31 May 2008

Culture Shock

Day 1 in Chile is coming to an end, and I'm almost at a loss for words.  I am a giant emotional jumble.  Up down up down up down.  Currently, I'm doing well but still a little freaked out.  Here are some (simple) observations from today:

1. Sleeping on a place is almost impossible without chemical assistance.  I repeatedly woke up uncomfortable, even through my Ambien haze.  I felt pretty awake during most of the day (partially thanks to café), but I am crashing fast.

2. I should just get used to always being cold.  While it wasn't cold at all outside, the house I'm staying in is FREEZING.  Chileans don't have central heat, just space heaters and wood stoves.  My house has a gorgeous fireplace, and I do enjoy the (slightly) smoky smell.  The temperature here was pretty mild--somewhere is the high 50's/low 60's.  However, I was told that today was slightly warmer than usual.  :(

3. While Chileans are very concerned about conserving energy because it's expensive, they are certainly not concerned with energy efficiency.  A common practice is to crank up the space heater to get a room toasty, and then crack a window when you get too hot.  Also, bathrooms do not have vents, so it's necessary to shower with a window cracked.  This is MISERABLE if it's the winter.  Trust me.

4. NO ONE speaks English AT ALL.  Why this is even remotely surprising is beyond me, and yet I was taken aback that the few people I've met know almost zero English words.  Considering that my Spanish is apparently awful, it's been very very very difficult to communicate with people.  Don't get me wrong--I know enough Spanish to get my point across, but I'm finding it frustrating that I can only understand about 1/3 of what my host family/driver from the airport say to me.  Not only is my vocabulary not up to par, but Chileans speak very rapidly and generally speak softly.  My host family calls this "the Chilean mumble."  And mumbling is the perfect description!  

5. As a blonde, I am definitely an anomaly.  Not that anything major has happened--I just get looked at A LOT.  I should just get out a Sharpie and write "AMERICAN" on my forehead.  But I've been assured by several people that it's no big deal as long as I don't act like a stupid American girl.  :)

6. And here's the biggest shocker of all:  I am scared to death.  I was not prepared for this at all!  I consider myself open minded and fairly observant, so I really didn't think I would be scared of everything...but I am!  I'm terrified of getting hit by a car or bus (which may be a real possibility if I don't look both ways about 20 times before crossing--these drivers are ruthless to pedestrians!), scared that I will never learn the language well enough to feel comfortable in a conversation, worried that my host family thinks I'm an idiot because I don't understand them, decently scared of being mugged, and worried that I will be the most novice Spanish-speaker at the school and therefore make no friends because everyone else is off chatting en español.  

I realize that most of these are first-day culture shock observations, but I needed to write them down...maybe this way they'll fade a bit faster.  I'm really hoping things get better after Monday when I start classes at the Centro.  I guess it's the truth to say that I'm homesick and suffering culture shock.  I'm trying to keep a positive attitude but it's been a difficult day.  Even though it's not even 7 p.m., I'm headed to bed soon and hopefully I'll walk up renewed and refreshed tomorrow!

I love and miss all of you so much!!!!


legaleagle2009 said...

I am glad you got in safely!! And yay for internet!! I laughed at all your observations because they are EXACTLY what I was thinking when I was in Spain...being cold, crazy bathrooms, crazy drivers, etc...good luck hon!!

heather said...

I hope it gets easier sweetie.I was really frustrated with the language barrier in Mexico -- four years of German didn't help me much there -- so I can relate. Take care. Miss you and love you.

Jessica said...

I'm impressed by anyone that does what you're doing. Although it seems scary now, I'm sure you'll cry when you leave b/c you'll have lived through many, many incredible moments that you'll remember forever.

Redhoon said...

After being in France last year (for a much shorter time), I can empathize with a lot of what you said (except the cold thing). It's all really normal and it will get better. I still remember how AWESOME I felt when I successfully bought stamps that could send letters to the US, and I did it all in French (though I'm sure a French teacher would have cringed, but hey, it worked). You just don't get those little victories at home in the same way. Revel in them when they come, and they will come. Hugs!!