life journey where we are primed to actively reflect on the world, to clarify our deepest values and aspirations, and to contemplate ways to connect our happiness with the happiness of others” (Slimbach 222). I thought that my heart surgeries — my first Rites of Passage — would be the sole driving forces behind my appreciation for the life I live. While my heart surgeries have inspired me to accomplish all I want to do in this life, my study abroad Rite of Passage has inspired me to appreciate everything and everyone that fuels my drive along the journey. Together, they have allowed me to realize that achievements aren’t the only things that give life meaning. It is about cherishing the nurturing environment, the values, and the people who have provided the two that, altogether, lead to living a wholesome, beautiful life. I am so blessed for these adventures and all they have done to transform me into the best version of myself. My Rites of Passage and those who have supported me through them all have given me the world, and for this I am eternally grateful.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.