A Communications Major in Italy: The Art of Managing Culture Shock

UConn’s Dayna Hausspiegel tackles the joys and challenges of living in a new culture whilst studying abroad

Dayna Hausspiegel is a Communications major with a minor in Digital Art at the University of Connecticut. She chose to study abroad with Experiential Global Learning  at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy during her spring 2023 semester to “get off the beaten path.” She recently chatted with Umbra staff to share a bit about her experiences with studying in a foreign country and exploring her own experience with a new culture and way of living.

While discussing her coursework, Dayna described her classes as being more niche and creative than she was used to. One course, Intercultural Communication, has had the most impact on her time abroad as it relates to her major. This is because she feels that the material learned hones in on the differences between all cultures, while also emphasizing personal experiences. “It is a material that can be applied anywhere in the world, at any given moment,” she explained. Dayna then enthusiastically shared one of her favorite class assignments to date: an essay on culture shock. In it, she wrote about how her friends abroad in other cities in the UK, Spain and Australia, often don’t have to exercise their knowledge of a new language and haven’t expressed to her that they’ve felt far out of their comfort zone. In her own experience, she described visiting Rome and Florence and feeling as though the locals were used to tourists and used English easily. “Here in Perugia, though, I have had many encounters with non-English speaking individuals that have led to misunderstandings,” said Dayna before elaborating “whether it be ordering a coffee or adapting to the schedule of an aperitivo or having dinner at a later time.”

While Dayna says she initially “walked in blind” to the semester, she soon learned how to get involved and began to reach out more to locals, peers, and staff, and even became an Umbra Rep, a position that allows her to share her experiences and lessons learned by creating media content for prospective and current students. “Culture shock is only negative if you make it so. Shock provides an opportunity to learn, grow, and immerse yourself in something different and new,” Dayna added when providing more details about her experience with the process of culture shock and its trials and tribulations. She described finding some days difficult when it came to adapting to the new culture and miscommunications that go along with adjusting to life in Perugia. Yet, she also described having many great days as she adjusted to new rituals and things like late dinner-times in Italy.

As she concluded her interview with Umbra staff, Dayna emphasized that each experience has helped shape her in recent months, and she also said, “My time here in Italy so far has been nothing but informative and rewarding. I take on the cultural challenges day by day which leaves me feeling more fulfilled compared to if I had studied in an English speaking country.” The struggles she faces are what has made Perugia so memorable to her and helped her learn to leave behind preconceived notions about the culture that she had developed based on the media or her previous comfort zone. When asked if she had any final comment she’d want to share with prospective students considering studying in Italy, she encouraged them to view culture shock as an opportunity to grow and to “be open minded and realize that everyone in your program is in the same boat.”

About Experiential Global Learning – Office of Global Affairs:

Education abroad opportunities at the University of Connecticut are Experiential Global Learning programs, which are integral components of life-transformative undergraduate and graduate curricula. Designed by faculty, practitioners, and community leaders, these programs provide students with collaborative opportunities to learn and practice knowledge and critical understanding, skills, values, and attitudes on intercultural competencies in a global context, whether they are delivered virtually, locally or internationally.

About the ISI Abroad – The Umbra Institute:

The Umbra Institute is an American study abroad program located in the central Italian city of Perugia. Perugia is the ideal setting to study abroad in Italy, with a vast variety of fine arts, psychology, business, and liberal arts courses both at the Umbra Institute and at local Italian Universities, through Umbra’s Direct Enrollment programs. ISI Abroad manages the admissions and pre-departure (visa) support for all Umbra students, ensuring a smooth start to their time in Italy. Get more information about the Umbra Institute or ISI Abroad today.