Connecting to Americans in Italy

By Emma Way

Senior Elm Writer

I went abroad without knowing anyone. Granted there are two other people from Washington College here in Milan, Italy, but I did not know them even in the slightest, which is odd considering WC’s size.

Making friends was one of my secondary concerns of going abroad. I was more concerned with maintaining my friendships back home while being away for so long. I was never worried about meeting people; I actually experienced the complete opposite. I was so ready.

I had heard the stereotype that Americans who go abroad make other American friends. I’ve seen it first hand with so many of my other friends, but I assured myself I’d be different and make so many Italian friends. I’d come back to the US with a contact book jam packed with all my new Italian friends, endless options of people to stay with if I ever wanted to return.

Again, I experienced the complete opposite. I have a large group of good friends here. Eight are Americans, two British, one Australian, and zero are from Italy. Sure I have met plenty of Italians, but the people I’ve really bonded with while abroad have been Americans (and a few other token English speakers.)

We all are having a common experience here, and we can relate to each other. When I need someone to talk to, I want someone that is actually fluent in English and has similar customs. Despite the US being made up of  a myriad of ethnicities, religions, cultures, genders, orientations, and so much more, there is still an American identity and a common culture (more or less) that makes it easier to relate to people that share that identity.

I’m a little embarrassed that I came all the way to Italy to make more friends from America. This was never my intention. It just happened so naturally. I’m also not complaining because the friends I’ve made here are actually awesome.

To my credit, the university I’m studying at, Universita Cattolica, does not make it easy to meet Italian students. They keep international students and Italian students completely separate in every way, from housing to classes to clubs.

Housing in Milan is tricky and expensive, but fortunately the college is partnered with an apartment rental company called MilService which, with a hefty price tag, will pair you with other Cattolica students. I got (coincidentally) paired with seven other Americans in my apartment.

So it’s really not my fault that I happened to get put in an apartment with other Americans that happen to be awesome people and have since become my closest friends while abroad.

Additionally, the College keeps all the classes for international and Italian students completely separate, even by putting us on different campuses. Again, I can successfully shift the blame away from myself for making mostly American friends. Score.

However, at the root of this topic, there’s really only one explanation. That is that I simply feel in my comfort zone around other Americans, so naturally the first friends I make are going to be Americans. I don’t want to remain in this comfort zone, but sometimes it helps when you’re in a foreign country to have someone that can relate to you.

I think it’s natural and completely okay that my friends are mostly Americans, and although I do hope to make more Italian friends, I don’t regret my instinct to latch onto people like me.


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