Culture Shock: Remembering your roots as you plant them in new soil
March 3, 2015
Filed under Exploring Ecuador
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Something that’s been on my mind a lot lately is how the process of cultural immersion affects relationships both in country and across borders. As we discussed in a class aptly entitled “Culture Shock,” my fourteen classmates and I are little flowers. We have all, by choice, pulled up our roots in the United States and come down here to Ecuador.
We, as inherently social human beings, still have access to all the same resources that we did at school in the United States. However, these “nutrients” in our “soils” have now changed, and we have to relearn how to access them. By moving to Quito, by speaking a language that is not my native one, by by navigating and trying to explore this beautiful but slightly dangerous city, I am relearning everything I learn about myself.
I am constantly exhausted. This exhaustion is not just the ache in my legs after the trek home from school, or the fatigue after a week of class from 6 am- 9 pm in the Cloud Forest. I am tired from constantly having to translate every thought going in and out of my head. I am tired from the unpredictably of it all; my host parents could come in and tell me we are going out for an hour, but we probably won’t be back until after dinner. I might come home at 11 after a glass of wine and swing dancing with friends to find eleven adults and three children in my dining room when I just want to go to bed (these have both happened).
When I walk out of my house every morning, I still feel like I do not know if I am going to get robbed or get totally lost. That’s all part of the experience of being here. The uncertainty just comes with having a host family that I love and that cares about me, and it comes with going out and exploring Quito.
However, with exhaustion comes frustration. Sometimes I will be sitting at the dinner table and not understand a single word anyone says to me. Sometimes I log onto Facebook and start crying when I see pictures of home. Sometimes I just want to lie in bed all day (and sometimes I do). This does not mean that I am not having fun or that I am not learning or that I am having the worst semester of my life. None of these things apply to me. I’m just a student in another country. When I’m exhausted and frustrated, I just want the same support I had at home. I want the sense of success that does not come with constantly blundering my Spanish, I want the sense of security that I do not feel when I leave the house, and I want people to support me, like the ones I left across the equator in California and at Whitman and beyond.
For me, part of being abroad and of adapting to living in Ecuador is realizing that I need to let go. I’m not fluent in Spanish, I am a gringa (a white foreign female) in Quito, and my friends and family who are still in the United States are still wonderful kind loving human beings but they are not experiencing the same things. This weekend I finally realized that in order to delicately dance with this inevitable exhaustion and frustration, I need to open my arms to what is here and not hold on so hard to what is at home.
In terms of success, I have plenty of small successes every day. Sometimes when I come home my host mom and I snuggle and talk about the day at school and laugh. The other day my taxi driver understood where I wanted to go on my first try. While I may not feel secure and while my life may still be unpredictable, I am still in control. I have a map and when I go outside, I know where I am walking. My friend Brenna and I have visited a traditional market and the artisan market. Making plans and going places reminds me that I am still in control of my life. Finally, connections. This has been the hardest for me.
At first, even in my homestay, I felt really lonely. Then I felt jealous of everyone back at Whitman. Then I started going out with my friends here and really opening up to my host mom (after she asked me ten times if I was feeling okay). This is the most difficult, walking the balance between reaching out to my loved ones at home and sharing my feelings with the people who are here with me, slowly spreading their roots into the same soil.
It’s a slow process. I’m re-learning how to interact with the world. I’ve figured out that I can have the best day possible and still cry. I’ve discovered that ice cream will always be the answer. There are difficulties that come with studying here, but all the small successes, laughs shared with friends and families, and discoveries in Quito make it worth it.