A good friend e-mailed and asked: ” What has been the biggest culture shock that you have experienced so far?” and I had to think about that one…
I have to admit that I first tried to address “culture shock” in terms of trauma and anxiety – and I’ve had my share of struggles! – but really, the biggest “shock” in moving here has been very positive. I would say I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by the wealth of culture and history here. Being in the Central Andes gives me access to the Inca civilization at its core (e.g., one of the main streets through the city was once part of the Inca trail), but I also love the diversity here from Peru’s rich history before and after the Incas and from the country’s geography – the Andes seem to be like a mixing pot as the sierra is flanked by the coast to the west of Peru and the Amazon rainforest to the east. Many of the people here in Huancayo, for example, consider themselves mestizo (of mixed descent). Not to mention all the people who look like gringos (foreigners) to me, but are actually Peruvians descended from the Spanish, and all the Chinese and Japanese looking-people who have also lived here for generations. In fact, Rik, the director of my NGO, is in the Amazon right now visiting a rural community whose members all have blonde hair because their ancestors came from Germany centuries ago!
I’m ashamed to say that if I had done more research on Peru and South America, this culture shock would probably have been much less potent. At the same time, because I’m jumping with a near-blank slate, I’ve noticed that my eyes are open a lot wider, my attitude is fresher, and I’ve been able to connect more with so many people who are excited to teach me about their country (the Huancainos are so friendly!)
The Plaza Constitución is only a couple blocks away from the apartment and I love sitting there, in the centre of the city, seeing people come and go, imagining their stories. And I think of how lucky I am to be here and how my own story is unfolding.