I have been feeling a bit negative of late, and it’s hard to put my finger on why. I can assume part of the issue is culture shock. I don’t speak the language as well as I’d like, and things that I feel should be simple are not. These are the sort of frustrations that lead to culture shock, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed the symptoms in myself, and I find the process alarming.

Culture shock is a funny word for the feeling, though. I’m not stunned at the differences between Colombia and Canada. I’m more inexplicably irritable at things that normally wouldn’t bother me. An older guest at the hostel wanders around telling lame out-of-context jokes to people who barely understand English and asks me to translate, and then follows me around the hostel complaining endlessly about the work ethic in Latin America. Normally I could ignore him, but at the moment I can’t get away from him fast enough, and it’s a challenge to be civil. This isn’t like me.

I love learning languages, and Spanish should be a simple one to learn because it’s not too unlike French. Although I feel satisfaction at what I’ve achieved so far, I get unreasonably annoyed at things like irregular verbs. Rather than patiently asking someone who is regaling me with rapid-fire instructions in Spanish to slow down, I have a short fuse and snap at them. I can tell this isn’t the way to go about things, and yet it’s the head space I’m in right now.

As expected in a foreign country, things don’t work the way I would organize them if I were in charge. The beer fridge in the hostel isn’t plugged in during daylight hours in order to conserve power, which means that whenever I want to buy a nice cold beer, the only ones available are warm. The hostel prohibits consumption of outside alcohol, so we have to go out to a bar if we want a simple beer for refreshment. I think reading books in Spanish would be a good way to improve my language skills, and yet this town doesn’t seem to have a bookstore. We found a second-hand bookstore in Cartago, but at $10 for a dog-eared paperback and most of the selection being classic literature (my least favourite kind), I didn’t buy anything. These are minor frustrations that shouldn’t irritate me as much as they do.

I’m sure it’s not all culture shock, either. I have a cold which is draining my energy, without which I might be able to fight off the mood swings. I wonder, though, whether part of the problem is that I’m just older and grumpier than when I last travelled. Surely thirty-two isn’t old, but I may have lost some of the enthusiasm of youth. Loud music hurts my eardrums and I’d rather be sitting in a small group chatting than going out at all hours of the night. Is that a factor of my age, or just a preference? I’ve never enjoyed having a television on when I’m in a communal space, and when I’m trying to learn a language it drives me to infuriated distraction.

Rather than complaining about culture shock, I’m going to try to do something about it. I’m going to see if I can order a book I’d like to read in Spanish online and have it delivered to the hostel. Today I bought a few nice ingredients and I’m going to play around with making something delicious in the kitchen. I might go sit down at the park with a notebook or sketchbook and see what inspiration hits me. On Tuesday, Ellen and I are taking a day off volunteering and spending the day at a hotsprings near here. And I’m buckling down and studying more Spanish grammar so I don’t feel tempted to drop the f-bomb every time I can’t remember how to say something in past tense.

I think the biggest help, though, will be acknowledging that I’m feeling this way and that it’s normal and allowed. Culture shock is expected. Most people who travel for extended periods experience it. When I went through this in Korea, I took many more naps and did a few more touristy things to rediscover the joy of being abroad. Most of the time, I’m having the time of my life. And the time when I don’t? This too shall pass, and I’ll probably miss it when I’m gone.

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