The Roller Coaster called Culture Shock

Lauren LaLonde
Major: Political Science and Spanish
CIEE: Cuban Studies-University of Havana, Fall 2018.

Let’s get real about culture shock. It’s inevitable, it happens on every trip, and to everyone. For some reason though, I think it’s easy for me and many others to adopt the mindset of “oh, I’ve traveled a lot so I’ll be fine.  It won’t affect me THAT much.”  Wrong. It will.  It just might take a bit longer than it does for most people. Which is almost worse, since you don’t really see it coming.

The best way I can describe culture shock for me is like a rollercoaster (please keep in mind that this analogy works best if you actually LIKE rollercoasters).  Before you study abroad is like when you are waiting in line for the ride.  There is so much anticipation and excitement, and you just can’t wait to get on. Then once the ride begins, you’re having so much fun, and screaming with all your friends, and everything is great!  But then, you get to the hilly part of the rollercoaster (usually in the middle) where there are huge ups and downs that make your stomach feel as if it has relocated to your chest.  The going up part is great!  You usually get a great view of the park and feel as if you are on top of the world. But what goes up, must come down. And that is kind of what culture shock is like for me.  I always start off REALLY high on the rollercoaster, but now I am reaching the part where I experience all the ups…and downs.

LL Cuba 2.jpg
Image: Graffiti on a wall in Cuba.

Today was a low.  A real big drop on the rollercoaster.  It began with a night of little to no sleep (not by choice), and receiving a bad grade on an in-class evaluation because I misheard the question.  Yeah, that one was frustrating.  I played with my friend what I like to call the “I’m tired” game.  All of a sudden, I was “tired” of everything.  “I’m tired of the heat.  I’m tired of rice and plantains. I’m tired of being confused in my classes and having to ask for clarification every day.  I’m tired of catcalls. I’m tired of sweating when I’m not even moving. I’m tired of someone trying to rip me off all the time.  I’m tired of having lizards in my room and climbing up my legs. I’m tired of being sick all the time. I’m tired of no internet.  I’m tired of having one stupid mosquito that I can’t catch in my room.  I’m tired of SPANISH!” Now, looking back on a lot of the things I said, I sound RIDICULOUS.  I’m complaining about things that normally don’t bother me at all, and probably won’t bother me tomorrow.  But today, for some reason, ALL of it bothered me.

And that, is how culture shock works for me.  I go from loving everything about a place, to having days where things aren’t quite so…captivating. My first day here, the first three words I wrote in my journal were “I LOVE CUBA!”  And I still do, very much so.  It’s just that some days are high, and some days are low.  But the important thing is, it always goes back up.  Always.  And that isn’t just because all of a sudden the country changes, it’s because YOU change. YOU adapt.  And YOU accept this country, in all its glory, as your new normal.

LL Cuba 1.jpg
Image: Finding serenity in the little things.

I’ve had some of the most memorable times of my life here so far. I’ve been able to discover a country that many North Americans will never get to, I’ve met incredible people, and learned more than I could’ve even hoped for (and it’s only October!). And every once and a while, I have an experience or a day that’s not so incredible.  However, I would also have those days in the United States.  They would just be caused by something like losing my car keys, rather than being soaking wet from a tropical storm because I forgot my umbrella, and having to fight to get a fair taxi fare.

But like a rollercoaster, in the blink of an eye, it’s all over.  So it really is best to enjoy the ride as best you can – even if big drops make you feel like you might puke.   And when it’s all said and done, you’ll probably want to ride again. I know I will.

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