Culture shock, but not really






I am falling in love with Santiago, with Chile. I’ve recently started having thoughts about how I am going to have to return home eventually — why am I having these thoughts so soon??? I guess that’s how I am, always thinking too much about the future.


I can feel myself growing, expanding. I am stunned — dazed, really — by an overwhelming gratitude, an enduring excitement.

I am so, so, so, so grateful to be here.

                                                                       Isla Negra

I have always loved language, but being here has given me new inspiration. New motivation — in a way has solidified my ideas about the future. It has encouraged me to keep doing what I am doing and to do more of it. Like, yes, you are exactly where you are supposed to be right now. Assuring me somehow that I actually do know what I want.

                                            Seaweed. That reminds me of a heart.

So, culture shock. But not really. That is to say that there is a culmination of small, simple things I find myself adjusting to, which, sure, make up the majority of the day and therefore have more impact than we give them credit for. But I do not feel abandoned in an unfamiliar world. I do not feel like a total outsider (of course, I will always be a gringa). I just seem to keep swimming in it all. And that’s all you can really do, right?–keep swimming. And to sort of half-quote, half-paraphrase, half-butcher the words of David Foster Wallace: be aware of the water you are swimming in. We tend to forget, to lose sight of such things.

Speaking of forgetting, there is a very present and simultaneously painfully absent conversation about memory here. Last week, we watched a documentary for my cinema studies class titled Nostalgia de la Luz, and in it the narrator personifies Chile in an elderly couple. One is an architect who published drawings he made from memory of the detention camps he was imprisoned at under the Pinochet regime. His wife is suffering from Alzheimer’s. One half, the narrator says, is trying to remember. The other, forgetting. I’m learning that most people here do not want to talk about Pinochet, or the horrors that occurred under the military dictatorship during the early 1970s. The US involvement in this military coup is an area of special interest for me, an atrocity that is largely unacknowledged and undiscussed, absent from both US and Chilean history courses.

We can learn so much from history.

El Museo de La Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos / The Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Ok, but I can’t talk any more about that, not tonight. And it seems I didn’t quite get around to the details of the culture shock that is less shocking than it is mesmerizing, than it is comforting. I keep trying to go there, but never quite make it. I want to share not only the cultural differences I have experienced thus far, but also the underlying similarities. One of these days soon, I will get to it

— I promise.

I guess for now, I am just swimming.

And it is gorgeous. And I am lucky.