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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Living in Ecuador: 5 Stages of Culture Shock - Page 3

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”.


3. Adjustment

Each day I take two buses to work. I get off of the first one at the Coca-Cola plant. I always pay very close attention and make sure never to miss my stop because I have no idea where the bus’s final destination is, and I think it might be Quito. My reason for thinking this is that a man hangs off of the side of the bus yelling at people as we go by, “QUITO QUITO QUITO!”, as if they might realize spontaneously that they need to go to Quito. While I wait at the Coca-Cola plant for the second bus, other buses pass by, many with their own men calling out the names of various cities.

Ecuador: 5 Stages of Culture Shock, Guayaquil, Ecuador, living in equador, exchange studentAt the clinic, I've been doing school health checkups.  My job is to give eye exams and physical exams.  The physical involves me asking the kids to take off their shoes to determine who has flat feet.  Then I look in their mouths for cavities and listen with a stethoscope to see if their hearts sound more or less normal.  About a quarter have flat feet and about a third have cavities.  All the hearts I've heard are within the range of normal.  Some are a little bit fast, probably on account of the fear of flat feet and cavities.


Besides work and school, the only place I really need to go is the mall, because that is where I can get cash. They use American dollars here - Ecuador stopped printing its own currency in the 90s – but absolutely no one can break a twenty. And if you were ever wondering what happened to all the Sacagawea dollars the US was minting a few years ago, I now have the answer.

It is strange going every day from one extreme to the other in Ecuadorian society. The homes around the clinic, many of them made out of found objects, make my host family’s home seem palatial by comparison. This moving back and forth reminds me of something my best friend Lili once told me. Lili volunteers with high school students who are involved in gangs. She talks about how these kids survive, moving between worlds, interacting with their families, within the structure of their gangs, in schools, and with social workers. She calls these kids world-straddlers, and I’m starting to understand what she means. Here, I am moving constantly from one world to another within Ecuador, and at the same time, I am carrying around in my mind a world that seems as far from here as anything could possibly be. Even the other Americans I’ve met here are nothing like the people I know at home. I am straddling all kinds of worlds, and with far less fluidity than the kids Lili works with.

(Page 3 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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