Despite the title of this blog, I am thankful for and LOVING everyday here in Valparaiso! Waking up to my host dad having toast, cheese and coffee all set out for me (breakfast of champions, right?), rounding the corner of my barrio and seeing the sparkling Pacific and the faint shape of Battleship game pieces floating on the horizon. And everyday I get to study Spanish, history, culture, and community development all together, the perfect combo of everything I love learning about! Not to mention, most days I get to end my day with a scenic run on the pier and sometimes a helado on the beach with friends. In those moments, I have found myself asking, “Is this real life?” But the answer…
While these picturesque, vacation-like images I have described to you are one of the reasons most students desire go abroad (myself included), they come with a cost, a cultural shock that follows.
It begins a week or two into your trip abroad, about the time when you start to see underneath the empanadas and sunny beaches of the country , witnessing also the effects of its history, its social problems, completely unknown by average tourist. Cultural shock affects everyone differently, but it’s felt when you realize the world in which you now find yourself is drastically different from your own, or that it doesn’t match how you originally pictured it. Here are some of culture shocks (big and small) I’ve felt over the past week…
1.) Grocery stores here are not like…(insert name of a specialty U.S. grocery store here). This is actually a sort of big one for me. I am a bit of a health nut and enjoy my greek yogurt, whole wheat pretzels and kale salads (not all together though). Those luxuries are simply hard to come by here in Valparaiso (trust me, I spend 30 minutes combing the local supermarket for them today.) Despite this, you’re never far too far from “home town” favorites (there is a Starbucks ,McDonald’s and Ruby Tuesday’s a block away.) Oh, globalization.
2.) A group of 25 Spanish- speaking gringo kids draws attention on the streets. Our group’s blonde hair and North Face backpacks are not daily occurrences in Chile. We are in a place where we no longer “blend in” to say the least.
3.) Tear gas spreads fast and education is not a cheap. Last Thursday we witnessed a smaller sized, student protest from a window in our program’s headquarters. Education, especially at the university level, is extremely expensive in Chile and many middle class families cannot afford it. While for the most part we watched the protest at a distance, the tear gas sprayed by the police wafted through the window causing wide spread coughing fits and headaches, though store owners and small children below got the worst of it. Social and political unrest are not isolated occurrences.
Yet the postitive from this ongoing process of adapting, and change, and cultural shock is that each day, my eyes, mind, and heart are opened a little wider. Not to mention I’m not in this alone. My comfort has been in this:
“This is my command-be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Amor y Paz,
“Chileanismo” of the week: Buena Onda: /cool, good vibe/