life is life wherever you go

After my first mission trip to Mexico in 2004 I was in the honeymoon phase of culture shock. I connected with the slower pace of life in Sonora and using Spanish to actually communicate with native speakers made me feel alive. Suddenly everything about America was wrong, and I imagined myself living in a tiny house amidst wide open spaces in Mexico, making my tortillas by hand, toiling in the hot sun (which is a plus for me - I love the hot sun), and hanging my laundry out to dry. I imagined having my coffee on the porch watching the sun rise, and kicking back after a long day of hard word, satisfied with my labor. I wanted nothing more than to be a campesino. 

I spent the remainder of my high school and college years dreaming about exotic destinations, and actually getting the chance to travel abroad. By the end of college I had made it to Mexico a second time, Russia twice, Germany, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia. It wasn't really until the end of my semester in Ecuador that I had truly cycled through the different stages of culture shock. 

Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment, and Acceptance. 

The honeymoon phase lasted a long time for me. On most of my trips I never even made it to frustration. I was too enamored of the new languages, people, and experiences. It was all exciting, and all better than "real life" at home. 

Frustration probably set in the most a few weeks into my semester abroad. I would cry for absolutely no reason during one of my one-on-one Spanish lessons. I would be trying to think of a certain word, or figuring out how to phrase something, and suddenly it all seemed so futile. My profe would be alarmed, wondering what had happened, or if they had said something to upset me. No, I would reply, don't mind me. I just have to cry for a second, but I'm fine, really. Living in another language is exhausting. Also, I just wanted a chocolate chip cookie and a 6 inch roast beef on Italian herbs and cheese from Subway. And a proper bowl of cereal with milk that didn't come from a box. Turns out most of my frustration was centered around food. 

I hit my adjustment stride one sunny Friday afternoon when a group of friends and I had margaritas right after class. We had nowhere to go, and nowhere to be. We were drinking margaritas on a patio at noon in Quito. I felt so content I couldn't bear it. Not to mention I finally felt like my Spanish was getting somewhere. People could understand my jokes, and I didn't have to pay such close attention to understand others. I felt superior to those who were stuck in winter back home, and I felt like I could conquer any situation travel threw at me.

A few weeks before we were to go home, I suddenly knew what acceptance felt like. I loved my home in Quito. I adored my host family, my Spanish professors were witty and helpful, and I had made a great group of friends. I couldn't get lost if I tried in Quito, and I could manage any task I chose to try in Spanish. But I suddenly felt a fondness for home - the midwest - that I had never felt before. I was excited to see my real family, my fiancee, and friends from home. Suddenly the U.S. didn't seem so backwards - just different. 

I finally realized that life - everyday life- is really the same wherever you go. Life is filled with mundane tasks and frustrations no matter where you live. I was in an exotic place far from home, but I still had to study, think about money, and fold my laundry just like at home. The people that surrounded me had to go to work, grocery shop, and take their kids to the park just like at home. It was an empowering feeling, knowing that I could truly live anywhere in the world, and I would adjust. 

Fast forward to the winter of 2013-2014. We're all pretty sure the White Witch is in power, because this is most likely an eternal winter. We're all fed up with the snow and sub zero temperatures, and most of us are planning real or fictional trips to somewhere warm. I keep thinking that somewhere else would be a better place to live. I should just pack up and move to Costa Rica! Why have I chosen this life? Why don't I live on a boat? I should have been a cowboy...or a pirate. 

And then I remember that life is life. Life is life in Costa Rica or Canada, Minnesota or Mexico. What frustrates me in Minnesota might not be the same as what frustrates me in Quito, but there are frustrations all the same. What exhilarates me in Bogotá may not be the same as what exhilarates me in Stillwater, but both places contain things that thrill me, that make me feel alive. 

So lesson learned, bloom where you're planted, and all that jazz. But I'm still planning a trip somewhere warm. 

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