Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock or My Final Blog Post (probably...)

It’s been nearly two weeks since I have been back in the states after finishing my Peace Corps service.  This is likely to be my last blog post, but who knows, maybe something else will come up.
I got off the plane in Indianapolis in Chaco sandals and t-shirt… not the best clothing for Indianapolis on the day before Christmas Eve.  I dug some wool socks and a raincoat out of my suitcases and sprinted to the car with my Dad.  There was lots of snow on the ground. It was COLD.  Christmas and New Years are always socially and culturally intense times of year, so its only now, after the holidays that I am really beginning to adjust to being back in the States.
Christmas Eve with my family (photo taken with my new fansy-shmancy phone).

Christmas Day meal.

Playing Settlers of Catan.
There have been more than a few conversations where I felt like the topic was totally incomprehensible (mostly regarding social media and B level news stories) or utterly unimportant (mostly overwrought concerns regarding germs and catching colds).  After a few minor social faux pas, I have been trying to be more careful; just because my initial response to something is to view it as extraneous or irrelevant doesn’t mean it IS so.  Perhaps I need to give the topic the same gravity and consideration I gave the topics discussed in my community in Paraguay.
My Paraguayan snow man. Notice the tereré, belt, and PCPY hat. 
My first really fuerte moment of “reverse culture shock” was in the grocery store the day after Christmas.  I had been sent on an errand to pick up leeks and I got really overwhelmed in the produce section of the supermarket.  I still can’t pinpoint what rattled me so much, but it started when I was staring wide eyed at the greens section, and the sprinkler system turned on.  I jumped back in alarm only to find myself face to face with pineapples. Pineapples were the main crop in my community in Paraguay; they become ripe in the height of summer. But here I was, stuck between not only the pineapples, but mustard greens, oranges, lettuce, avocados and Brussels sprouts.  There was snow outside and yet all this diverse food available without any regard to its growing season or how far away from Indiana it must have started its journey.  This, and the utter, incomprehensible scale of the supermarket, flabbergasted me. I finally managed to grab the leeks and leave while unsuccessfully attempting to dodge the checkout clerk’s insistence on small talk and holiday greetings.  The whole thing was a very uncomfortable experience.  My plan now is to shop at Bloomingfoods and work my way up (although, why would I ever want to go anywhere else)!

Three of my most helpful “reintegration to American culture” activities have been:

  • 1. Dancing! On my third night back (and every Wednesday since), I went to the weekly contra dance held by the Bloomington Old-Time Music & Dance Group.   I have been dancing with them off and on since high school (I show up after about 45 seconds in the video I linked to. Can you spot me?) .  Everything from the bluegrass and old time music to some of the gender bending, role switching dancers, was a wonderful reminder of so many of the things I love about the Midwest and Bloomington in particular.  I also went to a swing dance class held by my friend Josh at Rachael’s Café.  Dancing with him and the other students helped me realize that I haven’t lost any of my partner dancing skills in the past two years, and have probably (somehow) gotten better.
My new dance shoes!
  • 2. IU Basketball!  A few days after Christmas, I went to an IU Men’s Basketball home game.  I have been going to games since I was just a townie kid, so everything, from the crowds, to the band, to the cheerleading was just so comfortingly familiar.  Plus, the Hoosiers are having an amazing season.
Hoosier Basketball game.
  • 3. Food! My Dad has slowly been making some of my favorite foods that I have gone without for the past several years.  Flank steak, lemon veal, Brussels sprouts sautéed in butter, asparagus, fingerling potatoes, spicy green beans, barbecued salmon, curry, turkaleeky soup, etc.  Also, to reacquaint me with the other end of comida Americana my cousin David took me on a fast food crawl.  We went to several fast food joints around town, the highlights being Taco Bell quesadillas, soda, 5 Guys Cajun style French fries, and more soda.
Christmas meal: turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, stuffing, asparagus, and crescent roll. 

My mother, at my Bienvenido Hape, trying to enjoy maté.
I am spending most of my time searching for jobs.  Ideally I would like to work for the Federal Government on the East coast in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or New York.  I’m also looking at some grad schools, but I’m hesitant to go back to school unless I am very enthusiastic about the program.  Plus, despite my intelligence, I tend to do very poorly on tests.  I haven’t taken the GRE and I am frankly afraid to do so.  I said this in an earlier post, but if anyone has leads on jobs on the East coast, please let me know.

Me, looking dapper on New Years Eve.
Note: the earrings are Paraguayan ñandutí.

Farewell for now.  I hope my blog has been interesting, useful, and entertaining.  I’m always eager to talk about my Peace Corps experience to anyone who will listen.  If you are a prospective Volunteer, don’t hesitate to contact me (just leave a comment on any of the blog posts).  I’ll probably have more insight for prospective Volunteers who are heading to Latin America, agriculture Volunteers, or LGBT Volunteers.  I’ll be especially excited to talk to you if you’re lucky enough to be heading to the wonderful and unique country of Paraguay.

It's good to be home.


  1. I can't believe you had to leave before I got to read your post.
    It looks like you are adjusting well, however much they say it is a shock, we can never know how much until we return.
    Suerte in your search.

  2. I just accepted to volunteer in Paraguay in May 2014. I have been trying to read as many blogs from current or previous Paraguay PC volunteers, especially from female volunteers. I'm curious to know how the job hunting went for you. That is actually my biggest concern, is finding a job when i'm done with my PC service. I'm leaving a really good government job to serve in PC. I would like to hear more about your life after PC and how it helped you.

    1. by the way my email is canseeora@gmail.com....i'm just not sure how to navigate through some of the blogs.