Reverse culture shock – Oct. 26, 2011

I left Bogota at 11:18 PM on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011, had a quick layover in New York, and then arrived at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at 10:30 am. From there, it's a 15-minute train ride and a 7-minute walk to my house.

I’ve been home for 6 days now. It was nice to come home and visit with my parents and brother over the weekend. We saw Les Miserables at the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts in D.C. In addition, I am excited to be able to brush my teeth with my Sonic Care toothbrush and to be able to flush toilet paper down the toilet once again.
However, there is a stark contrast between how I viewed home before and how I do now. It is said that the mind once stretched never returns fully to its original dimensions, and I have never been so affected by my experiences abroad as I am now. This is what is known as “reverse culture shock.”
I used to shrug this off because – let’s face it – I’ve been living in the U.S. nearly my entire life. This is my home. Yet, having traveled I feel that I demand more from this environment than before. Suddenly, my expectations in the U.S. are no longer met.
Here’s an example, on Saturday morning, my parents and I went out to an IHOP for breakfast. I ordered what I always used to order when I went to IHOP, corn beef hash, eggs and a tall, cold glass of orange juice. I expected to be excited about eating what I had considered in my mind to be a “proper” American breakfast. Yet when I tried the food, it tasted bland and it was very unappetizing. I wonder why I felt this way. I think it’s because I had become accustomed to eating fresh food in Colombia. For breakfast, I’d eat steak and eggs with rice and I’d wash it down with a cool, refreshing glass of either fresh-squeezed lemonade or maracuya (passionfruit) juice. And no longer can I eat meals for $2 or $2.50. I have to either cook myself or spend a small fortune eating out.
The other thing that really disappoints me in the U.S. is the style of salsa danced here. I went to a salsa club on Monday for my birthday to see how compatible salsa caleña is with the local style. I learned that no one can dance like I do here. The Colombian steps I use are too fast and confusing to the gringas, and they all expect to dance in a very regimented, slow form of salsa. Even the music was slow!
Most women were confused at how I danced, but there were also a few who were interested. I even had the opportunity to teach one girl a few of the Colombian steps. I figure that it’ll take some time, but salsa caleña will gain popularity in the DC metro salsa scene. I will teach them one gringa at a time. Honestly, if more Americans saw how they dance salsa in Cali, they would be converted in an instant, just as I was.
When coming back from an extended period of time spent abroad, it’s perfectly normal to feel as I do now about the home country.  As time moves on and I settle back into a normal routine, I’ll get better.  I have changed and it’s for the best.  After all, when is life experience ever a bad thing?
I miss Colombia dearly, but my life is in America. I am determined to make the most of it. I’ve always been able to find happiness where ever I am and there’s no reason why I can’t do that here at home. I figure that as long as I’m not stagnant, I’ll be fine. I’ve got plans to find a new job, keep my skills sharp, reconnect with people back home and stay active in general. Slowly but surely, life will return to normal for me. It just takes a little readjustment and adaptation on my part. I’ve done this before and I’ll do it again.  Viva America!
***(But I will still refuse to drink coffee unless it has panela (sugarcane) in it!  You just cannot find that in the USA, and it’s a shame because coffee with panela is a god-send!)

Done!- Oct. 20, 2011

View South America: May to Oct 2011 in a larger map
This is it- my last day in Colombia, which brings  nearly 6 months of traveling in South America to an end!  I have been to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.
Each country was unique in its own way.  The most exceptional experiences included:

  • Exploring the Easter Island and seeing the ancient Rapa Nui statues on horseback
  • Backpacking on the W-trek to the Torres del Paine in the Chilean Patagonia
  • Hiking in Los Glaciares National Park in the Argentinian Patagonia
  • Walking right up to the Perrito Moreno glacier and watching chunks of ice fell off and crashed into the water below
  • Visiting Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro
  • Swimming with sea lions and observing the lack of fear towards humans that the animals displayed on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Spending a month in Cali, Colombia, taking salsa lessons and attending Festival Mundial de Salsa Cali 2011, Cali’s world salsa festival

Along the way, I met many strangers who became dear friends.  I improved my Spanish language skills, spent hours blogging on my experiences, read more than a few books on my Kindle and learned about the different cultures that I have encountered in each country.
Everything I have learned and experienced during my travels will benefit me for the rest of my life.  Not only will I cherish the memories, but also the personal understanding of S. American culture and the acquisition of Spanish language skills will serve me well on a more practical level, especially as the demographics of the United States becomes more Hispanic and as globalization links people from other nations closer together.

Got my one-way ticket!

Back in December, I bought a one-way ticket to Santiago, Chile.  There’s nothing like that moment of truth when you’re one mouse-click away from purchasing that international flight. You think to yourself, “Maybe I should reconsider…”
But then you realize you have already done that dozens of times before. You’ve laid awake at night thinking about it. You’ve weighed the pros and cons over and over again to the point of madness. You dwell on it constantly throughout the day, consumed by the idea. Your mind’s a whirl with countless possibilities. It’s your imagination on steroids.
You buy the ticket. It was the only way to put an end to the restlessness. At this point, you’re committed and there’s no turning back.