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Intercultural Challenges
More intercultural challenges
Università di Bologna Alma Mater Studiorum
44.496232, 11.354157
Topic Cross cultural difficulties

In the beginning of my stay in Italy for my erasmus I didn't have so much difficult situations in everyday life. The local people were really helpful and nice, especially in Rimini. Everyone was quite easily approachable and you felt like you could ask help from anyone, and most of the time people helped you with pleasure. But although people are kind, it really helps if you know about the culture and the way of life and timetable of Italians.

In Rimini for example most of the shops weren’t open during lunch time and then they re-opened later in the afternoon. So before you know this you might be surprised that the shops were closed from 1pm to 3 or 4pm. Also greeting people in the shops, the building where you live, work and school, is important, otherwise you might come across to them as a rude person. Italians are also really passionate about their food so for example if you’re eating in a restaurant and you eat really slowly or leave some food on the plate you might end up offending the cook and they might think that you didn’t like the food. It is also really rude in Italy not to go to have dinner in someone’s home if they invite you. It is also rude to visit someone’s home and refuse eating if they offer food to you. Italians also consider it rude if they offer their help to you and you don’t take upon their offer. These are just some examples of everyday life situations that non-Italians should know. But of course if you don’t know everything at first it’s not the end of the world and you shouldn’t end up doing a lot of harm with the locals.

Difficult situations during exchange

 During my exchange period in Rimini, Italy, I encountered one really challenging situation. This situation was about my housing situation, the apartment I had agreed to rent over the internet wasn’t exactly suitable for living. The situation began when I arrived to the apartment on Thursday evening on 9th of February really late and I didn’t have time to look around the apartment really well since it was late and I was tired. Then the next morning I had to go to sign the contract for renting the apartment, so I still didn’t notice the unsuitable living conditions in the apartment. During the weekend I noticed that the house was full of mold. I’m allergic to it, and anyway living in a house with mold isn’t healthy and so that condition wasn’t suitable for living. Next Monday I sent a thorough email to the person who I had been contacting from the company explaining that I have to leave the house as soon as possible due to my allergies to the mold, and that I would want to cancel the other contract, since I had one for February and another from 1.3.2017 to 31.7.2017. But their answer to me was that I should just clean the mold with specific cleaning product and ventilate the apartment and the problem would go away itself. But to me this wasn’t the right solution, and I was outraged that they demanded me to do the cleaning for the mold and didn’t send a professional to do it.

I tried to reason with these people, explaining them about my allergic condition. And since I let them know really early that I want to leave before first of March, they had three weeks to find a new tenant, since I paid for the whole February. The situation turned out to be more difficult, because these people didn’t want to let me go and they said that the upcoming contract had to be respected. Then I decided to ask people for help. I went to the university and asked the international coordinator for help and she explained to me what I should do and she wrote a letter for me to end the contract, which I sent to one of the partial owners of the company. I also asked help from the Erasmus organization in Rimini, and one boy from the organization helped me also.

The situation turned quite heated when I went to the company’s office to return the keys on the last week of February with the boy from the Erasmus organization. They had received the letter that the university’s international coordinator had written, and they found it really disrespectful and out of line.

When we went to the office, first we were talking with one of the workers I had been emailing about the problem and he was trying to plead to the contract that I can’t go away from the apartment. We had found some loopholes from the contract that could help to cancel it. For example that the day it was signed was marked to be 1.3.2016, so in the eyes of law the contract wasn't valid or had any credibility. So we asked the worker if they had registered the contract already, and he told us they didn’t. Then we said about the faulty date and that for them it would be easiest just to let me go, since they don’t have validity on the contract and that I don’t desire to ask any money back for what I paid for February.

So in the end we agreed that I’d go away from the apartment without any problems and that they cancel the faulty contract. But what made the situation heated was that the partial owner of the company wanted to talk to the Erasmus organization boy alone, and he was shouting at him really angrily about the letter I had sent to him. The owner was convinced that the boy from the organization had written it and he told him that it was really rude. The Erasmus boy said that he didn’t write the letter but he also didn’t tell who had written it, since the owner said that he wants to sue the person who had written it. I had read the letter myself as well, but it was really formal Italian, and I didn’t find it offensive, because my Italian isn’t perfect yet. And I trusted the international coordinator of course, that she would write a good letter. Well in the end the Erasmus boy convinced the owner that he would have a talk with the person who wrote the letter and would give them a warning if he would find out who wrote it, and the owner was somewhat satisfied with that solution. Then I gave them the keys back and I finally could put the whole mess with the apartment behind me.

I think we could’ve avoided many conflicts if already in the beginning these people from the company would’ve just listened to my side and my worries about the apartment and wouldn’t have make it so hard for me to leave. Since after it became really hard to reason with them I felt obliged to ask help from other people in order to solve it. I also didn’t know how are the tenants’ rights in Italy and if I would just leave the apartment, could these people make some problems for me later on. Then of course we found the loopholes from the contract with the Erasmus organization boy, which made my case more easier. That also kind of proved that this company wasn’t being really professional, like when they told me to clean the mold myself. And I’m really happy that so many people turned out to be really helpful and that with them I could solve my problem.
I later on heard that in Italy and especially in this region many landlords try to rip people off and that they aren’t being really honest. So I’m happy I encountered people I could trust and who could help me with these difficult landlords.

 I think that this experience was really growing and good even though it was unpleasant at the time it was happening. It was also really stressful, since I was in foreign country and I didn't know the customs and rights of a tenant in this country. I still learned many useful skills about cross cultural communication. I could ask help from other locals when some of them were giving me trouble. The most important thing I learned through this experience though, is that you should always be really careful about any contracts you would sign and also ask for all the receipts for any payments you make. I was trusting this company so blinded that I wasn’t thinking anything before I signed the contract. And if the signature date would’ve been right in the contract I think this company would’ve made it harder or impossible for me to cancel the other contract and leave the apartment.

 In my opinion it is really important to be openminded and ask for help if you’re not sure what you should do, especially when you’re in a foreign country. If others offer their help to you, you should take upon their offer even though you might feel that you’re bothering people with your problems. It’s the best way to solve troubles with someone who knows the customs, when you’re still learning the right way to operate and you’re new to the culture. This experience also kind of reminded me once again that especially when you’re abroad you really need to be careful who you can trust and consider that with care.

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