Reverse Culture Shock: Adjusting to Life Back in America

I touched down in America almost exactly a month ago, Monday, May 7 at 1 a.m. I hit the ground running.

My friend (shout out to Dilara!) picked me up from LAX in the wee hours of the morning. I stayed the night at her place, and the next morning, I picked up my car and started unloading things from my storage unit into my new apartment. (Side note: Some of my Italian friends were so intrigued by American storage units, which one lovable Italian character I met referred to as “garages for your things.”)

Since being back in America, I have felt all the feels. (For my Italian friends reading, no that is not proper English. The feels just means a lot of emotions.) I have felt excitement to be home, exhilaration to be back in Los Angeles (the city I love), nervousness for the job hunt, fear of starting over (four months away from L.A. certainly feels like starting over), stress, newness, uncertainty.

Like I said, I have felt all the feels.

I left L.A. and took on the challenge of life abroad after a year of job hunting and experiencing major burn out. I am reminding myself that starting over is not a bad thing. A fresh start, a new chapter, a second beginning can be an amazingly beautiful thing, a gift. I am back in L.A. ready to do what I love and create impactful media and write! (Gah, I am such a words nerd and I love it!)

Since returning to the states, there have been a number of “very American” things that have stood out to me like a sore thumb after living in Italy. Reverse culture shock is real people. Even though I am American, there have been several things, some good, some bad and all funny, that I have had to adjust to.

-The fashion

It is impossible to live in Italy and to not have Italian style leave an imprint on your personal closet. Since living in Italy, I am obsessed with neutrals and blacks, clean, crisp lines and simple but eloquent looks. When I arrived in New York in May, the first thing I noticed about Americans is that we literally wear anything. Flip flops, Ugg boots, leggings, running shorts, over-sized tees. We mismatch all of these items together and call it fashion. Americans dress more for comfort and less for style. While Italians are always stylish (even when they do not try.)

– The food

My body has literally been rejecting food. American food has so much sugar, additives and hormones. You hear people talk about how bad American food is, but it wasn’t until leaving for a long-period of time and returning that I actually understood. American food tastes so different- the texture, taste and flavor- from food in Europe. I could eat pasta every day in Italy. That is not a thing in America!

– Friendly strangers

My second day back in Los Angeles, I went to my favorite coffee shop and a man greeted with a hello and a smile. This man was a complete stranger. Now this may sound unexciting, but I felt my heart do a mini cartwheel. In Piemonte, the region of Italy where I lived, the culture tends to be more aloof and distant. People don’t tend to smile and make eye contact with strangers. Of course, none of this is to be rude, but it’s just not normal there. The people of northern Italy are not overly warm or friendly. So if a stranger smiles at them, they are more likely to be concerned than see it as a greeting. It is nice to be back in America and to have strangers on the street smile, make eye contact and speak to me.

– Understanding the language

It is funny to be back and completely understand what people are saying. I got used to walking around Bra or to coffee shops or the train station and speaking the little Italian I knew. I learned to tune out words because I did not understand most conversations happening around me. To hear conversations from a distance that I completely can understand was a bit of a shock. It has also made ease dropping a lot easier!

– Not being stared at

One thing I always laughed about is how I often got stared at in Italy. While I’d love to think it was just because people thought I was pretty, it more so had to do with being a foreigner and speaking English. One thing I have had to adjust to in America is nobody looking at me, like at all. I’m just another person walking by. It’s quiet ironic!

– Driving

I did not drive for four months- FOUR! For the three months I was in Europe and the month before that I traveled around America, I had the pleasure of being driven around by others or taking public transportation. In Los Angeles, all you do is drive! My parallel parking skills have suffered a lot since being gone. I also have grown unaccustomed to L.A. traffic. (It’s a beast!) My road rage has grown in my time away most definitely.

How I have changed since living in Italy:

– I understand the value of speaking different languages.

I am currently working on fluency in Spanish. I was super impressed by the Italian people I met who were fluent in English, French, German or some other language. Language is a powerful tool in connecting people. It’s a big world out there, and I realized how much I am limiting myself by only speaking one language. I want to connect with as many people as possible and part of that is learning languages.

– I have learned to question my country’s leadership and the importance of being politically active.

Even though Italy is currently going through a rough political climate, one thing I respect about the Italian people I encountered was their willingness to question government and political leaders. They even question American government. “Why is gun control such an issue in America?” is one question I got a lot. I realized in my time away, often Americans are more focused on patriotism and loyalty that we neglect to educate ourselves on issues and to hold our leadership to ethical and altruistic standards. Americans get a little lazy when it comes to politics, and we lose sight of facts, research and questioning.

– I love Nutella.

I had my first taste of peanut butter (which is super American) the other day. And oh my! Nutella is leaps and bounds better.

– I talk with my hands.

When I am excited for something, annoyed or confused, I watch my hands automatically fly in the air. Italian people talk with their hands. They use big gestures, and they talk fast and with lots of passion. The hand gestures that used to make me laugh, I now find myself doing.

I am more aware of how much we let go to waste in America.

In Italy, every home I visited, the families recycled. There was a section for plastic, paper, food and waste. Also, no light was left on or used unnecessarily (like in the middle of the day when the sun is out.) I have never been one to leave a light on (hello, light bill?), but now I am super aware of conserving energy and how much we let go to waste here in the states.

– I want to travel more.

Even though my time in Italy wasn’t picture perfect (because what in life is ever perfect?), it was an adventure! I would do it again in a heartbeat. I plan to go back to Italy. (I didn’t see Rome or Sicily!) I also want to travel to other countries. I’ve got the travel itch, and it needs to be scratched!

My time in Italy challenged me in so many ways. It definitely taught me a lot. I will always hold my experience and the beautiful country of Italia close to my heart.

Check out these photos from my last week in Italy:


Daniela sent me a goodbye photo from Bra!


Nicanor came to visit Bra and showed off his Italian skills.


Nicolo tolerating my need to take a selfie in the middle of the street.


Daisy planned a goodbye lunch for me with all the professors.


The empty halls of the Licei di Bra on my last day as a teacher assistant!


We went for aperitivo (basically an American happy hour) on my last day in Bra!

With hope,


The Girl Who Was an Outsider

People often romanticize travel and life abroad. Here’s an honest account of three months of my life abroad in Italy.

I have one full day left in Itay. I still have two classes to teach, goodbye lunches and dinners to attend, bus and train tickets to buy and bags to pack.

Before all the hustle begins, I wanted to just sit. Breathe. Take it in.

My time in Italy has been one of the craziest times of my life. It started with a bang, had lots of ups and downs in the middle, and is ending with another bang.

My first week in Italy, I was pickpocketed during teacher assistant orientation in Turin. Toward the middle of my trip, I was abadoned by new “friends” in London (in the middle of a snowy night.) My last week in Italy, my American checking account was hacked, and I had to cancel my debit card. You just can’t make up a better script than the one life writes for you.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh at the obstacles life hands you because it doesn’t always make sense. While some hard things just happen arbitrarily, other hard and painful things happen because of the person staring back in the mirror.

My time in Italy has been a lot of deciphering between the two, the things I cannot control and the things I can, like my attitude, my ability to communicate and listen, if I will forgive and let things go and my willingness to perservere and push through.

One of the hardest parts of living in Italy for me was the feeling of being an outsider. I am a brown, American woman with curly hair who speaks English walking up and down the streets of small town, Bra, Italy. There might as well have been a sign painted on my back that said: OUTSIDER.

It might sound harmless, but three months of getting stares wherever you go and few smiles or hellos from passersby is exhausting. I have been told by many Italians that this is the reality of northern Italy and Piemonte, the region where I lived, that people tend to be cold and not overtly friendly.

My semi-introverted personality couldn’t handle the stares and all the attention. My extroverted side struggled with the lack of hellos and smiles.

Within my teaching program, I had these “outsider” moments too. While a lot of my fellow teacher assistants had the financial ability to jetset across Europe every weekend, my bank account said a big, fat, “Hello….uh, no.” I am just a normal, middle-class, twenty-something American, who mommy and daddy cannot and will not foot the bill for. I was still able to travel to several really cool places though (Barcelona included!), but I was penny-pinching and saving money at every corner. I couldn’t go on all the pricey trips my peers went on, and when I did, I couldn’t do everything they did.

It’s true. I felt like an outsider here in my time in Italy, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. Being on the outside gave me an appreciation for some things that I may have previously taken for granted. It gave me perspective. It also helped me realize some areas where I can grow in. (Aaah, growth!)

For example, something as simple as a smile or a hello is magical. It can literally warm a person’s soul. Anytime a student stopped me to chat or said hello in the hallways or around town, it cheered me up instantly! I really appreciated a kind hello.

I gained an appreciation for a listening ear. The English department head at my school sat and listened to be rant and sometimes cry in the teacher lounge. I am so appreciative of her taking time to listen to my struggles. Several other professors helped me work through the stresses, or just got loads of messages on Whatsapp from me trying to work through them.

I gained an appreciation for friends. Friends back home kept me sane by checking in on me. The few friends I made here, English speaking Italians and assistants in my program, helped me laugh. One friend and I burnt a pizza and lost electricity all in one hour! Friends make a world of difference.

I gained appreciation for kindness. Daniela is a woman who works for my host family, and she is literally my favorite person in Italy. Get this- She speaks no English! But we talked every day. (Hello, Google Translate!) I learned that you do not need to speak the same language to communicate with someone. Kindness, warmth and a smile, they speak volumes. Daniela made me feel welcome and seen. (Boy am I going to have a hard time saying bye to her tomorrow!)

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody):

“A person is only an outsider until someone decides to let them in. That one person makes a world of difference. You can always choose to be that one person.”

I was nervous to think what I would say when people asked how Italy was. What will they think if I’m honest? Will they judge me if it wasn’t this picture-perfect, movie experience? Can I be both positive and transparent?

I decided I would be honest. Italy was hard, but in the midst of the difficulty, it was still good. I learned. I grew. I was challenged. I cried some tears, and then, I got back up and put one foot in front of the other. I struggled. I made mistakes. I got frustrated. I frustrated people at times (I’m sure!) I laughed. I adventured. I lived well.

Perhaps my experience as an outsider would have been a bit different if I spoke some Italian or maybe if my skin were a different color. Perhaps, then I would have felt not so different. Italy is currently in a time of political tension as it faces a swell of immigration from Africa and with it, a swell in racism. I asked my students about the current state of politics in Italy and how immigrants are viewed here. They shared that immigrants are often looked down upon and seen as outsiders.

There’s that word again- OUTSIDER

I can only imagine what their lives are like, to live in a country as an alien, to be seen as different. I get to go home, but for them, this is their day-to-day lives.

Here’s what I know- A person is only an outsider until someone decides to let them in. That one person makes a world of difference.

Thank you to all the beautiful people who made me feel welcome during my stay here. To the people who took me for coffee, traveled with me, made a seat for me at their dinner tables and showed me around wine country and small, Italian towns, thank you for making me feel like less of an outsider.

With hope,


Weekend Adventures European Style

It’s official! I have one week left in Italy and one full weekend (i.e. time to explore, take cool photos, rest a little, do some laundry- you know, the normal things). I thought I’d use my last weekend to share some photos from the weekends I have spent traveling around Europe.

So little time, so many photos.

Traveling for three months straight has been a whirlwind. My time abroad has been less a vacation, and more so a fast-paced speed course on how much Italian culture and travel I could cram into three months.

Weekend travel looked a like waking up at 5:30 a.m. (on a Friday) to catch a 6:30 a.m. train to Torino, to catch an hour bus ride from Torino to the airport, and typically a two- to three-hour flight to some European destination.

As soon as the plane touched down, it meant hitting the ground running. Rest has not been a thing. After touch down, I’d take a train or a bus to wherever I was staying, drop my things off and off I’d go to begin exploring.

My travels have entailed a lot of walking! Sometimes for five to eight hours at a time. (Kinda like that one Rihanna song only less “work, work, work” and more “walk, walk, walk.”)

Beloved artwork, renowned museums, huge monuments, historic Greek ruins, ancient sculptures, famous streets, lively squares and piazzas, I have tried to take it in with my mind’s eye so I will have these memories to hold onto forever and have some stories to take back to America and maybe tell my children some day.

I’ll share with you some photos from my travels so hopefully I can take you along through my journey.

First day of English classes in Bra:

The Alps

Turin, Italy

Savigliano, Italy


My friend Nick and I being tourists in his homestay town 🙂

Milan, Italy

Saluzzo, Italy

London, England

Nice, France


Group photo with the Nice skyline and an engagement photo in the background.

Food in France (Amazing!)


Venice, Italy


My first gondola ride was well worth it!

Florence, Italy

Siena, Italy


Wine tasting in the Tuscany.

Barcelona, Spain


A trip to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the cloudy skies began to clear.

La Morra, Piemonte Region of Italy

Alba, Italy

Genova, Italy

Le Langhe, Piemonte region of Italy

Cuneo, Italy

Goodbye Bra!


Look who came to visit me in Bra!

With hope,


Why I Count My Blessings in Life Abroad

There’s a well-known saying that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. At 20 years old, I conquered the city that never sleeps. I navigated the subway system successfully. I worked under some of the biggest editors in the magazine world (and I only cried once!) I didn’t let the rats, trash, chaos of the city or brashness of the people shake me.

Yet, even with all its bright lights and movie glamour, New York wasn’t for me. I left proud of what I had accomplished there and so glad I took the risk of following my dream of living in the Empire State.

Fast forward to 2017 and I ran my first half-marathon. For me, training for a half-marathon trumped moving to NYC. It was hard. It was sweaty. It was painful. It took discipline, hard work, dedication, and commitment. Oh, and my poor knees! (My bad running form hurt my knees.) I was always sore, but eventually the soreness got easier to cope with, and I pushed past the pain. The moment I crossed the finish line of the Hollywood Half Marathon was my proudest moment.

Fast forward a year later, and I am now living in Italy. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would live in a foreign country, but lo and behold, here I am! Living in Italy is, by far, thee absolute hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t think anything could be harder than that half marathon, but I was wrong.

Harder than the challenge of moving to New York. Harder than the physical and mental challenge of running a race. Moving to a foreign country has challenged me in every way possible. To be 100% candid, there have been a number of moments along my journey when I have wanted to give up. Then, I stop, pause, and there is always something good around me to remind that I am no quitter and that there is goodness here even when it’s hard to see.

This past week was tough, from being sick to challenges in communication and cultural barriers. So I thought it’d be good to take a moment to count my blessings and to remember what I have to be grateful for in this moment.

Here are a few things I am grateful for in the midst of the ups and downs of life abroad:

1- Good friends and family

I am grateful for all the friends and family back home who have reached out to me to check in and make sure I am OK week to week and keep me updated on life in America. One friend in particular, my very own Kelsie Lee, helped me get in touch with my parents when my phone was stolen my first week here. If I ever fall off the face of the Earth, it is safe to say Kelsie will always come looking for me. Everyone should have a Kelsie in their life.

2- The freedom and the ability to travel

Even though it’s not easy, I know that traveling abroad is such a gift. Not everyone gets to experience this. For me, I was at a place in my career and life where I was able to pack up and go. The opportunity to live and work in a foreign country is such a blessing. I get to see Italy as more than just a tourist or someone on a business trip. I actually live here. That’s pretty dope. I am also physically and financially able to travel. What a gift!

3- Good home-training

Whenever I encounter an obstacle, I think to myself, “Momma didn’t raise no quitter.” Sometimes, I imagine my grandma whispering in my ear, “Keep your head up baby.” I know that I am a mosaic of all the beautiful people who have helped raise me, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, teachers and mentors. These people have instilled in me that I can do anything I set my mind to. It is because of them that I am so stubborn and unwilling to quit.

4- Italian food

OK, so yea, it’s pretty good. My absolute favorite thing is to hear my students tell me how Italian food is the absolute best in the world. They are so very confident in this. It makes me laugh. Lets just stay my stomach has never gone hungry since living here.

5- New friends

The greatest gift someone can give you is friendship. One person showed me a wine vineyard in one of my first weeks here. My host family took me to the Alps for a weekend. Another person took me to a book store and drank hot chocolate with me as we sat and read Italian children’s books. One of the teachers invited me into her home for lunch (twice!) with her family, and the food was so delicious! I went to the fair in my town, and I got to be a big kid and ride on the ferris wheel and the bumper cars. (I was very happy!) I am really grateful for the English speakers I have met here, who help me learn Italian and who also speak English to me (Praise God!)

6- The good ‘ol USA

OK, so America definitely gets a lot of things wrong, but it also does a lot of things well, like democracy, freedom of press, and the push to break gender barriers. I most certainly do love my country more after time away.

7- Good Music = Good Vibes

Music really is a universal language. Music has been one thing that has allowed me to connect with my students and my host family. A lot of Italian people listen to American music, which makes for really good conversation. It has also been fun to listen to Italian music my students ask me to try.

8- The Internet

Oh my goodness, do I love the World Wide Web! It allows me to continue with my journalism work back in the states, listen to the latest music, and keep up with the latest news in America.

9- My host family and the teachers at my school

I think it must be difficult to allow a stranger into your home. I don’t take for granted that my host family allowing me to stay here is a big deal. Also, the teachers at my school who have taken me under their wings and given me a number of pep talks on my hard days, they are life savers.

10- Faith

My faith helps me to have hope on my worst days. Believing in something and someone bigger than me gives me strength of heart to not quit.

I am counting my blessings to remind myself that even when things get hard, there’s always some good to hold onto. If you are having a hard time in this chapter of your life, I challenge to find the good, the blessings, the silver-linings, on even your worst days.

With hope,


The Reasons Why We Travel

Travel. Why do we do it?

Honesty moment- traveling abroad is not easy. When people post pictures on social media, travel looks glamorous, but it is actually quite challenging. It is expensive and can be exhausting at times. It is also one of the most testing and stretching experiences you can voluntarily sign up for. You are surrounded by a foreign language and culture daily.

They say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. In my opinion, if you can live abroad for any amount of time, you have the grit, the ingenuity and willpower to do just about anything. Travel truly shows you the stuff you are made of, the good, the bad and the ugly.

We travel because we are curious. We are curious to see the world, to not just read about it online or see photos on our timelines. We are curious to learn about other ways of life and curious to see our own ability to handle adversity. There is a curiosity in each of use like a well run dry that can only be satisfied with the refreshing of travel.

I came to Italy, plain and simple, because I wanted to grow. I was eager for a challenge. I was curious about a world outside of my comfort zone and what that would look like. I am a twenty-something who does not have it all figured out. My time here has taught me so much about myself and about other people. There have been lessons of empathy, lessons of forgiveness and letting things go, lessons on flexibility, lessons on openness and acceptance and lessons on being present and enjoying the moment.

Once I am back in America, my travels won’t stop. Each year, I have a goal to travel to at least one new state in America. In 2018, Utah is my state of choice. My goal is to get to all 50. (I am currently sitting at 30 states.) Why? Because I am curious. Each state has its own uniqueness, and you can easily travel from the west coast to the east coast and feel like you are in a different country. I travel simply to learn and to better understand people.


Nice, Italy

Don’t just take my word on the value of travel and living a curious life. I asked some of my fellow WEP teacher assistants and friends why they travel, and they had a lot to say. A lot of them have traveled around the world prior to our time in Italy, and I have so much admiration for each of them. Every time I am with the teacher assistants in my program, I learn something from each of them.

My friend and fellow world traveler Tiffany White explains it most poignantly when she says, “At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we all have stories to tell. So, I travel to see the world, but with my heart just as much as my eyes.”

Keep reading to meet some of the other WEP teacher assistants and read the reasons why they travel:

Griffen, MacLeod, Chino Hills, California


“The reason why I travel is that this world is so much bigger than just ourselves. I am searching to make myself, and whoever I encounter, have a better life, in whatever capacity. Learning, teaching, experiencing, seeing, and, overall, enjoying life as much as possible in the world we are blessed with.”

Zuzu Hamel, Seattle, Washington


“I travel because it gives me a sense of independence I’ve never felt before. I love getting to experience and meet new people. As I see more and more of the world, it allows me to appreciate other cultures and makes me miss and appreciate home in ways I hadn’t before.”

Tommy Do, Dallas, Texas


“I believe that in order to make an impact upon the world, you have to go out there and see it. Traveling gives me the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds who all have a story to tell. We can all learn from and help one another. Being able to make these meaningful connections inspires me to travel, to have an open-mind and leads me to love my experiences that much more!”

Taylor Gersch, Portland, Oregon


“I travel because it gives me a chance to learn about other cultures and an opportunity to teach others about my culture and way of life. Traveling also allows me to explore other parts of the world that are incredibly beautiful.”

Jonathan Sambucci, Mullica Hill, New Jersey


“Travel isn’t about stamps in a passport. It’s not something you ought to do in your early 20’s because ‘You’re only young once!’ Travel is a mindset. I am currently in Italy, and I am traveling, but when I return home, I won’t stop. I’ll try a new dish I haven’t before. I will go to a new park and make a new friend. It’s an attitude driven by the never-ending question of “What exactly is behind that corner?”

Cara Costello, Boston, Massachusetts
*Please note that Cara sent so many good travel photos, it was hard to choose.


“I travel because despite all of the terror going on all over the world right now, especially in my country with politics and social madness, I want to experience the beauty that surpasses the negative. The world is a big place. I believe experiencing its different cultures and exploring the unknown is imperative if you want to grow as a human being. Travel not only to live the world but to live in awe of all of its beauty.”

Nicanor Basabas, Wellington, New Zealand

“The reason why I travel is because I enjoy learning languages. The fact that if I go to a country and I can converse with the people in their language, I feel more of a local. Your experience becomes more real compared to just being a tourist.”

Tiffany White, Allentown, Pennsylvania


“I travel because I’m not just a citizen of the United States but of the world. I’ve traveled for sports, for study abroad and now for cultural exchange- While my reason for traveling may change, the outcome is always the same. Each time I learn something new. Those that say traveling is the best classroom are undoubtedly correct. While I experience new cultures, I am also able to reflect on my own being and my own culture. The challenges we have to overcome abroad teach responsibility, problem solving and flexibility. It has all surely helped me grow as a person.”