The first time I lived aboard I was studying in Valparaiso, Chile during college. I remember that in an orientation packet the University of North Carolina gave me was the drawing of the culture shock “W-Curve”: a graph drawn to express common emotions experienced upon becoming a momentary ex-pat during the study abroad experience. While its been years since I’ve seen this packet my current situation has me reflecting back on the drawing and a quick Google search later, I was able to clearly see that the stages and emotions described on the graph apply in adult life as well.
The Honeymoon Stage
When I arrived in Hone Creek, Costa Rica everything was new and exciting. I felt free, light, and alive. I drank in the sunshine, Spanish language, my new students, and the epically gorgeous Caribbean Sea. I was high on life-for about a month straight. My only issue at this point was that I had not chosen to walk away (again) from living in the United State sooner. My work schedule seemed short, my adult responsibilities gone; I had few belongings and tons of free time.
Disintegration: Problems become apparent and irritating
Then month two came, and my house lost power and water more and more. I grew tired of biking the horrible roads everyday. I missed consistency, and flushing my toilet paper, kale, and my dogs. I reached an all time low just before I was scheduled to travel to the USA for my bridal shower contracting Dengue Fever, a chest infection, and two ear infections. I was sick, scared and wanted out pretty badly. However, I still loved my students, the beauty of the jungle, and the freedom of my lifestyle. So I stuck with my frustrations and issue and mentally battled to see the positive side of the situation.
Just as the graph suggested I would. I moved past my fear and frustration. I got married, I got better, and stopped feeling sorry for myself. I now knew where to buy kale and arugula, how to drive stick, use a machete, and felt comfortable with my students and their families. I grew more confident in my work, I made friends, taught yoga, and traveled. Without even noticing it my frustrations changed from catastrophic to mundane and Costa Rica became my life. All of my inner turmoil and outer experience also fit neatly into the diagram of the W-Curve and my above description from frustration to comfort could be defined as the stages of Autonomy and Independence.
Here I am- one month away from re-patriation after almost two years in the jungle. I am reminded of the time line, and once again I feel almost ashamed for being so damn predictable. I can feel myself clawing at the jungle floor kicking and screaming-that’s how badly I don’t want to leave. No matter how passionate or powerful, even my inner thoughts and actions are some how part of this highly predictable continuum that knew how I would behave internally all this time. I feel oddly nostalgic about everything from the iridescent blue Morpho butterfly to my daily bike ride through cow fields and jungle orchards. The idyllic tropical paradise and the obnoxious third world inequities are somehow now more balanced which allows for a normalization of life and a sense of peace and grounding.
What the Curve Doesn’t Know
Through all of this emotion and stimulus my students and work with the Peace Through Yoga Foundation have been my anchor. The experience of the daily bike ride, English lessons, and field trips changed my relationship with my students into that of my family. The times we’ve traveled and grown as a group have both supported and shaped me. The girls have grown smarter and stronger through the support they receive from one another, and the friendships they've forged through the program. We’ve all shared so much together for the past two years it’s near impossible to imagine living once again in such a different world. How to gracefully let go of this world I've created is not on the W-Curve or any emotional continuum.
I don’t know how to move on or walk away from the girls. The good news is, I don’t have to, I can choose to remain involved, to take a place the board of directors of the non-profit, choose to remain in contact with the new teacher, and in touch with my students. But I know, it will never be the same.
So I will do what we all do-when we are standing on a ledge we know we are going to jump from: Close my eyes. Take a breath. And really, really enjoy the moment.