Reverse Culture Shock

Transitioning from a foreign country back to your home country has its pros and cons... At any given moment, you might realize you are experiencing one of the pros (usually accompanied by an emotional high) or one of the cons (accompanied by an emotional low).

I had experienced this reverse culture shock every time I had come home during Christmas and summer vacation, but this time, it has set in more deeply. Why? Well... because I'm not going back to CR at the end of the month. I read several online articles before returning to the U.S. this time, just to get an idea of what I was going to experience. The pros/highs of the articles listed such things as your mom's cooking, re-connecting with family and friends, using the dryer for your jeans, convenience of shopping at WalMarts, and going back to ''normal'' life. The cons/lows listed were (discouragingly) similar: missing foreign foods, re-connecting with family and friends, missing the crisp feeling of your air-dried jeans, missing the convenience of the neighborhood grocery stores, and missing the ''not-normal'' life.

In other words, the pros and cons are just different aspects of the exact same normal life experiences.

The pros have been great: all the hellos to family and friends, buying a car (and feeling like I just bought my independence back!), eating lots of cheese and strawberries :), travelling to several states to spend time with family and friends (Minnesota, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio), and going to WalMart to buy new makeup!
While riding this rollercoaster, I have found that there are several triggers that bring the lows. Various triggers for these high and lows include:

...receiving advertisement e-mails from target.com, youswoop.com, etc., and realizing that I can actually have purchased items shipped to my doorstep. On one hand, I love the convenience, and on the other hand, I realize I can't let the convenience trick me in to buying my every whim.

...noticing that not everyone wants the in-depth version of my last three years. Most just want a 5 second version, and all I can say in 5 seconds is, ''It was exciting and challenging. I learned a lot.'' I have been very encouraged by those who have asked for more details :). Thanks for asking!

...eating too much gourmet cheese one afternoon and thinking I was going to literally die that night as I waited through the stomach pains... ouch. We´ll call this the physical reverse culture shock :).

...eavesdropping on Spanish conversations and praying about how I can continue learning culture and language while being surrounded by English.

...realizing that life has gone on here without me. Not that change isn't good, it just reminds me that life doesn't revolve around me (a good lesson when I think about it).

...While standing in the cheese aisle at WalMart, I am overwhelmed by how many options there are. Or at an international foods store in downtown Detroit, I was overwhelmed by all the available juices. Or at the music festival in Minnesota, I was overwhelmed by the number of concerts I could choose from. Trigger: TOO MANY OPTIONS.

From what I've read and heard, reverse culture shock takes a while to go through. So far, I'm four weeks into the process, and it could be a while until I'm not so overwhelmed at WalMart :).


Next Steps

For what seems like forever now, I have been praying about this ''next step,'' asking for guidance in what God would have me do post-Costa-Rica. God had already answered prayers (multiple interviews, finishing the school year strong, saying good-byes) before I arrived in the States on June 28th, and I continued to be blown away by how God does answer prayer!!

Some seemingly forever prayer requests had included a job, a place to live (preferably in Elgin), and a car.
On my first full day back in the States, God answered all three!

First, I went to visit my new school. I am excited to start school August 15th!

Next, my parents helped me move furniture into my new living space. I will be living with friends Chris and Christina Watson.. If you're looking for a room to rent, we still have a room available! :)

Third, my parents offered for me to buy one of their cars (Anyone who knows our family knows we have a very full driveway!). I accepted their offer.
So there you have it. God answered three of my seemingly forever prayer requests all in one day. Job, check. House, check. Car, check. Confirmation that I'm heading in the right direction!!


Airport Days

I figured out today that in the last three years, I have spent about 14 days travelling back and forth from Costa Rica to Chicago. No joke. So in my two weeks of living in the Chicago, Houston, Ft. Lauderdale, Newark, and Denver airports, I have come to enjoy days of people-watching during the layovers and cloud-viewing from the airplanes (not to mention capturing photos of lightning and volcanoes from the plan window!). I have the airport security system down to a T as I remember to pack my liquids in a plastic bag (quart size!), keep my computer easily accessible, and not wear metal jewelry. I have also mastered the art of hiding large amounts of cash under my clothes… but that’s a story for another blog … or maybe a personal conversation!

Today, I have encountered four airports: San José, Houston, Denver, Chicago: in that order. I started out in San José absolutely, completely, utterly wiped out emotionally from all the good-byes I had to say in Costa Rica. Like I was so emotionally exhausted that even when I saw someone I knew and probably could have struck up a conversation with if I wanted to, I literally ran and hid. (Mom’s thinking, ‘’Is that my daughter!?’’ Yes, Mom, I had a moment when I actually avoided social interaction.) Turns out this acquaintance was on the same flight as I was, but except for a brief wave and nod of the head, I avoided any other contact. Not to mention it was at an ungodly early morning hour, and I don´t know anyone who in their right mind would actually be cheerful at that hour after sleeping for 3 hours (like I did). Ugh.

First ray of light: a tico man working at a little sandwich shop in the airport. I sat down nearby to wait for boarding and I could hear him singing a Spanish worship song I recognized from church. When I say singing, I mean belting it out. No fear. No embarrassment. Singing in his sandwich shop at the top of his lungs. What a great reminder that God was with me, even in an airport.

God has His ways of getting my focus off of myself, and so during the flight from San José to Houston, I was neatly tucked between a 7-year-old boy and an 80-year-old man. The man was very polite but seemed scared of flying, so much so, that I thought I might actually have to hold his barf bag for him at one point. (Thank goodness he never threw up!) While I wondered if the older man would hyperventilate, I was also pondering this kid’s red hair, pale skin, and freckles. I asked him a question in English and he looked at me weird and turned away. I thought maybe he was just socially awkward. Then when the flight attendant came to ask what we wanted to drink, he said, ‘’Yo quiero agua.’’ Then I understood. This red-head spoke Spanish!! I tried my same question from before, but this time in Spanish. Lol, that may have been a mistake because then this kid would not be quiet. He was asking me every 2 minutes how much more time we had and did I know where his dad was (turns out the airline had separated father and son in the seating arrangement). He wanted to know why the plane was in turbulence, what made clouds, what ocean he was looking at out the window, and (again) what time would we get there. By the end of the flight, we were like old friends. He even made a video on his dad´s cell phone introducing me to his family, lol. ‘’This is my new friend, Kate,’’ he said, ‘’and she speaks English and Spanish.’’ Nothing like a kid in your life to change your perspective.

In the Houston airport, it was all the usual customs and immigration lines. Thankfully this time I remembered to throw away the apple before I got to the customs line (unlike the last two times, lol). Then back through security, with African-Americans barking orders in their mixed accent of ibonics and Texan.

On the flight to Denver, I experienced another God appointment while sitting with a 15-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman. This time, God surprised me at how He can put three people together who are obviously very different but have a lot in common all at the same time. The teen pulled out her Bible to read, and the woman commented that her Bible was just as worn as the one this girl had. I pulled mine out too and was like, ‘’Like this too?’’ Our conversation was very encouraging, and we concluded by exchanging email addresses (not something I do often on airport days!).

The layover at Denver was uneventful as I found my gate an hour early. I then promptly became lost in the world of free airport internet (less airports offer free internet now, but I sure love it when they do!! ), and then glanced up at the gate announcements and the board said ‘’Los Angeles.’’ Uh-oh. I thought I was in the area for Chicago. Turns out they had changed where the gate was, so I was off running through the airport again, praying that I didn´t have a re-run of last summer´s missed flight in the Newark airport. Thankfully, I made my flight just in time for a twenty minute flight delay, lol.

So here I am, on the Denver to Chicago flight. I am tired from lack of sleep and navigating four airports, but I am also encouraged by God’s faithfulness, even when I have said what seems like a thousand good-byes and packed up my belongings in a mere 2 suitcases, a backpack, and an oversize purse. The truth is, I like these airport days. While I don´t know when the next one will be (the plan is to stick around Chicago for a while), I will definitely need to have another soon .


I Will NOT Miss...

(also in no particular order)

1. Stinky, wet feet -- Every day during the rainy season, it´s guaranteed that your shoes will be soaked at least one time during the day. This has two effects: your shoes deteriorate before your eyes and your feet smell like wet dog... all the time. Gross.

2. Loooooong lines at the bank -- Seriously, I have waited in lines at the bank longer than I have waited at bus stops. Well, slight exaggeration, but really, it gets ridiculous.

3. Bars on windows -- I don´t notice the bars and barbed wire as much now, but when I see a window or door without them, my first reaction is, ''Wow!!! That looks so inviting!'' Then my second reaction is... ''I wonder how safe that is''... Funny how my perspective has changed.

4. Indirect communication -- I know there are indirect communicators no matter where I go in the world. I know that without a doubt as I have experienced it in the States as well. I say I won´t miss it because here in Costa Rica, it´s almost expected. It´s culturally acceptable to not really be direct with someone, but then it´s also culturally acceptable to go talk to your gossip buddies about what you think about that person. Then the gossip friends go back to the original person and tell him/her what the other person said. Communication breakdown, and like I said, it's almost expected!

5. Machismo -- I can only think of 5 things I will actually miss about Costa Rica, but seriously, this number 5 makes up for 95% of what I will miss. Men's attitude toward women here is AWFUL. We are objectified, condescended to, whistled at, vulgarized, even hissed at... I honestly hate walking past groups of men because now I understand what they are saying about me. The more men, the worse more vulgar the conversation will be. If I am walking on the sidewalk, a man walking in the opposite direction might walk in front of me at the last possible second to whisper something in my ear. I have learned that the less I react, the less they say. UGH it´s just awful. One guy last week was like, ''Good morning, chica'' in an awful seductive tone, and I continued walking, not even looking at him, and he says still in the same tone, ''What's up with you? Are you deaf? Mute?'' Or another day when a man got close and whispered, ''What a princess.'' I was surprised to hear myself saying, ''What an idiot'' as I kept walking. Even a policeman the other day said something to me in a condescending tone of voice... I found it to be very rude, especially considering he's supposed to make the streets safe to walk on. (Sorry, Mom, I'll stop telling stories about this because I don't want you to worry. Yes, Mom, I carry my pepper spray at all times. No, Mom, please don´t worry. I've survived three years now, and I'll survive today!)

I Will Miss...

(in no particular order)

1. Dimensión Cristiana -- This church has been my rock for the last year and a half. It's definitely a lot louder than my dad's church, so much so that it reminds me of a rock concert :). I love how the pastor intertwines Scripture with personal stories to leave me with a weekly challenge for my thoughts. I will also miss the fact that church here lasts 2.5 hours!

2. Rain on the tin roof every afternoon -- perfect for napping during the rainy season.

3. Wearing skirts to work year round -- No need for boots! No need for hose! Just a skirt and sandals, even (especially!) in January!

4. Subtitled or dubbed movies at the theater -- I now understand movies so much better -- even movies in English -- when I can read subtitles. Weird, I know. I think I'll keep watching movies with subtitles :).

5. Being the ''foreigner'' -- It's always fun to start up a conversation here and explain that I'm from the U.S. (although that's obvious, lol) and then explain that I'm not just a tourist, that I actually live here. I will miss being able to say I'm the ''extranjera''... what if I get boring when I'm just a normal Chicago girl again??

6. Summer in January -- Don't get me wrong, I enjoy winter, but the last three years have been amazing when I realize after Christmas that there's no need for the post-Christmas blues... because I'm going back to summer in Costa Rica! :)

7. Santiago -- This two-year-old has seriously been so much fun for me during the last few months as we are learning Spanish together. He still persists in calling me ''Ken'' and he daily surprises me with the words he is learning. We can hold entire conversations now about dogs, Toy Story, and cars.

8. Knowing my way around a city on a bus -- Seriously, this is such an accomplishment. I feel like I deserve a college degree for my wealth of bus-travelling knowledge, especially considering the lack of maps and lack of consistent schedules down here.

9. Going to a beautiful tropical beach for the weekend -- Three day weekend? Let's go to the beach!!! :) I'll have to re-learn what to do with my three-day weekends in Illinois...

10. Seeing volcanoes -- So powerful and beautiful... and so deadly... but also quite fascinating. I have seen many from the plane window and have personally visited Arenal, Póas, Irazú, and another one I can't remember it's name. Clearly it was a very personal connection :).

11. Seeing mountains -- Psalm 125:2 says, ''As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surround his people both now and forevermore.'' I alter the verse slightly and instead of Jerusalem, I think of San José because there are mountains no matter which direction you look. When I see mountains, I am reminded of God's presence, no matter where He takes me in the future.

12. Airport days -- I like travelling. It gives me a chance to observe others, to meet new people, to transition from one place to another. It might be an addiction...

13. Pharmacies -- No matter what I have -- bronchitis, diarrhea, a parasite, a strange rash (to name a few) -- all I have to do is go to the local pharmacy, explain my predicament, and pay for the medicine. No need for a doctor's visit!... unless I need antibiotics.

14. How the winter season is green here -- No offense to winter in the States, but it´s soooooo... gray.... and dead. Here it´s GREEN and alive!

15. Speaking Spanish in public -- It's very natural now for me to ask questions and listen to responses in Spanish as I'm navigating the city...

16. Sunny mornings in the park -- I love sitting with my Bible and journal in a park, watching the rain clouds form for the afternoon rains.

17. Artesan's market -- My friend Aydee has become a good friend. I have posted about her before as the bag lady, but seriously, this Peruvian woman is such an admirable Christian woman. She's trusting God to provide as she sells her purses and scarves.

18. Being able to use Costa Rican idioms to make Costa Ricans laugh. -- Voy jalando. ¡Que las moscas no entren! Mop. Que chuso. 'Nough said. :)

19. Eating rice and beans -- I never thought I would say it... but it´s true. I will miss eating rice and beans. It´s just so... filling. And cheap :).

20. Plaintains: patacones, sweet fried plaintains, plaintain chips -- What a great treat! I have become slightly obsessed with plaintains lately since I know I will not be able to find them for cheap in the Chicago area...

21. And of course... the many friends I have made. If I named you all here, we would be here for quite some time. You know who you are.


Using What I've Got

In what I have come to refer to as ''normal life'' (anything my life was before coming to Costa Rica), if I were to run out of things like makeup or socks, I would just go buy more... If I were to break something, I would throw away the broken one and go buy a new one... If I were to want something, I would go buy it...

Welcome to ''not normal life'' (anything my life became after moving to Costa Rica). Yesterday, I ran out of my favorite eye shadow:

So what will I do? Nothing. I could buy a new one here, but the importation taxes are so high that the price is ridiculous. Besides, coming back to the U.S. in just a few short days helps my waiting, haha. The ''not normal'' part of life is to actually wait until I can pay a decent price when I buy a new one.

A few weeks ago, my hair straightener just completely gave up on life. Like the handle fell off and I kept using it. Then the spring fell off but I kept using it. (Mom would tell you I'm stubborn like that :)) The only reason I stopped using it was because it decided to stop heating up. I put it on the highest setting, plugged it in, and 30 minutes later, it was still cold as ice. Lol. Again, I'm delaying my buying impulses for when I'm back Stateside. 

Then this catastrophe happened: 
I was blow-drying my hair one morning this week and there was a great flash of light and my hair blower stopped working. I thought for sure there was an angel in the bathroom with me or that a lightning bolt had hit right outside my window (LOL)... but no, it was the extension cable blowing up. Of course, I should have known. Thankfully, I was okay and nothing caught on fire in the ruckus that occurred. I think I'll throw the cable away here and buy a new one... when I'm in the States :).

Spanish Teachers

Hace tres años, yo no hablaba español para nada. De hecho, todo lo que sabía era hola, adios, y ¿Dónde está el baño? Gracias a mucha gente con muuuuucha pacienci, he aprendido montónes, pero montónes, en estes tres años que he estado aquí en Costa Rica. Yo quiero tomar un momentito para reconocer estes individuales, aunque es muy probable que ellos nunca van a ver esto testimonio (en un blog en que, en general, yo escribo en ingles, jeje). Los siguiente son gente que realmente me han ayudado y me han animado en esto proceso de aprender:

Rosena Guerrero
Lidia Yanez
Maria Ledesma
Professor Starzinsky
Mimi Castillo
Mau Escobedo
Elsa Valverde
Carolina Vargas
ManRi y Blanca Cabezas
Judit Cabezas
Albin Contreras
Yoji Takahashi
Ayde Zuñiga
Roxana Araya
Fiorella Fúster
Maria Chavarría
Roger Brown
Merce Mejía
Michael Muñoz
Marilyn Garcia
Natalia Marín
Daniela Mejía
Mariana Garita
Christina Orozco
Diego Cruz

¡Muchísimas gracias a todos y que Dios los bendiga en cumplir sus sueños!