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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Living in Ecuador: 5 Stages of Culture Shock - Page 5

Written by Laurie Pickard
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When I introduce myself as an estudiante de intercambio, recognition floods people’s faces. They nod their heads. Yes, they have met others like me. There is a bin for us in their brains, and they drop me in alongside Dieter from Germany and Akiko from Japan. But the paradox of being a foreign exchange student is that although everyone can connect instantly with what you are, absolutely no one truly understands you. My orientation packet contains a chart showing the stages a foreigner goes through in a new country. After the “initial culture shock”, a “honeymoon period”, and an “adjustment period”, there comes “mental isolation” and the ominous note, “some travelers remain here”.

5. Integration

Feeling a need to get away from Guayaquil, with its fried delights and its persistent men, I took a trip to Montanita, a little surfer town on the international travel circuit where I planned to eat ceviche and work on my tan. As soon as I arrived, though, I felt strange. The town is full of backpackers, hippies and surfers, and for the first time in six weeks, my appearance did not distinguish me from those around me.

 

During my time in Ecuador, I have become so used to feeling out of place that not feeling out of place made me feel out of place. I realized then what a strange kind of freedom it has been to feel equally conspicuous everywhere I go. It’s pointless to try not to stand out anywhere, so I go everywhere with the same expectation of not fitting in. I blend in equally well, which is to say equally poorly, in Luchadores del Norte, in downtown Guayaquil, in the mall, in the club with Neco, everywhere. There is an openness that comes with being an outsider in every situation, and that openness has allowed me to see parts of Guayaquil that even Guayaquilenos don’t necessarily see. In a way my difference is an invitation to those around me to either accept or reject me. More often than not, I have found myself the recipient of the most gracious hospitality, even in unexpected places, like a salsa club in the roughest part of the city.

Ecuador: 5 Stages of Culture Shock, Guayaquil, Ecuador, living in equador, exchange studentWhat’s more, I actually found myself missing Guayaquil, missing the kids I’ve come to know at the clinic, missing Jorge and Neco, missing my Ecuador, which is decidedly not the Ecuador of Montanita. I’ve heard people say that it is leaving home that allows us to truly see what home is, but until now, I hadn’t considered that this piece of traveler wisdom might apply to travel within travel. In the past six weeks, Guayaquil has, after a fashion, become my home. I will be returning to the US soon, and I wonder if it will be possible for me to keep one foot in Ecuador, to retain the perspective I have gained here. Or if not an entire foot, maybe just a toe, enough that I don’t forget that it is sometimes possible to bridge the distance that separates one world from another.

© Laurie Pickard

(Page 5 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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