Besides the obvious–friends & family–we miss other things that may surprise people.
1. WORK. The great American or Adult fantasy is often to not work. I know because I’ve had this fantasy ever since I started my career after college. Maybe it’s unique to Americans (or, as a few Chileans have suggested to me, United Statesians) because we have such dismal time off policies. We have amazing work ethic but a lackluster life ethic (thank you Audra). But the reality of having a massive chunk of time off is that one often feels unanchored, unproductive, and unhappy. Of course, our “work” here is learning Spanish and being good and productive students–besides the obvious constant and important job of parenting three small children. But…no “work.” This phenomenon is hardest on my husband who truly enjoys his career & has struggled here in Chile to make sense of his time and days and to feel productive. It is a blessing for him to know a bit what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom–that while I have work I also sometimes feel unanchored and unproductive. What a wake up call to realize how reliant we are on work and others to help us feel valuable. Josh has spent some time with colleagues here in Santiago just talking through some ideas and he always comes home vibrant and refreshed. What a gift to realize how much you love your work. It makes me realize even more how smart companies are to offer sabbaticals!
2. SPACE. We have a lovely apartment that is grand and spacious compared to most here in Santiago. But it is still teeny tiny compared to our Western rural American life. Specifically, our kitchen here is unmotivating. We eat out a lot. We don’t cook interesting or inspired dishes. Food has been demoted to almost a necessity. And we compensate by eating ridiculous amounts of sweets and drinking far too much coffee. We also have almost NO personal space when out in public. Side note: And every time I get on the metro my face itches. And I have to scream at myself (in my head, of course) DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE! Because we are packed into the metro and I’m holding on to bars and railings and am absolutely covered in germs. WTF.
3. BEING A PART. Even though we are out and about amongst the people here in Santiago, we never really feel A PART of the city or the people. We are, and feel like, foreigners who don’t really get it or know what’s going on. For example, we see signs and advertisements for things but never stop to fully translate them. At home in the States information is just absorbed because we see-read-know in an instant. As a foreigner, this does not happen. We miss 99% of the opportunities here. This helps me to see how helpful it would be to offer information in other languages at home–not to discourage people from learning English but to include them in our community. I don’t believe anyone likes being a foreigner and not being a part of the community.
We’ve reached the hysterical stage of our adventure. The stage when we laugh at ourselves (ok, to be honest, AND Chileans) all day long and think–and sometimes say to each other–“what the fuck?”, and then smile and nod some more because we have NO IDEA what these people are saying. Yes. You read that right. In the protected environment of our school we understand everything. And even out and about I can read, I can write and I can speak Spanish and actually accomplish things. But, um, when they speak to me….? No clue.
To be clear, here are the stages of culture shock:
1. Sit on couch and cry
2. Grimace and get through the day/moment/minute/week (pretend you’re not secretly counting down the days until you can go home and resume your typical American life)
3. Everything is hysterical
I’ll let you know what the next stage is when we figure it out.