I haven’t put up a picture in a while, so here’s one I took yesterday from a café that overlooks these two lovely lakes where I go running.
Well as of tomorrow, I will have been in Mexico for a grand total of 4 weeks. In some ways, the time has flown by, and in other ways, it feels like I’ve lived here forever. There’s your token cliché about traveling. Now I enclose my deeper thoughts and findings about living in a foreign country.
Being that this is the first time I have traveled abroad for more than 8 days, I have noticed that there is a shift that happens when you stop feeling like a tourist. This is what I would call culture shock. People describe culture shock as when you realize you’re eating live bugs or eating lunch at 4 pm or people don’t hassle you to pay for your food the second you put your fork down (And also I’m sure there are some aspects of culture shock that don’t have to do with food, but really who cares about those… ok, no wait, there is one… in Mexico toilet paper goes in the garbage, not the toilet. You’d be surprised how hard that habit is to break). But really, I think culture shock is realizing that these experiences are in some sense yours (mine); you’re not just on the outside looking in anymore, you’re on the inside looking in. And that’s a strange experience. In what other situations are we on the inside looking in? It’s kind of out-of-body, which for me, is anxiety provoking, but also super productive and growth-causing.
For the first 3 weeks, I really felt like a tourist. I think that’s why everything seemed to be pretty simple. Sure there were cultural differences and new ways of life, but I didn’t really let myself understand that I would really have to adjust to them, or more, appropriate them. Anyone can deal with cultural jet lag for a little bit, but you never really have to flip over into long-term adjustment. Then, once you realize that you are going to have to adjust, it becomes a question of how.
Do you adjust to eating bugs by saying, “Well hey, I’m gonna eat mad bugs now” or do you adjust by saying “Well I’m going to accept that other people like to eat bugs, but really I just don’t like the taste even though I tried” or do you say “That’s a part of their culture” ? How does one decide which things to make ours and which to designate as theirs?
Last year, someone taught me the word liminal, which at first I thought was stupid and academic (along with normative and hegemonic and other things that I pretend to know what they are), but then I realized that it applies for a lot of situations. It means an in-between undefined space. While you are abroad, you have a liminial culture … something that’s in a fuzzy spot between your home culture and your new culture. In some respects, it’s like going to a museum where you can enter into some of the exhibits, but not others, or going to a zoo where you can pet some animals, but not others, and some you just choose not to pet altogether.
So far, the most interesting street I have come across in Xalapa is one called Xalapeños ilustres, which roughly translates to ‘distinguished people from Xalapa’. On this street there are:
1 cake store
1 yarn store
1 condonería (condom store)
some other stores which I probably would know about if I hadn’t been too lazy to walk the other direction.
Also today I watched the entirety of The Muppets in Spanish and if you were wondering the rough translation for “manamana doo doo doo doo doo” is “manamana doo doo doo doo doo” .
I went to Veracruz (the port city) yesterday, and feel that there are a few myths about this city that need to be debunked. United Statesians tend to think that Veracruz is a drug war zone. I’m sure there are some drugs there. But also there is:
1. Sam’s club
2. A mercedes benz dealership
3. a toyota dealership
4. a lot of fancy hotels
5. the italian coffee company (the starbucks of mexico)
6. just about every other chain you could think of
7. home depot
I went to a party where I talked with people who had heard that Philadelphia was a really really dangerous city and that they were better off going to Boston. Then I sang Adele Karaoke. You make the judgment. Also, here’s a good article that someone shared with me:
The last couple days have been chaos. I mean absolute chaos of not exactly knowing where you are both literally and figuratively, and by you I mean me. I definitely had a few meltdowns, but I have been told that is a normal part of studying abroad. It made me realize, that thus far, I have been super lucky not to have had many troubles, and relatively speaking, I still don’t have that many. I have moved in with a wonderful wonderful wonderful family, where the daughter snuck chocolate onto the shopping list and she would have gotten away with it, save for a few backwards letters. This was when I knew I would fit in perfectly.
School doesn’t start till Monday (and even then it’s only classes at the school for foreign students), but I have gone to visit the humanities campus. This school has 66,000 some odd students. We’re not in the small liberal arts world anymore ladies and gentlemens. I walked by the art and music department today, and well, let’s just say hipsters are everywhere (did I mention the time when I saw a billboard advertising a hybrid of hipster and vaquero (cowboy) into a ‘hipstero’? I think I have my next Halloween costume).
My nerves are still on edge, but much less so than they were 24 hours ago. Thanks to everyone who helped me through that panic. There is luz at the end of the túnel. 🙂
Today I got a cell phone in Mexico. It has 15 buttons: 10 being the numbers, one being *, another #, one button for on and call and one button for end and off. It has no internet. It has no camera. But still, this phone is smarter than I am. It took me so long to figure out how to use a cell phone in Spanish that I almost gave up and switched it to English, but I am here for an authentic immersion experience, so I decided to leave it in Spanish, so if I accidentally call you asking for enchiladas, it’s not my fault. Also, this phone has a linterna (flashlight), which is actually incredibly useful once someone showed me how to turn it on. Sure babies these days can work iPhones before they walk, but hey, there’s a learning curve for everything.
So I could continue writing about only things that are hunky dory and wonderful, skipping over every moment of woe and culture shock that I experience to lure all of you into thinking that this is straight up paradise. My goal here is neither to worry people nor give an idealized interpretation of my experience, but rather to give y’all a comprehensive understanding of what this experience is really like and not a string of positive experiences with the negative ones conveniently omitted.
Today was a chaotic day because of last minute arrangements and changes with host families. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but it’s safe to say that there have been some minor complications, and I may end up having to switch. I arrived safely in Xalapa after a 5 hour bus ride. The first movie they played was a rom com with Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. I slept peacefully through nearly the whole thing and was wakened by the harsh sounds of the second feature: Colombiana. I still don’t know what this movie is about because I was watching the Spanish version with English subtitles with one of my earbuds in listening to my easy listening iPod station while watching everyone get shot out and bleed to death on TV.
On a brighter note, I had alcoholic coffee today. I wish I could say that I didn’t know that when I ordered it and chalk it up to language barriers, but dude, I fully ordered a booze filled coffee at noon.