This week’s post comes from Martina Benaglia, our new intern at the ACCENT Florence Study Center. Martina took part in an Erasmus Program, the EU-wide student exchange initiative that allows European students to explore their diverse and varied continent. For her exchange program, Martina went to Birmingham, UK, where, struggling through the often difficult process of cultural adjustment, she ultimately developed unforgettable friendships, a new home away from home, and inspiration to pass along the joys of study abroad.
It was a cold and gloomy morning when I first arrived in Birmingham, UK, and for the first time in my life, I found myself catapulted into a completely different world, an upside-down universe where everything I knew until that moment was questioned. “They drive on the wrong side of the road and spread butter on everything edible,” I was thinking.
A few days after I arrived, I found very cozy and affordable lodgings near the University of Birmingham. There, I had my first meeting with a local Brummie (a native of Birmingham). I entered the apartment and met my new flatmate; shortly thereafter, I realized that I couldn’t understand a single word of what he was saying. It was awkward asking him to repeat his words every few sentences or pretending to understand this new accent. I was a bit worried about this new partnership, but this was my new home and I knew I had to adjust.
I have to admit that my first week abroad was not easy at all, but I grew to become comfortable at the University of Birmingham, a very stimulating place where I could spend my rainy English days in a very pleasant atmosphere. There were many cafés on campus that offered foreign students like me the chance to meet other students studying abroad.
One day, in one of these busy cafés, I had the chance to meet other Italian, Spanish, and Canadian students. We used to meet almost every day to study together, sipping tea or coffee. We supported each other as we acclimated to the local culture, sympathizing over the great effort required to adjust to a new situation. Slowly, my feelings began to change.
Even though Birmingham is the second biggest city in UK, I was living in a smaller part of the city called Selly Oak. It felt a bit like I was back in my little hometown in Tuscany.
I didn’t feel as if I was living in a big metropolitan city at all, which suited me. Selly Oak is near the Cadbury chocolate factory, and I loved taking long walks every morning on the famous Birmingham canal-side, smelling the air soaked with that charming chocolate perfume.
After the first tough weeks of disorientation, I would have never imagined that I would feel at home in a place so totally different from my hometown. I felt so lucky because I met so many kind and beautiful people (and I’m still in touch with some of them even today).
The Erasmus program changed my life and helped me to develop my identity as a global citizen, not only in relation to other cultures, but also in relation to my values and my home country. In addition, this experience instilled in me the desire to work with students who are experiencing the same feelings I felt when I first arrived in UK, and the ability to pass on the skills I learned along the way. My internship at ACCENT is my new adventure, and a new challenge as well! Through my experiences, I hope to continue to explore new cultures, enrich my self-awareness, and discover new and unknown parts of myself.Grappling with cultural adjustment is a normal part of living or traveling abroad. Time abroad allows for opportunities to observe and reflect on different ways of doing, thinking, and being in the world. ACCENT is a resource during this process, during pre-departure preparations and abroad. To read more about cultural adjustment, refer to this useful link: http://www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/.