Adapting to New Cultures

August Matthews, Staff Writer

In the middle of October, I hosted an Italian exchange student at my house for the Italian exchange program. This program is where students from Milan, Italy come to the United States and are hosted by Sandy Spring students. The Italians stayed for a total of six days from Friday to the following Wednesday. It was our exchange student’s first time in the United States. Before he came, my parents told me I would have to set the example in the household because he is from a different culture and might not be accustomed to how things work in our home. I was curious to see how he would adjust to our culture here in America and how I would adjust to meeting the other visiting Italians.

As a family, our first adjustment was names. The students name was Federico and my parents had a hard time getting used to saying his name at first. When I said it, I would sometimes get tongue-twisted as well. The first thing Federico had to adjust to was the time zone. In Italy, the time is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time so often he woke up very early. Although, most of the time he was not tired at night, so he did not go to sleep at an earlier than normal time.

Another anticipated adjustment for Federico was food. He had not tried a lot of the food we served him before he came to the United States, but he was willing to try new dishes and also different combinations. He tried a hamburger with a fried egg on it and enjoyed it. He was not a breakfast eater in Italy, but he enjoyed the breakfast we served him, his favorite being French toast.

One of my adjustments was in bridging cultures. When the exchangeI first started, Federico only wanted to hang out with his Italian friends. However,, later as I introduced him to others, he was able to converse and get along with the Sandy Spring students. At first, Federico did not speak much when he was around my family and often responded in short answers. Toward the end of his trip with us, he would often ask questions in the car ride about how my parents’ day was or tell them about his day. When Federico and I met with the other Italians outside of school, the cultural shift was not very hard for me at all. My only challenge was doing the proper greetings with them because a lot of them didn’t know how to do certain greetings.

Before he left, I asked Federico about how the adjustments had been for him and if any were a particular challenge to him. He told me that while he didn’t have trouble adjusting to general American culture, he didn’t understand the slang and how we interacted at certain times. He told me how meals in Italy take a much longer time. He told me Italy has a different look and feel to it than the US, but he enjoyed his time here and wants to see other parts of the United States to see if it is any different. Federico is from a Western country and lives in a Western society much like the United States. Because of this, the adjustment from a societal perspective was not too different for Frederico than what he was used to in Italy. He had to get used to the time difference when he first got here, the types of food he ate, and speaking more English. Him coming here helped me adjust to deal more with people who are foreign and are less familiar new areas and cultures. It taught me to help him adjust and make him as comfortable as possible.