“Culture shock” is defined as a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange or foreign social and cultural environment. It generally sets in after the first few weeks of arriving in a new setting. Although culture shock doesn’t happen to everyone, it is considered a normal, predictable reaction. Everything is different, including the language, the customs, the telephone and the transportation. This is actually a great opportunity for learning and acquiring new perspectives.
You may feel sad or lonely. Your sleep may be out of sync and you or your family members may feel angry or irritable. You may begin to develop a sense of insecurity or inadequacy. Much of what you’ve heard or assumed about your new environment may not reflect reality or meet your expectations. These are normal symptoms associated with the huge change in your life, and it is important to realize that these feelings are temporary, even if they last for a few weeks or even months after arrival. Eventually, you will begin to adapt and understand many aspects of the new culture, and develop a sense of balance as you settle into your job and your routines.
Some deal with culture differences quickly and easily, while others need more time. Do not try to do too much all at once. Set your own pace and keep an open mind.
Here are some strategies for combating stress:
-Be patient and go easy on yourself and others.
-Develop a hobby.
-Remember the good things you already have.
-Learn to be constructive. If you encounter an unfavorable situation, avoid it next time.
-Include regular physical activity in your routine. This will help combat sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner. Exercise, swim or take an aerobics class.
-Take time to relax and/or meditate. These activities have proven to be positive for people experiencing stress.
-Allow yourself to feel sad about the things that you have left behind, but maintain contact with your friends and family. This will give you a feeling of belonging and help reduce loneliness.
-Begin to integrate with your new culture. Learn the language. Volunteer in community activities that allow you to practice that language. This will help you feel less stress and more useful at the same time.
-Remember, you are not alone. Each week many new people arrive in Italy and are faced with the same transitional challenges. Pay attention to relationships with your family and with people at work.
-If you feel stressed, look for help. There is always someone or some service available to help you. Lean on them. If you’re having problems, your command and the Fleet and Family Support Center are excellent resources.
Look at this assignment as a rare opportunity. Most people who visit Italy do so in a rush and see the country from the inside of a bus or train. Your experience will offer you a more accurate view of life in Italy, and here you will find friends and experiences that will last a lifetime.
You do not have to become an Italian, nor should you expect your attempts to become Italian to be easy or quick. Italians expect you to be different, and they acknowledge that Americans have their own way of doing things. This is only made possible by mutual respect and understanding.
The Neapolitan Way
Even other Italians recognize that Neapolitans have a character all their own. They seem to talk constantly, using arms and hands to animate conversations and emphasize viewpoints. They press forward during conversations, and their idea of personal space is significantly less than what Americans consider comfortable.
Neapolitans are passionate about everything and everybody. When you first arrive in Naples, you may get the impression that you have walked into the middle of a vast family quarrel, or if the mood is right, a comic opera.
One of the most noticeable cultural differences in Naples is the concept of time. After you are here for a while, you will realize that the Neapolitan pace of life is not as rushed as that of Americans (although driving may be the exception to that rule). Many Neapolitans like to postpone one thing in favor of something they consider more pressing. You may feel the impact of the concept of time when you first call to have a mechanic fix your car or a plumber fix your leaky faucet.
This does not mean the Neapolitans don’t like to work. It is simply that they know that the world is not going to end if your leaky faucet is not fixed today because something more important comes up. That something may be a family obligation. A long history of kingdoms and kings, revolutions, plagues and wars has probably contributed to a lifestyle of patience, good humor and close family ties.
It could be said that while Naples has been occupied by many different empires and countries throughout its history, it has never been conquered. Something of the independent and unique spirit of Naples has endured through the ages to create the city and the people that today share their home with you.’
The Italian language is one of your greatest assets in making this tour fun and rewarding. Without it, you are excluding the best avenues to an exhilarating experience. Nothing flatters people more than the knowledge that a foreigner has made an attempt to learn their language. Once you break down the language barrier, you will find a whole new world opens up, ready for your exploration.
You don’t need to become a seasoned linguist to be understood. No matter how fractured your Italian, the host will be patient and appreciative of your attempts. You will be more successful in any situation – shopping, traveling, meeting neighbors – if you try to speak Italian. Although you will usually find someone who speaks English in the larger city shops, those who insist on always seeking out someone who speaks English not only will irritate and alienate, but will constantly feel insecure and frustrated.
Remember, too, that Italy was once a collection of city states under separate rule, and dialects abound, often sounding very different than the Italian you may learn in class. Although local expressions and pronunciations may be puzzling, Italian is the national language, and if you learn it, you will be understood. Language courses are available to those assigned to Naples, and tuition assistance may be available. Check in with the Navy College Office on arrival, and the staff can help you choose a course to fit your needs. Italian-owned schools of language and private tutors are also available.
A pocket dictionary or phrase book is a valuable tool even before your arrival, and a basic familiarity with words and phrases will make your transition into the local community much easier.