I Can’t Stay Away

Spring Break is a beautiful thing. It is so good to have a break from teaching to relax! I was able to return to Guadalajara for the week. Many people here and there have asked me how hard it was to adjust back to American culture or if I have experienced reverse culture shock. The transition has been easier for me than I had expected. I think this is for a few reasons. First, I was quite busy as soon as I arrived home in the U.S. and had a lot going to keep my mind engaged. I was very focused on the task of figuring out my role in my new school and organizing and setting up my classroom. Another thing that made the transition easy was that I kept a tie to Mexican culture by joining a Spanish speaking small group. This helped me make friends with people who know something of the experience of living in Mexico (or another Spanish speaking country). I can keep speaking Spanish, talk about Latino culture, make bilingual jokes, etc. I even have discovered a place to salsa dance in my home town. It is not quite the same as dancing in the streets of Guadalajara, but it was one of the activities I was sad to give up so I am thankful that I still get to do it sometimes. Salsa also provides another opportunity for speaking Spanish! Finally, I have been looking forward to this trip since the summer, knowing I would not be saying goodbye to friends forever.

I prayed for my trip that I would get quality time with as many people as possible. He was so faithful to answer! A fun surprise started out the trip as I had the same flight to Atlanta as a high school group from my school going to Belize. I enjoyed chatting with them in the airport and on the plane. Sunday, I spent the full day with my church on a retreat. It was so encouraging to see how the church has grown in depth and number and many of the individuals I have prayed for are thriving. Monday was dedicated to the school. I wandered around the campus catching up with American and Mexican teachers, staff, students, etc. I loved having lunch with my former students and then playing games with them at recess. I went back nearly every day for this sweet time with my not-so-little ones.

 

Throughout the week, I caught up individually with many people, often while eating (another thing I have been looking forward to on this trip). I have missed avocados, frijoles, lonches, Mexican popsicles, and, most of all, tacos! It was great to be able to enjoy authentic food and it was so refreshing to go deeper with friends and hear about their ministries, goals, struggles, and joys. I shared tears more than once and lots of laughs as well. God is taking such good care of them, even when I am away. I knew I could trust him with them when I last said, “Adios” (blog post: Good in Good-bye).

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My last day, some of the Lincoln teachers joined me in going to Tlaquepaque. We had fun looking around in artisan shops, taking pictures, and even caught a free show which included traditional Mayan dancing, dancers from Veracruz and Jalisco, and live Mariachi music.  I bought a piece of art made by the Huichol people. I recently have been doing some research about this people group. They are one of the least reached in Mexico and are located not far from Guadalajara. I bought the art to remind me to pray for them more often. As a closing gift, I coincidentally ran into the only friend I had not been able to contact during the week. I loved my break and I hope I can visit again soon.

 

Photos are my own.

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A Full Sponge

Well, my two years of teaching in Mexico are over. The day to day experience of learning another culture, seeing new and unfamiliar places, and handling unexpected situations has come to an end. However, my overall experience has not. When I went to Mexico, it was with a very intentional attitude of understanding the culture as much as I could, mimicking it, and being adopted into it if possible. These past two years I have been a sponge of Mexican culture. In a way, the analogy fails because a sponge is passive, but I was actively absorbing. As an example of the level to which I was absorbing, I have been much closer to saying certain words in Spanish (that I would consider inappropriate) than I have ever been tempted to say their English equivalent. Why? Because I took in every single word I heard, processed it, listened to how it was pronounced, listened to the grammar structure around it, said it in my head, practiced using it in sentences in my head, and wanted to utilize it to help me fit in better. Taking in became an unbreakable habit which didn’t slow down even for undesirable words or topics. The same goes for culture and customs. I wanted to understand every pop culture reference, know how to respond like a Tapatía (woman from Guadalajara) in every situation, and be able to sing along to popular or traditional songs. I would cringe any time I gave myself away with a basic language mistake or saw the look of “never mind, she doesn’t get it”. I wanted people to interact with me just as they would their Mexican friends.

I have been a sponge and a mimic, but now… I have nowhere to channel what I have learned. It doesn’t “count” here. Not that there are not people interested in my experience. Many people have sincerely asked me about my experience and I know several friends who will listen to me when I need an outlet. However, knowing a classic Mexican song does not help me fit in here. There will be few with whom I can share a bilingual joke. The Mexican idioms and street expressions I drilled myself in may not even make sense to other Spanish speakers I meet.I would ask for your patience if the sponge leaks on you a bit.

From what I have heard from various speakers, blogs, and personal friends, coming back home after an extended time overseas is almost as difficult as the initial culture shock. Though I am happy to be home, there will be grief and probably reverse culture shock. There will also be some relief as I can take a break from absorbing and mimicking to return to a familiar place.

So some of you may be wondering, is this where the blog ends? “As I Go, I Grow” is a travel blog isn’t it? Even though I am not physically in another country “going” somewhere exciting, I am still growing from the experience. I will continue blogging. For me, this is an important way to process my time in Mexico and the adjustment to life in the U.S. If you continue following the blog, you will probably see less travel posts for the time being, though I do hope to travel again in the future. I will continue to write about my teaching experience and my thoughts on various matters. I am also hoping to take this time to develop my fictional writing more.

What will be new on the blog? I will be writing about some of the observations I have made about Mexican culture, wrapping up loose ends, and writing about the experience of repatriation and reverse culture shock. I hope you continue to read along and give me your feedback.

 

Photo is my own of some of the good-bye cards written for me at my despedida (good-bye party).