Oh sorry, I think that came out wrong…yep, it definitely came out wrong! Though I’ve been studying Arabic for two years now, Spanish (my second language) squeaks out fairly often in regular conversation. My experience since arriving in Jordan at the end of August has been exhilarating to say the least, but until brainstorming for this very post I did not realized how much I had been affected by culture shock. It has had a subtle, yet penetrating influence on my journey thus far.
You see, a couple years ago I took a break from college and moved to Chile for two years where I became quite accustomed to maneuvering through the often complicated cultural norms that bind people together. My only true hope for navigating the wide chasm which separated my culture from Chile’s was Spanish, and so by necessity I learned it. In addition to the language I also had to learn to make do with the insane bus drivers, the abundance of stray dogs, and the empanadas (okay, that part was easy). Though I faced culture shock there, I dealt with it the way that I presume all do; with peanut butter, maple syrup, and time.
Fast forward four years. I am now married and have a little two-year old boy and I have dragged them both to the other side of the world for four months just to learn Arabic. “Oh boy,” you think, “this kid took his family to the Middle East! Is he crazy?” Yes. Nonetheless, I figured that I had experience traveling the world and acclimatizing to different cultures and languages. I would surely know how to handle myself and take care of my family; culture shock won’t get me; I have already gone through that once. It shouldn’t happen again right? No. Wrong. It has happened again and it has taken me until now to recognize it. The way my brain has subconsciously dealt with it this time is by going back to my safest home-away-from-home to seek refuge: Chile.
Just as my brain reverts back to my only other non-native language (Spanish) for support, it also reverts back to my only other non-native home (Chile) for support. I compare everything here to Chile. I look at the chaotic traffic and say, “that’s how they drive in Chile.” I look at the cereal and say, “they have that cereal in Chile.” I look at the people and say, “that’s what Chileans used to do.” In my frenzied attempt to adapt to the new surroundings I found shelter in my only other meaningful international experience and convinced myself that it was all the same. Needless to say, the cultural chasm we face here is much wider than the one I faced in that narrow stretch of land on the Western shore of South America. Not only is the language infinitely more complex, but the tightly-woven cultural, historical, political, and religious overtones saturate daily life in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I am thrilled to be here for another couple months. As my Arabic improves, I am able to delve deeper into the lives and experiences of the people I meet, which gives such a rich meaning to everything we experience here. That makes this “culture shock” thing totally worth it.
Well, that’s all for now, ¡Nos vemo…oops, I mean bashufku in sha’ allah!
!بشوفكوا إن شاء الله