The Worldwide Classroom website defines culture shock as the “the anxiety that results from losing all familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse.” Common symptoms include bewilderment, loneliness, disproportionate irritation and frustration, insecurity, homesickness, and a desire to spend time with people from home.
I’m definitely in the irritability stage of culture shock. I’m not really upset with anything in particular; I’m just kind of generally grumpy. It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be though. I think a big contributing factor is that I went to France for a month when I was twelve and experienced much worse culture shock, especially concerning food. I felt like I couldn’t eat anything and I had the most extreme cravings for “American” food that I hadn’t eaten in years. In comparison, Ecuadorian food seems pretty normal. I have definitely made weirder things in my dorm room. I’m not put off by cuy. It’s just like eating any other small mammal, such as rabbits and squirrels, which are popular in certain parts of the US.
The first night in Cuenca was the worst night for me. I cried because I was so overwhelmed from meeting so many new people and seeing my new home and realizing that I could barely communicate with my host family. I was so nervous that my stomach hurt. Everyday after that got a little bit better. The things that still freak me out are the cost of taxis, the reckless driving on tiny roads, and the language barrier. For some reason the fact that taxis only cost around two dollars gives me a lot of anxiety, maybe because I’m afraid I’ll get used to it and have a heart attack when I have to fork over fifty dollars for a taxi when I return to the US.
Cecilia and I have near death experiences nearly every time we walk to or from school. People drive so fast and the streets are so small, they don’t even pretend to slow down for pedestrians, and I have not seen a single car seat. Little kids are just sitting or even standing in their parent’s laps in the front seat. In the US they would be arrested for child endangerment but that’s just how it works here. As far as the language barrier goes, it makes me feel very isolated from my family and the rest of the culture. I know I should be practicing more but I’m so tired all the time and speaking Spanish can be really exhausting when you’re not confident in your ability. It doesn’t help that everyone in my house is a college student going through finals so they’re really stressed and don’t really have time to hang out with the “gringa” or even eat meals together. I was here for a week before I met everyone living in the house. They just kept popping up and then on Sunday a new exchange student started her homestay here and all I could think was, “Not another f*cking person!” I wasn’t upset that she’s living here it’s just a lot to take in, especially because I am an only child with divorced parents. Since I was five, I have only had to share a house with one other person and now I’m living with seven other people who I barely know.
There is so much to process but I’m sure I’ll acclimate eventually and then I’ll really begin to enjoy myself. I’m finding things that I love about Ecuador and will sorely miss when I go back home. I’m already making a list of reasons why I’ll have to come back in the future.