For the most part, I consider myself a pretty easy-going person. It takes a lot to frustrate me, and luckily this trait has carried itself over with me into India. Recently, however, I had to tackle the largest issue I’ve had here yet: getting sick. The exact causes and diagnoses were unknown, but I had to remain hospitalized for two days here, in Jaipur. Hospitals are never “fun” places to be, even in the United States – but they are especially not fun in India. Without going into detail, I can say that there were many unpleasant experiences at the hospital that frustrated me as nothing had ever frustrated me before. I suddenly found myself at the lowest point of the traditional “Culture Shock” diagram… I felt completely helpless and yearned to be with my family in the United States. I had hours to ruminate on negative thoughts, which only made me feel worse physically. Eventually I got to a point where I had to decide how I was going to process this situation: was I going to let it overpower all of the amazing memories of the things I had seen, felt, and experienced throughout my time abroad? Or could I accept things for what they were and be grateful for all of the kind souls who were helping me? I chose the latter and came out of the hospital without any ill feelings (no pun intended).
While this graph certainly describes many of the joys and struggles of studying abroad, my experiences would look a bit more like the oscillations of an EEG. When I arrived, everything was incredibly exciting and invigorating. I was thrilled that my Spanish was functioning well enough for basic conversation. Every experience, from figuring out what a specific paper was used for in the clinic, to visiting the famous Incan ruins, to buying something at the local grocery store, was an adventure. My being was prickling with anticipation for what was to come in the following 4 months.
Within about 2 weeks, I was beginning to feel the pains and difficulties of living in a foreign culture. I believe the main reason for those struggles to be a lack of people from my home culture and language to interact with. I also had difficulties making friends outside the familiar college context; the clinic was not the easiest place to meet an abundant amount of people, and my Spanish was only functioning on a basic level. There were only a handful of native speakers who were willing to struggle through communication with me.
Eventually a few other Americans arrived in the clinic, and we became friends. At this stage, I was able to reengage with the culture and become excited once more, because I now had a home-base where I could recharge. We explored several regions of the country, and it was beautiful to see the unique nature and culture of the various regions of Peru.
A little over 2 months into the trip, a situation beyond my control caused me to lose contact with my group of friends. It was hard for me to lose the only people who understood the culture I came from. In addition to this, I received bad news on several other fronts, not the least of which was my 3-year-old host sister being diagnosed with a very serious medical condition. Cuzco did not have the required specialists or machinery, so she and both parents traveled to Lima to continue her hospitalization. To me, I have become a part of this family during my 3 months here. Seeing them go through this turmoil and hardship affected me on a deep level.
Most recently, my time has been committed to my senior thesis for my university back home. While I immensely enjoyed learning about the healthcare system in Peru, it sucked away time that I could have been investing in more relationships. My host family has also stayed in Lima, although extended family has come to take care of my host brother and me. Unfortunately, I do not have the relationship with them that I had with the parents of the family. As at the start of my trip, I felt alone.
I now find myself on yet another up with finishing my thesis and other good news from back home. My final few weeks here look very promising in terms of excitement and diverse experiences, so I have no doubt I will be leaving Peru on a good note. I cannot yet speak to what will happen when I return home, but I am flying away to Guatemala for June and July so I suspect I will have some irregularities in that portion of the curve as well.
Lastly, I want to make sure that you understand everything I have learned through the good and the bad times here. This trip has truly been full of some of the best and worst times in my recent past. It would be easy for me to want to magnify the good and simply forget the bad, but such an action would be me throwing away some of the most formative experiences of the trip. I can now say that I know who I am when everything around me is falling apart around me and all my support systems are 4,000 miles away. My passion for including those who feel out-of-place has grown even more; I hope that many people back in the states, especially those from international backgrounds, will benefit from this lesson I have learned. Teachings like these are every bit as important as the tremendously joyous experiences I have been blessed with. If you fear experiences like this in an experience abroad, I beg you to not let that fear stop you from adventuring away from home. Cherish the ups and the downs; if you are able to continue pressing into the culture through it all, I promise you that you will not regret taking a risk and experiencing something new.