Tag Archives: #homeagain

Where is Your Home?

I’m home and it honestly doesn’t feel real. And it’s not just me that feels this way. I remember last week my roommates and the other friends I had made in my study abroad program were agreeing with me when I said that it just doesn’t seem right that we are leaving Florence so soon. That’s one change from the beginning of when I got there; the friends that I made. When I first got to Italy, I didn’t know anybody. I had to try to make new friends with people from different schools and people from difficult backgrounds. And now, we have been talking everyday about how much we want to go back. When I look back on my past blog posts, I see how excited I was to venture out into this new world and find different challenges to take on. Now looking back on the past three months, I see that I really went through a lot. Like a whole lot more than I thought I would ever go through. I went into studying abroad looking forward to meeting new people, trying new food, visiting new countries, and of course getting better in Italian. But I didn’t expect to go to countries like Austria, or I didn’t expect getting stuck in the city of Frankfort in Germany. I didn’t expect to leave my passport in Florence and realize that’s probably not the best idea if I am trying to travel to other countries.

When I think of what skills and qualities I have developed over these past three months, the one thing I am thankful for is how much experience I gained in traveling. I truly feel confident in any surrounding I could put myself in. I am also thankful that I have grown a greater sense of responsibility. During the semester, I had a random allergic reaction to something, and I broke out in hives all over my body. It was a very difficult and very uncomfortable time for me, especially because I had a flight to Amsterdam coming up. But I had to find the right medicine and the right treatment to get me through that time and through that experience in Amsterdam.

I have also gained a better insight of the term “hidden racism” through people choosing not to sit next to me on a bus or always being asked to see my passport while I’m sitting down at an airport and being asked, “Why do you have so much luggage?” It was things like this that showed me that the worlds of Italy and the United States aren’t so different. I learned throughout my time in Florence that our people, our cultures, our worlds really aren’t that far apart. The main things that really separate the States from that part of the world is how well we speak our English, what/how we eat, and how interested and involved we are in sports. In my eyes, these are the things that really differ the United States from people and cultures in Europe. At the same time, here in America we try to copy the European lifestyle. We try European food, we try to dress like Europeans. But it also goes the other way around. In Italy, they try to mimic the American lifestyle with how they dress, how they talk, and how they express themselves. These are all things that I miss already.

Regarding reverse culture shock, I am in the stage when I am gradually starting to readjust, but things are still not exactly the same. Florence truly feels like a dream. That’s what I keep telling my friends here when they ask “How was abroad?” “How was it?” “What was the craziest thing you did?” It’s crazy because a majority of people will never really understand or know the answer to these questions, they won’t ever experience the things I saw and went through. It makes me truly grateful for the opportunity to study abroad.

These past few days, I have been a little sad because I don’t really know if I will ever be back in Florence. I don’t know if I will ever be able to discover new experiences there, and do things that I wasn’t able to do within the three months there. One thing that I have realized from the beginning of my journey was how foolish I was to think I would be able to experience a big part of Italy in the three months that I was there. I could honestly compare my time there to the journey I had at the Palace of Versailles in France. I was at the Palace for about 5-6 hours, and I don’t even think I saw 10% of it. That’s how this experience has been for me. I was there for 3 months, but I only scratched the surface. There were trips I didn’t take, people I didn’t talk to, food I didn’t try, and mistakes I didn’t make but probably could have. Three months is nowhere near enough time to really immerse yourself in a brand new culture like that. But one thing that makes me happy is that I will be able to take these experiences and incorporate them into my life here in the U.S., here at Fairfield University. I can show people that studying abroad is truly worth it and you’ll discover things about yourself that you would have never thought possible. The challenges ahead of me- such as trying to finish my last spring semester as an undergrad with a 4.0 GPA, graduating, getting a job, and preparing a path for my future career- don’t seem as difficult as they did before I went to Italy. I know that these things, as tough as they will be, are things that I can handle. These are challenges that I may (ok, definitely will) mess up along the way, but I will be able to bounce back and be alright. My experiences in Italy and the other countries I visited will never leave my mind. Florence was very good to me and I am truly thankful for everything that city gave to me. I will never take it for granted.

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

Realizing the Bigger Picture

You could tell I was the only one on my flight back to the United States who was not prepared for the winter chill. As we all boarded the airport shuttle, I saw people wearing winter parkas, boots, sweaters, and hats. I then proceeded to look at myself. I was wearing cropped leggings, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Ha! Can you tell I had just returned from a semester abroad?

The change in climate was definitely my first experience of reverse culture shock. The voice of my host mother came to mind. “Indians would freeze in America; I know I would.” My inability to adjust to the cold climate made me feel more attached to India than I had in a long time. Without even realizing it, my body had adjusted to India’s climate, culture, and customs. For example, I hesitated handing the TSA officer my passport with my left hand because in India I would only use my right hand in social settings, for hygienic purposes.

The biggest reverse culture shock came during the holiday season. For the most part, people in Madurai were happy with what they had. The friends and host families I interacted with did not shop every weekend or buy an unnecessary amount of toys, food, etc. Indians are content. I returned to the United States and found the exact opposite. There were cars lined outside the mall’s parking lots. Cars had to park on the 5th and 6th floor of the parking garage because the lower levels were full. The traffic was insane; it was organized compared to the streets in India, but I could not believe the number of people out shopping. Suddenly I felt like America was materialistic. And we don’t have any shame in denying that we are! I simply wanted to crawl back to India where I was disconnected with certain parts of the world.

When I was India, I wanted to be back in the comfort of my home. Now that I am home, I miss the days when I could not do anything on the Internet because I would use up the monthly data; the days when I would take a 20-cent auto-rickshaw to Naina Sweet and order a plain dosa to eat by the street.

 

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As much as I miss India, it’s nice to be home where I can enjoy views like this!

 

During my semester abroad, I wasn’t all too concerned about the “bigger picture.” I assumed that I would have an epiphany when I returned back to the United States. It may not have been an epiphany, but it did occur to me that living in India had a bigger impact than I thought it would. I felt a greater connection to India only after I returned home.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

The Great Impact

Since returning home, I have been experiencing some stages of reverse culture shock. I was initially very excited to return home, however, since returning home I have found it a bit difficult to adjust back to the lifestyle here. It has been particularly difficult because my experience abroad has impacted me so profoundly. While my friends and family have continued to move along through their everyday routine, I am still adjusting to life here and reflecting on my time away. I feel as though I must not quickly forget what I took away from this experience. It is so completely different here in the United States. I had not noticed how accustomed I had gotten to the Moroccan way and culture until returning. It was hard to see then the little things that had made such a difference in Morocco. It is shocking to me how different the culture here is and I was not anticipating that. Things have been very different than I expected them to be once I returned. They have been more sad than exciting, unfortunately. Adjusting back as an athlete has been somewhat difficult. The amount of  new teammates unintroduced to me has been shocking and incredibly overwhelming. School started so quickly and I felt as though it was a very quick turnaround and that I did not have much time to spend with my family and adjust. Although it has been difficult, I believe that I am slowly adjusting back to the ordinary here. Things are definitely different from the way they were to me before leaving. Nonetheless, I hope that they stay that way.

 

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A photo taken on my departing plane at the Mohammed V International Airport located in Casablanca, Morocco prior to our departure from the country after two months.

 

I very much miss the familiarity of Morocco. It was great being able to go to one restaurant or grocery store where you know people. I also miss being so close with the group of people I was living in Morocco with, as well as adventuring to different places in Morocco. Lastly, I greatly miss the laid-back and happy culture. On the other hand, I am happy to be reunited with my friends and family in the US, as well as the pool and my sport. I have noticed a lot of differences between the US and Morocco. It is mainly the little things, such as the way people interact, the way of life, the conveniences, the food, the regulations, etc. These are things that I didn’t know were so important to my life before leaving America. But while away, I came to realize that all of the little things lacking were actually all very important to my way of living, which greatly affected me.

After having this experience, I will continue on with my schooling, however I will not forget how I have been impacted. I hope to share my experience with as many people as possible, while also becoming a more involved individual. My experience abroad has only made me more grateful and more motivated to make a large impact for the good of others. I know that I will definitely be better about prioritizing my time to put the things that matter most first, and put others before myself. I know that this experience has made me love life and want to live each day to its fullest.

 

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A photo taken from a high point in one of the four mountainous regions of Morocco.

 

During my study abroad, I definitely came out of my shell. I became more open to unexpected situations and more adventurous and courageous. This was mainly a result of unanticipated conflicts experienced throughout the completion of my project, as well as trying to acclimate to the everyday lifestyle of the Moroccan people. It was also due to various weekend trips spent traveling and exploring the country in a very short amount of time. I definitely improved my communication skills, solely as a result of the high level of interaction with others. I definitely developed myself as an individual throughout my time in Morocco. It has become more clear to me the type of person that I want to be. I believe that this was a result of being in a foreign country disconnected from American society. It gave me a lot of time for reflection, all the while having such an amazing experience. It put things in perspective and allowed me to become more in touch with my inner self. Lastly, my experience abroad has made me more appreciative of everything that I have in my life. Just walking on the streets and seeing how the Moroccan people live was enough to evoke this change. They live the simplest lives and find the simplest jobs, just to get by in life. They also set aside time for the one thing that matters most to them, which is family. But the one part of my experience that made appreciation so much more prominent in my life was hearing the personal stories from families with autistic children that I interviewed for my project. They struggle so much to obtain decent lives for themselves and their children, not to mention proper education, treatment, and diagnoses. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories, all the while eye-opening to see how happy and grateful they still are for what they do have.

 

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A photo of the Ksour, a famous clay building depicted on the 50 dirham bill (Moroccan currency). The techniques used by the Moroccan people when creating such a structure allowed them to develop highly efficient architecture.

 

In addition, I definitely grew professionally while abroad. It was a new experience for me to complete this project while working with a sponsor. It was enriching to work with a group of students to complete a report, database, and present all of our information collected to our classmates, advisors, and sponsor. I learned how to deal with difficult team dynamics throughout the project and gained a lot of experience presenting my material in a professional manner.

One piece of advice that I would give to scholars interested in studying or interning abroad in Morocco would be to not set expectations, but rather to just enjoy the experience for all that it is and take the most from it. I can guarantee that any person studying abroad will get more out of the experience if they are able to avoid spending time worrying about how things should be. Whatever happens, they should be able to enjoy the once in a lifetime experience and not set their sights on the things that are not going perfectly as planned. I would encourage them to enjoy every moment of such an amazing opportunity while they have the chance, because it will be over in the blink of an eye.

 

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A photo taken at a village depicting the sun setting over the mountains in Morocco.

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The Return

It feels like planets have lined up in order for my graduation day to come. At this point, I feel like the happiest person on Earth, because not only have I returned with such profound experiences in Argentina, but now I have the freedom apply what I have learned to my life at home. I have big plans for the future, but it starts here at my mother’s home where I will be moving in after graduation to help her around the house and start fresh.

 

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Graduating with honors, class of 2016.

 

I didn’t come back with reverse culture shock like I had imagined, but I did go to the grocery store and came back with loads of cereal, junk food, and things I didn’t know I missed since I’ve been gone. I hope I don’t pick up any old habits! But in other terms of culture shock, I haven’t had any. However, I do feel like everything I have learned has significantly strengthened my critical thinking skills and my respect towards others. I can’t be any more thankful for having the support from my family and friends during these last few months and years.

 

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My family.

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I can’t help but miss Argentina. I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss traveling, I miss the conversations I had with people on the streets, and I miss the music and culture. I feel like there’s always a surprise in Buenos Aires….I’ll be back soon, but not before I explore other parts of the world. My experience studying abroad opened my eyes and I think I caught the travel bug.

 

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Wanda Abramor, a tango instructor in Buenos Aires.

 

One of my plans is to travel across the United States. While in Argentina, I realized I have hardly explored anything in the States. This summer I will take it upon myself to travel across the country to New York from Los Angeles. Not just for fun, but also to get a sense of what it is to be a North American. There are tremendous differences in all parts of the world and I want to know what make the States so different. Especially because of my experience in Argentina where I met people who felt strongly for or against North Americans. I need to experience it for myself.

 

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Protesters during National Day of Memory (“Dia de la Memoria“) where nearly all Argentine citizens gather to celebrate democracy and memorialize the 40th anniversary of the civil dictatorship (1976-1983).

 

In the meantime, while I prepare for my trip across the country, I plan to publish a lot of the material I have from my study abroad experience in Argentina. One of the things I did was work with talented individuals by documenting their lives and their art. Because of them, I was able to experience an Argentina that exists outside of tourism. Now I owe it to them to publish this material and create for them more media presence. In addition, I will be posting a YouTube series of my 10-day trip in Salta and Jujuy, Argentina. This should be exciting because I have some real stories to tell, like the time the bus broke down and no one told me we changed buses and I almost lost all my stuff. I think this series will not only be fun to watch but will be of good use for anyone who plans to travel these northern regions in Argentina.

 

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Beef empanadas.

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Catholic Church in Angastaco – Salta, Argentina.

 

Something I feel most certain about traveling is that there is nothing I can be certain about. For example, I can plan to travel from point A to point B but I can easily be thrown off course by all the exciting things that are happening around me. I’m not saying one should always take the road not taken. I’m saying that sometimes our plans should be open to the circumstances that present themselves. I can’t do everything I set out to do, but I will make the best of my experience wherever I go.

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Filed under Robert in Argentina, south america

Back Home, But as a Different Person

It’s a very odd feeling to be back in the U.S. I don’t know if I am just more aware of it now, or if it happened more this time, but I have been told “welcome back home” by people that usually don’t say it…or I don’t remember them saying it. The first person who told me that was a customs agent, who said it in an oddly genuine way: “Welcome back home, Mr. Mattozzi.” The next person was the flight attendant on my flight back to Portland, Maine. Whenever I fly back from school, I don’t remember them saying welcome home. The reason I am bringing this up is that I’m not sure if I feel at home. It’s a foolish thing to say, I know, I’ve spent all of my 21 years of life in this country, my childhood was here, most of my friends are here. But for some reason everything seems distant. I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated, or particularly lonely. Maybe misplaced is a good word. I feel like I had such a profound experience finding a part of myself that I have been struggling to find for a while. And now that I found it, I have to leave Morocco. As I mentioned in a previous post, I do have plans to go back to the region, not to reminisce on the past, but to grow and learn even more. Even though these plans are still in the “hopeful dream” phase, it is a comforting thought that will motivate me to do all that I can to achieve that goal of returning to Morocco.

 

Medina of Rabat

Medina of Rabat.

End of the day in Marrakesh

End of the day in Marrakesh.

It is not just the fact that I found my ethnic identity while studying abroad, but also that I grew so much as a journalist. I did things that gave me a taste of what it will be like to be a professional journalist. I worked on what I felt was an important topic that gave me the opportunity to speak with government officials, heads of NGOs and other people involved in my interests. I had deadlines and editing sessions with my advisor who writes for the New York Times, and I learned how to navigate through murky situations with little guidance. A few students on my study abroad program researched some pretty emotionally difficult topics, and when we felt overwhelmed or needed a break, we’d go out together and vent and get our minds off things. I know how to write better, interview better, look for details, and describe things in a way that will make people feel like they can relate and better understand the topic I am writing about. I learned that there are stories everywhere, you just have to ask the right kinds of questions and look hard enough. All of these things came together to form an experience that I believe impacted me on a very deep level. I know I have said this before, but I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to the Gilman Scholarship for giving me this absolutely stunning, amazing, life changing opportunity that I would not have had without Gilman.

 

Myself with my fellow journalism students

Myself with my fellow journalism students.

Myself and two friends I met while working on my independent study

Myself and two friends I met while working on my independent study project.

Now, to the future. In the short term, I am going to continue working on my project from Morocco to see if it can be published in the near future. For the long term, I am going to start organizing the specifics of my plan to study in the Mediterranean or in Southern Italy via the Fulbright, the Fulbright-National Geographic Fellowship, or another scholarship or grant. I have to dive in and do as much research as I can so I can be ready to answer any questions that come my way and help people understand the region and its collective history and culture better.
Whether I like it or not, I am back home, but as a different person. I should not dwell too much on the past and the little things I should have done while in Morocco. My eyes have been opened, and my curiosity has been piqued. This past semester has been an amazing journey, and I hope it is just the beginning.

 

Myself being pensive on the roof of our School, CCCL, in the Medina of Rabat .jpg

Me being pensive on the roof of our school in the Medina of Rabat.

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Filed under middle east, Savin in Morocco