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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Living in Ecuador: 5 Stages of Culture Shock - Page 4

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”.

4. Mental Isolation

I am eating high protein. I am also eating high fat, high cholesterol, high starch and high sugar. Basically, I am eating a lot. I eat fried eggs in the morning, fried chicken in the afternoon, and fried plantains in the night. As you might imagine, I am getting gordita. In fact, my salsa dancing hermano told me recently that he likes me because I am carnosa y jugosa, meaty and juicy. Speaking of juice, I also drink what my host mother calls “juice” at every meal, and by that she means a blended creation typically consisting primarily of sugar, with some water and fruit thrown in as an after thought. Today Josefina, who helps my host mother in the kitchen, asked me if I wanted this certain kind of juice that she said the last American girl really liked. She brought me a glass filled with a cloudy mixture.

“This is American. You’ll like it,” she said.

“What kind of juice is it?” I asked.

“It’s kwa-care juice,” Josefina told me. “It’s American, kwa-care. You know it.”

“No, I don’t think I have ever heard of this kwa-care,” I told her.

“Oh, yes you have. The last American girl loved it. She had kwa-care every morning for breakfast.”

“Is it a fruit?” I asked.

“No. It comes in a container. Here, I’ll show you.” She went to the kitchen, leaving me with the juice, which I tasted. It had a reminiscent flavor, one I couldn’t quite place. Moments later, Josefina returned with a carton of Quaker oatmeal.

“You see? Kwa-care. You know it!” She smiled down at me condescendingly, nodding to indicate that she had been right all along.

“Thank you,” I said. I didn’t have the energy to explain to her that no American has ever made juice out of Quaker oatmeal. Actually, though, it’s the best juice I’ve had here so far.

I’ve started to feel a little homesick, which unfortunately fuels my barely controlled hypochondria.   It only makes matters worst that I’m in a health clinic seeing sick people every day. Everything anyone has, I instantly get. Pete and Repeat took the opportunity to tell me about the worst kind of parasite they know of. This parasite gradually works its way into the fatty tissue of your brain, where it burrows in and then calcifies. It’s been a rough week. Including the freaky brain parasite, I’ve contracted three parasite infections, as well as typhoid and dengue fever. I am also pregnant.


I went to bed early last night to try to sleep off some of my various ills. This morning I woke up to not one, but two love letters that had been passed under my door while I slept. One was a lengthy meditation, culminating with, “I think that for now I will not say or write any more. I only hope that you follow the dictates of your own heart, wherever they may take you. I wish you all the best in this life.” The other was two lines long. “I want you. Come find me upstairs.” After reading them, I put both of the letters back down on the floor, and pretended not to have seen either one. I ate my breakfast and headed off to the clinic.

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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