November 17th, 2011

Culture Shock

Mario-peace-corps-blog-80by Mario Machado
Textbooks have been written on the topic of culture shock, its various manifestations and its particular trajectories. But there is no prescription for how any one person may experience this phenomenon. For me, culture shock has so far existed as a nebulous notion somehow grinding its gears in the recesses of my mind. Perhaps I am being short-sighted and a bit naive, but it seems to me that the trauma of living in a new culture is really just a product of one’s attitude. It’s amazing the things you can acclimate to, given the necessary time and space.

Moving to Paraguay to begin my Peace Corps service was an initial shock that dramatically altered my life in many immediate ways. I began speaking Spanish and Guaraní daily instead of English; I moved in with a Paraguayan host family; I lost most communication with my family and friends; and I was surrounded by things that were new to me. Still, the excitement of being away from my home in the United States—from being pushed out of my comfort zone and into the adventure zone—was thrilling. For about a week, the blog words flowed like water and I could barely contain my thoughts. Each meal was new, carb-rich, fried, and delicious. The language was a challenge that I rose to meet with debatable success. My host family soon became like close friends.

Soon, however, the novelty of it all began to wear off. I became riddled with writers block. I craved veggies and greens as opposed to mandioc and fried dough. I could barely organize thoughts in one language, let alone transition between three on a daily and almost inter-conversational basis. My host family remained warm and wonderful, but as one would expect, had lives to lead and went about doing so.

And yet, while the stresses of acculturation come in waves, the overall trend is toward positive adaptation. Sure, I am living with a family below the poverty line, out of contact with things that are comfortable and familiar. Yes, I am eating foods like mondongo (cow’s stomach), kidney, giant lizard, horse, and incredibly huge amounts of mandioc almost every week. Absolutely, my brain simply shuts off at times, leaving me without any words at all. And certainly, I shower from a bucket and use a hole in the ground as my toilet.

While all of these things are different and strange, taking time to get used to, none of them make life in Paraguay unbearable. In fact, they make life in Paraguay infinitely more real and more colorful. It hasn’t taken long to embrace the crazy foods; I have learned to eat first and ask questions later. The seeming difficulty of cultural differences is overshadowed by the fact that as you live in a place long enough, eventually that place begins to feel like home. I have been here for only a month and a half, and it simultaneously seems like forever and no time at all. Over the next two years, despite the changes and challenges that I will undoubtedly continue to face, Paraguay will only become more and more like my home.

Until next time,
Mario


Mario Machado is currently studying in Asunción, Paraguay, prior to serving for two years as an agricultural educator with the Peace Corps. The Allentown, Pennsylvania, native and 2011 Penn State graduate spent the summer of 2011 volunteering at the Rodale Institute and the Organic Gardening test garden.

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Comments

    Hi, Mario! Glad you are enjoying the fruits of a different culture. I lived & studied in Honduras when I was 14 & 15 years old. No phone, no electric. We were fortunate to have a 55-gal. oil drum set up on the roof. This would collect rainwater for our very infrequent, icy cold shower.

    If I wanted to meet my friends, we verbally set up a time/place/date. Hopefully, I met up with them. Sometimes, not.

    The most important thing for you to take away from this experience, from my perspective, is: The people who took you in are like your family; they will have 1 bag of rice or 1 chicken to last their family the entire week; but they will cook the rice, kill the chicken, and give you most of it.

    I admire you for choosing the Peace Corps, and hope that you will have a positive impact on your current community. Honduras is never far from my mind, and that’s been since 1965.

    Your language skills will be impressive! Keep the faith, learn, adapt, and appreciate.

    Appreciating is by far, the best compliment you can give to your hosts and new culture.

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