Culture Shock (*now with more linky love!)

I’m a veteran of transcultural living; perhaps at some level I thought culture shock didn’t apply to me anymore. I certainly thought that Colombia, being Latin America and sharing a border with Peru, would feel like home. But I’ve been overwhelmed with longing for Albania… the last thing I expected to feel upon coming here.

I had felt so ready to leave. I felt “done.” I knew I would miss Dhurata, but that didn’t feel like enough of a reason to stay on another year, so very far from my family of origin. I so looked forward to the familiarity of Latin American culture and the sounds of Spanish.

Today as I walked to lunch with  Gimli I looked up and saw laundry hanging from a balcony high over the city streets and I smiled, because it reminded me of Tirana. When we got back to the office I googled “culture shock.” My body has been registering strong symptoms of anxiety – difficulty sleeping, a tingling feeling in my face, headaches – and I’ve been persistently haunted by thoughts of how much better life was in Albania… more and more easily accessible fresh produce; a better apartment; a close relationship with a dear friend who also watched my children and helped me clean the house.

In the past, when I’ve shepherded university students through cross-cultural adjustment, I’ve given them lists of things to do to ease through culture shock: get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Pay attention to the things you like and appreciate about your new context. Find ways to do the things you enjoyed doing at home. Care for your mental and emotional health, whatever that means for you.

So I’ve been trying to list the things I like about Bogota. The fact is, I feel much happier about living in Colombia whenever I have a chance to get out of the city… But there are things I do like. I like being fluent in the language. I like the bakery next to our office. I love the foods I can get here that I couldn’t in Albania, or very expensively in the US – papaya, mango, pineapples, avocados. I love the “typical” regional foods – a wonderful soup called “ajiaco” with chicken, potatoes, corn, flavored with capers and cream; fried plantains; fresh-squeezed guava juice. I like the public transport system – amazingly sophisticated and efficient compared to what I’m used to in other parts of Latin America.

I’m thankful it’s been so sunny since we’ve been here! Our previous impression of Bogota was constant clouds, cold, and drizzle, but the weather has been wonderful (climate change? Or just seasonal variation we weren’t exposed to before?).

I also love that the work we are doing is something I feel like I can really get behind, whole-heartedly. More on that in a future post, perhaps.

In terms of self-care, I know I need to take this down-time to pay attention to my emotional journey. I’m going to pick up again with the coaching I’ve been doing with my SIL, and I want (need) to resume blogging (and commenting on personal blogs) and personal writing. I need to figure out how to get more and better sleep. Yesterday when Gimli and I came to the office, there was nobody else here… so I lay down in the guest room we have for out-of-town volunteers to use when they’re in the city… and slept for six hours. Worker renewal.

I’ve enrolled both kids in a preschool just around the corner from our house. They start February 1. I’m terrified. More on that in a future post, to be sure.

And I’ll be doing a “What It’s Like Here” post a la Bloodsigns soon… I need to take more photos around the city… although I still feel a little wary of hauling out my camera on random city streets… but something will go up soon.

Last but not least, a grateful thanks to my top four commenters of 2012 (the fifth was myself!):

Jjiraffe – Faces of ALI, fashionista, mother of twins, and my first URL -> IRL friend (along with Esperanza) 🙂

Rachel – Raspberry Chip, baker, seamstress, faithful friend

St. Elsewhere – Intrepid woman, word artist

Tara – I miss you.


5 Responses to “Culture Shock (*now with more linky love!)”

  1. tara Says:

    Maybe it’s more intense this time because of the odd layover in your old haunts for a while…
    Miss you too. Glad you got a nice long rest. Hope it continues.

  2. Esperanza Says:

    I can’t imagine trying to settle down into a whole new life like that. I would be terrified.

    But I think your list of what you like is a great start. And now if you can get some of that self-care going…I know it’s usually the last thing on any mother’s list.

    I can’t wait to see your What It’s Like Here!

    Abiding with you.

  3. jjiraffe Says:

    Cultural shock is a bear! I’m so sorry you’ve been suffering from it.

    I can imagine it’s much harder when you have kids, but is there an ex-pat community you can tap into? That’s what saved me in London (and made living there so fun)…

    I’m glad you’re back blogging: I got so excited to see your post in my email 🙂 Looking forward to your “Life From Here” post!

  4. Rachel Says:

    Here I have been feeling sorry for myself for moving 15-20 minutes from everything I know, thanks for the perspective. I bet your kids are going to love preschool! Get some sleep, it sounds like you need it.

  5. Mud Hut Mama Says:

    I feel for you. It sounds like you have been going non-stop since you arrived so I can’t imagine how you are able to take your own advice of taking care of yourself. I hope life has settled down and you can start getting enough sleep soon.

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