Friday, March 26, 2010

On culture shock and readjusting

I have been back in the U.S. for just over a week now. My contract with FOR has finished, and I am taking some time to decompress and contemplate my next steps.

Being back is strange, but perhaps not as strange as I might have imagined. Perhaps that's because I arrived from Bogota, a huge metropolis, to East Lansing, Michigan, a quiet Midwest college town. Perhaps it's because I have largely been able to sleep long hours in in the comfort of the same bed I slept in from age 8 to 18. And compared to the severe culture shock I experienced moving from the countryside of Urabá to Bogotá, this adjustment is feeling relatively painless.

That's not to say that I haven't experienced bouts of culture shock. Arriving in the Miami airport last Wednesday, I was saddened by gringos' lack of politeness and friendliness. In Colombia, any interaction with a stranger involves at the very least a "hello, how are you?," be it at a checkout counter or in the airport security line. If someone nearly bumps into you, as happened to me in the Miami airport bathroom, in Colombia each party will always apologize and excuse themselves. Not here, apparently (I did! But she didn't).

I also miss speaking Spanish (I had to stop myself from saying “que pena” to the woman in the airport bathroom), and dancing Salsa. When the other day I complained on my gchat away message about my desire to dance Salsa and my recognition that it was extremely unlikely given the lack of even a Spanish radio station in the Lansing area, a friend emailed me a link to a Salsa club nearby. “I stand corrected!” I thought. But it turns out I was right all along: the place closed over a year ago. Sigh.

There are things to appreciate about being here, obviously, mostly having to do with food (as well as, of course, seeing family and friends). I have eaten sushi (without fake crab meat!), Indian, and Bangladeshi food, goat cheese, bagels. And the beer! It is dark! And flavorful! ¡Qué delicias!

I would love to hear what kinds of experiences others have had when returning to the U.S. (or your home country) after an extending time abroad. How did you deal with the varied emotions? With the fact that non-English words would come out of your month and few would understand? With the difficulty of communicating, even in English, all you learned and how you changed and grew during your time away?


whatisabackpacker said...

hola moira, ive been reading your blog with interest since some of your early days at the peace community. i share your love for human rights, social justice and colombia and was so very close to joining the team in san jose a couple of years ago.
coming back home from such an experience is mind boggling. your mind keeps running, keeps comparing, keeps reminding you of your past experiences.
i think what is the hardest is trying to slide back into society when society seems so distant, so far removed from your own personal experiences.
instead of being demoralised about peoples attitudes i try to turn it around and use it as inspiration. one more person who understands what is happening in colombia is one more voice of power for colombianas.
keep your chin up, your smile on your dial and dont let your passion be suffocated....
would love to chat to you about the upcoming elections amongst other things. hit me back and hopefully we can chat
desde francia

Moira said...

thanks for the wonderful comments, denis! i can't find an email for you, but you can contact me at moira.birss at gmail.