Certainly, the first stage of entry into a new country (and new culture) is that of excitement. Trinidad and Tobago enveloped me in a variety of scents, the endless music on the streets through all hours of the day and night, and the hustle and bustle of the transportation system. It first dawned on me that I was no longer at home when I waved down my first maxi-taxi, climbed aboard, and perched myself beside a man napping in full Rastafarian gear (robes, headpiece, elaborate hair, and all). What a relief it was to walk off campus and encounter three different roadside street carts with juicy, brightly colored fruits calling your name. It was certainly not America!
The second stage is that of irritation and frustration as the differences sink in. This stage has only occurred to me in relation to food. As someone who is intolerant to gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt grains), it became difficult to find foods that I could eat without feeling ill. Trinidad and Tobago certainly has curried options, as well as callaloo, rice, fresh fruits, and channa. However, a KFC or Church’s Chicken can be found on nearly every corner. Fried foods, bake, doubles, roti, and pastries are a big part of the food culture. In my attempt to enjoy those aspects of culture, I found myself torn and frustrated.
After finding myself sick on multiple occasions, having attempted to try the local cuisine (trust me, it is difficult to turn down fresh fried and seasoned shark on Maracas Beach), the only solution seemed to be to hunt down foods that I could eat. Thus began my food travels, a great saga of cultural cuisine crafting. This story ends joyfully (and with a fully belly) in the heart of Port of Spain at The Panyol Place, a small family-owned Venezuelan restaurant. Venezuelan culture can be found dispersed throughout Trinidad and Tobago, certainly influenced by the vicinity of the large South American country. For this, I am grateful!
For the most part, I could not imagine being homesick while I hiked to the peak of mountains overlooking the rain forest found myself under a natural arch with the beautiful clear blue waters swirling beneath my feet, and stood amidst a group of dancers throwing colored powder into my hair during Phagwa! Still, there have been times when I have become frustrated, strolling back and forth down the market street or through the mall, unable to find something I need. I realize that in the United States, particularly in the area of my home, I am incredibly spoiled by the ease of attaining something. I do not need to search far and wide or call multiple stores to find what I need, because everything is within grasp. Here, and in most other parts of the world, a little more effort is required!
I recently read the following quote:
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
I am lucky to have understood this mindset prior to arriving in Trinidad and Tobago. With a flexibility of mind, it is possible to seamlessly adapt to any cultural differences, however initially frustrating. I feel I have accepted Trinidad and Tobago as the new norm, at least within the context of how I am currently living. I can only imagine how many differences I will notice upon my return to the U.S.A!
*Note: this graph on Culture-Shock shows the stages that many of our study abroad participants experience. It seems like Sana is going through stage 4 (developing strategies to deal with difficulties and differences and adapting to the host culture).