Back in the good ole days of school year 2010-2011, my teaching life felt stuck in a rut and my mental and physical health were in questionable shape. I’d seen the inside of the Urgent Care clinic one too many times and been able to tell the doctor that “I’ve got strep throat. I bet you my copay I do.” Doctor, an hour or so later, “Dang you are good. Yup, strep throat.” For the second time in 6 months.
Now, let’s get this straight, I am starting to believe that choosing teaching as a profession, presupposes that you are, most likely a little off in the ole’ mental health department.
Fast forward to October 2011. Me, two huge Maine Coon cats in an apartment in the hot hot wilds of Costa Rica. Watching daytime television and eating too much. My job was to begin in January 2012 but I thought it prudent to come early to acclimate. Acclimate turned into going away to Haiti for about 3 weeks in November (Right because THAT would really be relaxing!) to visit my partner , eating too much, learning virtually no Spanish, sleeping in, scootering around, getting caught in rain storms and making no friends.
This isn’t an oh pity me post. Hell, I dunno what kind of post it is. Cathartic, pleasedon’ttellmei’mcrazythissinormaliwentthroughittoo? Reflections on culture shock, like a good practicing teacher?
Now that I’m in the thick of things, somehow the culture shock deepened and festered. I always tried to have reports of wonderful awesome I-live-in-an-exotic-land reports to friends and family. And they weren’t exactly lies but they aren’t exactly truth either.
The truth is, this is really fucking hard. I’d heard that culture shock goes in waves but for me it just has gone in a downhill slide. The missing things hasn’t subsided, the misunderstanding of cultural nuances persists, the grasping for something familiar persists and depression and anger have grown. Describing life here is very hard because it isn’t all bad, but dang is it ever different. It is this reconciling and acceptance of the difference that I’m wrestling with very heartily.
How do I describe life here? It is so 360 that I barely can get my head around it, so trying to explain it to a friend at home is like pushing a watermelon through a pin hole. Painful. And frankly I don’t want to burden people with my oh woe is me-ness brought on mostly by myself. I’ve found myself getting really angry with people who just suggest I go buy ______________ at the _____________. “Can’t you just get it shipped to you?” No, in fact, I can’t. No, I can’t go to the local Target and reach onto the shelf, pay $2.99 and be on my way. No, no, and no again.
Yes it is an attitude thing; it is a shift in perspective thing. It is a remember the little things and give thanks thing. But culture shock depression and depression in general do not follow general just change your attitude guidelines. It is like telling a student who literally cannot control his/her impulses to just focus more. It is insulting. This isn’t covered in the culture shock literature. Depressive rage isn’t exactly a selling point for adventuring around the world. And I’ve lived abroad before–Japan and Scotland.
Uprooting one’s career and life is no small act. In fact, I think it proves I’m truly bat shit cray cray. But in my hitting rockbottomcultureshockcannothandleanythingelse ness, the only way to go is up. I’ve decided that being all stoic and proud is for the birds. I tend to do that as protection and hold it all in. Now I’m dealing with colitis and gastritis so it didn’t exactly work out quite right. I’ve gotten braver and have gone to other coworkers who have been here a while. They confirm I am, not, in fact, bat shit cray cray, but that they went through this stuff, too.
I don’t know why it seems to take me hitting the ultimate bottom to remind myself that in life, I truly believe we all crave some basic things. Connection and being heard.
Culture shock: level up.