Today, the countdown until home is single-digit. Tomorrow, I make my way onto the ten day weather forecast; in case you were wondering about the forecast at hand, I can anticipate highs around 70, with 0% chance of rain and a coastal breeze. Here I am at stage 6, possibly a bit premature, after weeks of cycling through stage 1-2-and-4, and sometimes stage 5 with nightly monsoonal rains and humidity constantly breathing down my neck. As someone who struggled with homesickness (or rather, mom-sickness) when going away as a child, it is beyond me that I have been here for almost seven weeks and have never fallen into the helplessness of homesickness. I am too busy enamored with the world around me. I have only really cried three times: once for lost luggage (with a bunda that allowed stores to be closed and my American money not to be exchanged), a few tears to a miscommunication at home that was more a release of stress surrounding me (the Internet, now that we have some consistency, is both a blessing and a curse), and alas, a few tears to “I just want to go home”–the end is so close you can almost taste it (which, even while I was crying, the people around me stared and invaded my personal space, which has been lost since June 15th). However, after every rain storm (or release of personal tears), rainbows are indefinite, and come with surges of realizing you are in the coolest, most different place you could be. The next day, even though you didn’t go to the German Bakery for breakfast, rainbows shined in the blue sky and the cumulus clouds were smiling, for these tears are momentary and understandable. Walking to the bus park, taking the bus (while sipping on a guava juice box), and walking the rest of the kilometers to University, are part of the coping. It may not feel comfortable, but it is comfortable knowing you are used to it. Then, when you least expect it, your Nepali advisor calls you one of her own students, even though you’ve known her for less than a week. Say hello to stage 5, where it seems as if my presence of being somewhere so different is not only filling my heart, but some of the hearts of the people here.
I am excited about returning home, but definitely anticipating stage 7; I can’t possibly understand how to repeat 7 weeks of academic and cultural intensity to each person who asks. I am also grappling with the fact that it’s not fair to my experience to have a default response, that the inquisitor may or may not understand anyway. I’ve been doing my best to journal, but it still seems as if some of the best details will always fall through the cracks of your mind, doing their best work to your character rather than stored as a smiling memory. Additional anticipation for coming home comes from being gone since January– 8 months on the road and away from my home base of comforts. I am overdue for Mediterranean Climate, Mexican Food, and a large hug from my mom.
Nepal has been a place where everything is new, interesting, and exciting. Since our program spent almost three weeks trekking in the Himalaya, and another few weeks traveling around, the scenery was constantly changing and giving your brain something new to focus on. Little cultural differences, especially life in the villages, were hardly frustrating, minus the default modern conveniences. The biggest irritant I encountered was my role in Nepal as a woman. It was something I anticipated, but could never understand how to deal with. As a student at a women’s college, I am especially emboldened to believe my place in the world as a woman is well-deserved, and well-received. This notion was brought back to reality in instances such as being cut in line, being stared at everywhere, and one of the male Nepali students in particular who expected the girls to feed him answers as he sat back and stirred his tea. This was by far the most frustrating, but somehow seemed to embolden my strength as a woman, in taking to assignments and excelling, as well as taking to public transportation confidently, denying the constant beckoning for a taxi by the men on the streets. This was the widest cultural gap for me to be faced to bridge, but it never hindered my experience. This produced an emotional teetering between stage 2, where magic had diminished to frustration, and stage 4, where I would let this be part of the experience and be thankful for observing these differences firsthand.
There is comfort in waking up to the sounds of singing monks; there is comfort in expecting to get your feet dirty everyday, mud between your toes, as you walk through another dirty street soaked by last night’s monsoonal rains. There is some flattering in the adoration of the children who run up to you, eager to ask where you come from and practice their English. The culture shock is often absorbed by the excitement, and the differences that are experienced daily. This gives us energy, and often times the energy that we need now, or can evolve from later. The fluctuations through this cycle are normal, as I cannot attest to being stable in one of those stages in the US. This is because life is always changing us, especially life so different from our constant ebb and flow of our daily U.S. habits. Those memories that do slip through the cracks, in being here, help to define our character. These, along with the practices of our daily life and norms in our new place, help us develop a new sense of perspective and outlook that is both infinite and ingrained. The stages of culture shock help us progress through, building off our knowledge and experience. Nepal is filling me to the brim with the energy from culture shock.