Two Timezones: Addressing Culture Shock

Dorothy Moore
June 5, 2014
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After two full days of living in Santa Domingo, Costa Rica, I have been lost three times. The first time, I turned down the wrong street coming home from class.  That same day, I went for a run and had to ask a bar owner for directions to my house.  The last—and most worrisome—time, I was on my way to a dance class at sunset when I realized I was completely turned around.  I had no idea where I was, where the landmarks I knew were, or where I was trying to go.

Since arriving in CR, I have been showered with good wishes, incredible food, and helpful friends.  I was given a cell-phone with international and local calling and messaging.  I was shown parts of the city that would be helpful to me, and I was shown patience when I didn’t understand the Spanish.  I have always felt safe and surrounded by people who care about my safety. This night, with only two thousand colones (about four dollars), a water bottle, my running shoes, and a nearly-dying phone, was the first time I felt alone in Costa Rica. And I realized I was really far from home.

Let’s step back a second here.  Santa Domingo is a kind, mostly walkable suburb that is about twenty minutes from downtown San Jose.  Within a four block radius, there is a church, grocery store, pharmacy, electronics store, and various restaurants.  In a lot of ways, it is very similar to my hometown, and I think this made me feel really comfortable really fast.  An important difference is that I was warned countless times not to walk at night in Santo Domingo. In a place as accepting and loving as Costa Rica, it is easy to forget that you are in a foreign country, and to forget that you have to act with more caution than in your hometown. Comfort can be an illusion: I already felt safe, but that may have been misguided.  Of course, I wanted to call my mom.  Of course international calls are, like, twenty dollars a minute.  Of course I looked for street signs—did I mention Santa Domingo doesn’t have street signs or addresses?— all of a sudden, I was hopelessly lost.

In all the excitement of arriving, I forgot to step back, observe, and allow the changes to sink in.  I jumped too quickly. Traveling, let alone living, in a foreign country, is bound to create culture shock, even if you don’t recognize the effects right away. San Jose is over two thousand miles from Chicago, and for a month I have a new family, routine, and lifestyle that all require time.  So when my homesickness hit me, I took some things that reminded me of home—green tea, Netflix, and fuzzy socks—and settled in for an evening of adjusting.

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Dorothy Moore

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I&#39;m Dorothy Moore, a recently-declared Geography and Education Studies major at Macalester College. I am originally from Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, so I am most comfortable in cities with public transportation, bike routes, and corner coffee shops. My favorite words are wanderlust (love of travel) and fervent (having great intensity of spirit) and I try to live with them as guiding principles. I love to read and write, and I am always looking for a new story to tell. I don&#39;t know where I&#39;m headed, but for now, I&#39;m happy just exploring.</span></p>

2014 Summer 1, 2014 Summer 2
Home University:
Macalester College
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