One year ago when I titled my personal blog “Cultures Collide” it was because I had planned to visit so many countries over the course of the year and I knew I would see things that differed from my own culture and that would collide with my upbringing. At the time I had no idea that the largest most difficult collision I would experience would be my return to America.
Over the course of my year overseas I have experienced new languages, weird food, vast cultural differences, many hours traveling on weird forms of transportation, living without a fridge oven or car, spending days without electricity or water, having only 3 pairs of shoes and 12 days worth of clothes and not understanding many of the things going around me. I don't know if it is because I have travelled a lot or if I am just a flexible person but all of that was easy compared to returning to the US. Granted I love my amazing US family and friends and seeing them has been wonderful but there are not many people that completely understand what I am going through in returning. Many people have tried to be super supportive, amazing and wonderful. They have shown me tremendous love in so many ways but to understand the cultural collision that happens upon returning to the US after a year overseas is very difficult unless you have experienced it first hand.
You may be asking what is the big deal Kerri- You grew up here, get over it. In an attempt to explain what is happening with me I will explain the 3 biggest challenges I am currently experiencing and you can feel free to comment or criticize if you want.
Many call this reverse culture shock. And many people who have traveled extensively for long periods of time have comment that this is the worse kind of culture shock- I tend to agree with them.
The first major challenge I came across was the excessive lifestyle people have here and their need for physical possessions. After living with just my basic needs for a year I came to realize that you do not need a lot to have a happy life. We did not have a television, a refrigerator, a car, or many of the luxuries people have in America. We did not live in a mud hut either with nothing but we had what we needed to get by. We had a nice house, something to cook with, and our two feet to get around. Everyday someone had to go to the market to get food to cook and we spent evenings with friends instead of watching television. Many people here have said to me how did you live like that, but honestly I was the healthiest I have ever been, I made very intense relationships with the people I was friends with, and life was good. When I returned the first thing that made me overwhelmed was the amount of stuff I had. Granted before I left I thought I sold everything that I did not need but upon returning I felt like I had more than I would need in a life time. I was so overwhelmed I went through every area of my house and eliminated half my wardrobe, threw out piles and piles of documents I had been saving since college, and donated many objects that I found to be pointless. And after all that I still have more clothes than I need and stuff that I know is not important. When I walk into a store here I feel like there is not a single thing I need and don't even bother looking at clothes anymore because I feel like I have too much. After a week I still feel overwhelmed about the stuff in my house but what was the hardest was that every piece of clothing and object I donated I knew someone that could benefit from it far away and I knew that many people here are no longer interested in things once they have been used. In America if it is not new many people are not interested in having it. The frustrating part about all of this was that every single thing I got rid of could have been given to someone I knew in far away countries, but to ship the materials would cost more than if I just sent them the money from shipping costs to buy the items there. Which made me wonder- why as Americans to we feel the need to have so much stuff? Why does everything we own have to be brand new? And why is it ok that we are ignorant of the fact that we do have so many things when so many people have nothing?
Ok my second cultural shock was the intense sense of urgency and work that exists here. I have always said that the biggest difference I see between America and other parts of the world is the work load and the drive to have deadlines and schedules for everything. This compared to the more relaxed attitude I have found in other countries makes me wonder what we are always rushing for. Coming back I tried to mentally prepare myself for that. I knew that I started work 5 days after returning home and I knew that it was not going to be easy, but as I sat in our teacher institute day and heard about how many things had to be accomplished by Monday morning I was feeling VERY overwhelmed. Not only was I overwhelmed but so many other teachers were overwhelmed. I know that education is not the only field that runs on calendars, to do lists and dead lines but sometimes it makes me wonder why we are so focused on getting so much done. There are smart phone apps to help you get work done, email alerts to remind you of stuff you have to do, and a calendar on every system we use from paper to email to phones. With all of that there are also advertisements about medications and therapies for depression, anxiety and things like restless leg syndrome everywhere you look. Sometimes I wonder if the two things are not linked. As I have gotten SO overwhelmed by the intensity of our developed advanced nation I also wondered if maybe we have made ourselves so focused on schedules and work that we have also made ourselves crazy. Since being home I have tried to connect with many people and the thing that always amazes me is how scheduled they are and how they have to rearrange their schedules to see their friends or spend time with their family. I am not sure if the way we live in the US is good for our mental health but I do know that one of the best things I learned this year while travelling is that is ok to slow down and take time to get things done. The world will not come to an end if you are not doing everything or scheduled every hour of the day. Sometimes relaxing and letting life happen to you is good too. Now the trick is making my new way of thinking fit into my old American life.
After the intense throwing out of all my unneeded things and the decision to not obsess over my schedule, calendar, or to do list- I thought ok maybe I could do this. Maybe if I just slow down and relax I will be ok. That is when the phone calls started from my students in Tanzania. It started during institute day when Humphrey, a student Jill and I took care of all year, called to say hi, see how I was and asked me to come back. Then this morning Raphaeli, another student I have worked with for 3 years called to say hi and tell me he misses me. Honestly I know that there are kids at my school in America that need me and there is alot I can do here also and the more people keep telling me that the more I don't want to hear it because no matter how many America students need me it is still hard to tell a kid without parents living by himself in his dead grandmothers house that I cannot come back right now but miss him also. I love teaching- I love being in the classroom and I love the students I see everyday at Antioch they are great kids and the teachers are amazing people who I love to work with, but it is just not the same. Helping kids find food, clothing, shelter, education access and civil rights when they have disabilities is so much different for me than teaching in America with computers, diversity clubs, sports teams, and enough resources to teach every kid in a different way.
As much as I am trying and trying and trying to make it work and not be cynical and critical- It has been hard. My new culture that has been built from my amazing experience has decided not only is it going to collide but it is going to smash everything I once knew about life to bits. It is hard to look around and see how much stuff we have here and wonder do we need it when so many others are struggling. It is hard to enjoy life here when overwhelmed by the amount that is expected and demanded of one person with so little respect for their personal time to live. And it is hard to look at our textbooks, computers, and large teaching staffs and not think about kids over the ocean who only have pens and paper. Kids who learn about computers but will never see one. Kids who memorize the parts of a microscope but never actually use one.
Those in the US that deal with me daily, and those in Tanzania that get my many sad texts messages please just know I am trying, please be patient with me. I did not just go on vacation for a year. I worked really hard, made a life for myself, and enjoyed everything about it everyday. I love seeing every single person I am getting to see again in America and I love talking about what I missed and catching up but I also miss where I was, what I was doing, and the amazing people I fell in love with while I was there.
So.....What have I learned about cultural collision........When do cultures collide?
Cultures collide when you go somewhere really really different for a while. To a place that impacted your heart and mind and sent you home to realize you have forever been changed.
What a great week! This was a week I realized how excited I am about what I am doing and how freeing it is to have a dream and turn it into a reality.
I spent the start of the week with my parents at the house our family is building in Crivitz, WI. This area is known for it’s winter snowmobiling season but also has some great white water rafting in the area. I love white water rafting so I thought why not go. After a few rainy days I was able to join on to a trip of campers going down the river. I was able to navigate a fun yak, which is a blown up version of a kayak and I got to help the guides with the campers. Things were going great and we stopped right before the first major rapid to examine the scene. We pulled our boats over and scouted the fall to see which path our little kayaks could navigate. The kids went down in large rafting boats but the smaller kayaks needed a plan. After looking at it for a few minutes my guide, Rob, informed me that if I wasn’t up for it I could take my boat around. I thought, you only live once so make it interesting. At the first drop I nailed it and it was such an adrenaline rush. I was so proud of myself and so happy to have conquered the class 4 rapid in a kayak. Afterward I thought, I got this. After the second and third drop a groups of kids rammed into my boat and knocked me out of my kayak. This lead to me going down a 5 foot waterfall without my boat. No major injuries were sustained but I was pretty sure that at one point I felt like I was going to drown but I made it. It was a crazy and exhilarating experience. I was glad I had the guts to go even though I was by myself.
After this adventure I went to a going away party that a fellow teacher and some of my students put together. The party was a great time. We spent 3 hours talking about different cultures and how to push yourself to be a better global citizen. The students asked me some awesome questions that pushed me to think about my experiences and how to give them the best answers. It was wonderful time that made me leave feeling like we had open each others minds. It also made me realize I am really going to miss this group of students and our awesome discussions.
This was followed the next day by another great evening, a going away party with my family and friends. I was so happy to see all the people that showed up and to know that so many people cared about me. It was such a good time and chance to talk to people. I will miss everyone but am sure we will all keep in touch.
Well, I leave in 8 days and my passport came back with a visa in it- which is exciting. My good-byes have been said to many and I am now wrapping everything up. In the final days before my departure I am so excited to be going and so happy with the time I get to spend with all my family and friends.
Moral of the story for today (for my students who keep asking me for my deep thoughts):
1) Live every day as if it is your last (Life is much more fun that way)
2) Always cherish your relationships with loved ones (they will be there when times are rough and help you celebrate when times are good- they are the rocks that keep you on steady ground when the river is raging around you.)
The last few days have been very productive days for me, which is good since I have only 16 more days until the big adventure. I was able to mail my visa application to the Tanzanian embassy, which is great. My only concern is that I need it processed and back to me in about 12 working days (I cut it close to the wire), but I am optimistic it will be ok. I also shipped my boxes to Mama Grace, so my clothes and basic needs are on there way to Tanzania. Again, I am also optimistic on this and hope that they make it there ok. I went to the bank with my dad and had him added to my bank account as a secondary account holder. I finished my last and final grad school class and cleared out everything at school that was mine. I made my final payments for my tour through Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. I booked a hostel to stay at for the first few days in am in Bali, and I started to read a blog about a young man who is walking across America for the year on $3,000 (www.natewalksamerica.com). Although this blog was not related directly to my trip it did help me to see that although I might not have all the money I was hoping, if he can live in America for a year on $3,000, I can live in 3rd world countries for a year on $5,000. So now more stress just positive thoughts (:As things are getting closer and I am also starting to say final good byes to friends and family. Which makes it seem more real that I will be leaving for 13 months- Yikes! But it is also super exciting. I cannot wait for the big adventure. Anyone in the Chicago land area, I am having a going away party June 24th from 7-10pm at CubbyBear North in Lincolnshire. Come out and have a good time if you are in the area.This week I have also firmed up some plans for my New Zealand trip! My cousin Mae and her husband Mark are in New Zealand and our my first stop. I am super excited because in talking to them I learned they are planning a 4th of July celebration party the weekend I get there. It should be alot of fun. I also talked to them about the idea of renting an RV and driving around the southern island of New Zealand. It is making me more and more excited. So as things get closer to my departure I will keep you posted of what is to come.This week I will be spending with my parents in Wisconsin where I plan to do some whitewater rafting or kayaking. My goal is to read a book, relax with my parents, have a mini adventure, and practice my speech for the NEA Convention I am speaking at on June 30th. All in all a good week planned.Blog Function Update (:I added a subscription feature to this blog so that readers can subscribe through email. This is a fabulous feature for you to stay updated. On the top of the sidebar next to this post subscribe to the blog by typing in your email and hitting subscribe. If you do this, every time I post something my post will be sent to your email. So Subscribe, Subscribe, Subscribe!!
Trying to leave the country for a year can be a bit difficult and it requires me to get my life organized for a full 13 months. This is very challenging considering I am often a last minute planner, sometimes even a procrastinator. This weekend while decorating for the ACHS Prom (where my first group of students at Antioch are now seniors- good work guys!) I came to the realization that I was actually leaving the country in a month and a half. School is coming to a close and I am a bit freaked out because I am not completely ready for my trip or organized enough. My thoughts were racing:
"Do I have enough money?...... Will I bring enough stuff?............ Where am I staying in Indonesia?........... Do I have enough money to pay bills while I am gone? ........... I still haven't sent away my visas! ............. I have to cancel my cell phone service........... I wish their were funding grants for volunteers leaving their lives behind? ............... I need a rain jacket.................... How will I pay for a full year living without a salary?..................... I want to plan a going away party with my family and friends....... I wish Oprah answered my email on her Angel Network............... I need to make final payments to my Thailand tour......................... I wish Ellen responded to all the emails people sent for me for funds?.................... I need to make a packing list.................. I need to email my friends my skype name (It is KerriElliott- In case you are reading this and want it). ....................... I have to post this blog on my school faculty and student newsboards."-------> UGH!
Well after this mind race session on my 2 hour ride home from Lake Geneva, I realized I need to make myself a to do list and prioritize. So tonight I did that. I worked on figuring out all my bills that I will need to pay while I am gone- student loans, car loan, and such- and set up automatic bill pays from my checking account so I don't have to worry about those bills. I figured out how much I need for those bills for one year and put that money aside so I would have it. I then reviewed my visa applications and realized that after some phone calls that I really only need to get a visa for Cambodia and Tanzania ahead of time. Australia I already was able to get online, Indonesia you need to get at the airport, Thailand no longer requires a visa for US citizens, and it is easier to get a Laos visa when you get to Asia. So this week I need to get passport pictures and send away for my Cambodian Passport. When that is being processed I also need to make sure to get a letter from Tanzania about my volunteering. This requires a phone conversation with Mama Grace in Tanzania- which will occur at 5am on Tuesday. I also realized I need to cancel some of the things here while I am gone- such as my cell phone and gym membership so phone calls will have to happen for those this week.
As for packing- this is where I have the most trouble- What to pack? One backpack- four seasons!
Luckily my brother heard all my concerns and gave me his rain coat which I was in need of- but I am still struggling with what to bring. I put together my box to ship to TZ but am still in need of some toiletries and food I can send that I will want- such as granola bars, pancake mix (I love pancakes), arizona ice tea packages, muffin mix, oatmeal (i hate oatmeal- but it is the easiest thing to make over there). My plan is to send this box to TZ next weekend.
So my two hour long prioritizing session has truly helped. I also came to the realization that Ellen and Oprah are not my answers for my money stress- I will just need to have some really good budgeting skills and hope for the best. When all else fails- I am fluent in English and everyone is always looking for an English tutor.
So as they say in Tanzania- Hakuna Matata or Hamnashida or Hakuna Shida or Usijali or Tulia Simba-
You have to love a culture that has so many different ways to say No Worries!
50 Days! I cannot wait (:
My attempt at packing for my trip.
My Backpack that I will use from July-Sept. to hold all my belongings. It is bigger than it looks.
My box to ship to Tanzania.
Will these three piles of clothes actually last me for 2 1/2 months?
My brothers rain jacket- Thank You Joe!
In 58 days I will be leaving on the adventure of a lifetime. Although I am so excited to travel through 7 countries in 13 months, I am struggling a bit with packing. Due to the fact that I will be backpacking through 6 countries and living in Tanzania for 11 months of my trip I am trying to pack a box to ship to Tanzania with my clothes for Africa and then a backpack for the other 2 months of my trip. I want to ship my box of clothes and supplies to my friends in Tanzania now so I can be sure it gets there before I leave. In the process I have also been trying to think about what I need in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. This has been a bit difficult due to the fact that each country has a different climate. New Zealand and Australia will be in the middle of their winter, Indonesia is an island climate and I will be surfing, and Thailand, Cambodia and Laos will be in monsoon season so I will need rain gear. This creates a problem when I only have one backpack to put all this gear in. And I am a girl who always packs to much- this is making this part of the trip a bit difficult. But it does mean I am a little bit closer. (:
My goal this week is to make sure that I have all the proper documents to visit each country on my list. Anytime someone goes to another country they need to check the government requirements of entry into that country. Many countries require visas and have visa application fees and forms you must fill out. This often requires you to download the form, fill it out, get a money order from your bank for the fee, print out your flight itinerary and bank statements, get 2 passport pictures for the embassies to keep on file, and mail all the documents with your passport to the countries embassy in New York or Washington DC. Since you are putting your passport in the mail (which can be nerve racking) you need to pay for a tracked envelope to the embassy and the tracked envelope back to your house for the embassy to use. If you are planning to stay longer than a tourist is allowed (like to volunteer) you also need a letter from the registered organization you are volunteering at. This is a pain in the butt process for any trip you take but it is extra "interesting" if you are traveling to 7 countries. Some countries have more laid back rules for travelers and you can pay for your visa once you land in the country you are visiting. This usually requires you to stand in a long line at the airport waiting for a customs official to process your application. If you do this you need to have the proper documents with you and the customs officer at any point can deny your entry and send you back to where you came from. For this reason- I rather do this before I leave. So after some research I learned I will not need a visa to enter New Zealand if it is under 90 days (: So no worries there. Australia I will need to get a visa prior but I found an application online for it that might not require me to mail in my passport (: . Indonesia requires you to get a visa and also have proof that you have a yellow fever vaccine (which I have from my first trip to Africa), the fee for entry to Indonesia is $45 and I can get my visa when I arrive if I choose to. Thailand does not require a visa for Americans, but Cambodia and Laos do. For Cambodia I need to complete the form and collect my documents and mail to the embassy with a $25 fee. A visa into Laos is $50 and must have all the documents above but the visa will only be good for a 30 day visit. Most of these visas are just formalities and a bunch of beuracratic red tape that allows you into a country, but the most difficult one for me to aquire is the Tanzanian volunteer visa. This is due to the fact that I am asking to stay for a 1 year period of time. To do this I also need a letter from Kilimahewa explaining what I am doing and demonstrate that I have enough funds to live for one year. This visa is the one I will most likely hold my breath when I send my paperwork and hope for the best. Part of the stress is that the Tanzanian government requires the organization you are volunteering for to be registered with the government, which Kilimahewa is but the problem lies in my distrust of the government to be organized enough to have our registration for Kilimahewa. In all the years past I have visited on a tourist visa which granted me access for 60 days. This year it will be for one year.
So my goal for this week is to start collecting all the paperwork I need for each country, get my passport pictures taken for each country, make copies of my flights, vaccination records and bank account info for each country, and start sending my passport out to the countries I am planning to visit. I will keep you posted on how it goes.