Cultural adjustment or bust
Valparaiso has begun to feel more and more like home. I have yet to experience the fall after the high that the IFSA program directors warned us to expect. I think they referred to it as the readjustment stage or something along those lines. A name for when the initial charm of all things new and exciting begins to take on a stale flavor in your mouth. You are no longer so overwhelmed by the thrill of change and, thus, no longer blinded to the not-so-charming aspects of your new home. This transition creates a “low period” until you are able to reach “full cultural adjustment.” This can take on a number of forms (homesickness, anger, frustration) and differs widely based on the person, or so they say.
But, for me, I think I genuinely skipped this stage. This is not to say that I am blind to the litter on the street or deaf to the (at times exceedingly vulgar) catcalls of construction workers, and I definitely no longer walk around with a giant smile plastered on my face all the time like I did for the first few weeks. But I have yet to experience anything that I think could be described as a low period. Overall, I have continued to feel very fortunate and serene in my new home. I feel a certain satisfaction in having gotten to know the city well enough to appreciate the ugly alongside the beautiful. I never experienced any striking moments of culture shock. Every day has been so full of new things to experience and people to meet that I haven’t had time to think about being homesick. For this reason, I am a bit nervous that my culture shock will come when I return to the U.S. in July and my world shrinks back to size.
I have almost finished reading my first book of poetry in Spanish – Veinte Poemas de Amor by Pablo Neruda – which any Chilean would probably say is extremely cliché, but I have found it to be quite romantic and only the slightest bit cuático. I began reading one of Pablo Neruda’s most famous collections of poetry because I always enjoyed his writing in English and I thought that it would help expand my creative vocabulary in Spanish. I went into it with the expectation that it was going to be fairly difficult to read and understand poetry in a foreign language. But, in reality, I think that the nature of poetry has a way of leveling the playing field for non-native speakers because of its inherent tendency to stretch words outside of their traditional use. Poetry challenges readers to coax new meanings out of the poet’s thoughts through the filter of their own imagination and their own view of the world.
In this way, once I look up the words on the page that I have never seen before, I have just as good of a chance at being able to relate to the poem as any native speaker (or so it seems). With poetry, it’s not a matter of understanding words for what they are but, rather, internalizing them for what they could be. I like to think that this also brings me closer to relating to the the Spanish language itself and to the people I have met here whom I so desperately want to be able to communicate with on a deeper level. But, still, I have good days and bad days in this respect and I often become frustrated that my Spanish does not reflect my actual intelligence level because of my limited vocabulary.
In the spirit of immersing myself in Pablo Neruda’s poetry, I decided to visit his house in Valparaiso, La Sebastiana, which has been converted into a museum and cultural center. Visitors can take an audio tour of the house and its five floors of history and eccentric splendor. Neruda shared my fascination with the sea, so the house has large windows facing the ocean on every floor. I really enjoyed the audio tour and the insight that it gave into seemingly insignificant details of the house. I probably should have taken the English version instead of the Spanish because I got a bit lost at times but my stubborn nature wouldn’t let me. I suppose that’s one thing that being abroad hasn’t changed about me.