They call it culture shock, and for good reason. It’s a complete shut down of the senses. Your sight, scent, taste and touch all become paralyzed from the world around you. It is correctly defined as:
the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
In 2005, at 23, I took my first international trip to Acapulco, Mexico. I went for the sun, the beach, the girls & more importantly, to visit my family. However, I hadn’t seen them in 16 years — the last time being when I was 7 years old.
Let me start earlier though. At the age of 22 I started poking my father about returning to Mexico. For him, it had been 11 years. He didn’t want to go. Even more, he didn’t think I would like it. I couldn’t speak spanish. I probably wouldn’t like the food. But more importantly, the culture would rub me wrong.
I kept poking and after a month, he caved in. We were booked for Mexico.
The airport experience was nerve wracking, the plane turbulence was terrifying, and I should’ve worn a diaper for the landing.
Our family was there to pick us up. They hadn’t seen me since I was 7. Now, I was 23. A lifetime of events had come & pass and sadly, they weren’t aware of any of them. And vice versa. My cousins were my age. The last time we were together we were kids throwing lemons off rooftops in Old Acapulco. They too had a lifetime of events. Remember, there was no Facebook to keep us connected. We were all meeting each other for the first time — again.
Acapulco Bay is a sensational view. One of the great city skylines the world has to offer. We quickly drove past the bay and started heading up the mountains that stretch over the city’s tourist zone. Quite literally we were driving away from the Mexico you see in brochures and into the Mexico you hear in the news. I had totally forgot, normal life exists here too.
Hordes of people walked along the city’s sidewalks. Car horns went off at unregulated intersections. Dogs & cats scurried around looking for scraps of foods in all the neighborhood’s crevices. My senses were flooded. Food carts under street lights, prostitutes lined up along hotel buildings, militarized police, humid heat, the smell of a poor sewer system and of course, Spanish. It all came through jumbled and hodgepodge.
I froze, my body was trapping me. I was going through culture shock.
Three weeks later — I was changed.
10 years later, and I’ve traveled to Mexico more than 9 times, sneaking in trips to Europe & South America as well. Next week, I’ll go back. I have to experience Oaxaca during Dia de Los Muertos.
Mexico is where it all began, but it doesn’t paralyze me anymore. I’ve accepted this country for everything it offers — and it offers a lot.
Remember, life’s an experience, so experience it.