Tag Archives: culture shock

We’re Back! – Reverse Culture Shock

This is a post by Jenny.

It’s great to be back in the US, especially after going to a walk-in clinic and getting antibiotics and eye drops to treat the sinus infection and conjunctivitis that have been nagging me for nearly three weeks. It’s fantastic to see and talk to my family and friends. My bed, filled with my favorite stuffed animals, was a welcome sight. At the same time as all of this joy, I feel a bit disoriented and a sense of loss – mourning the end of the life I’ve been living for the last 8 months.

Ruminating on that…

David and I spent 60 days straight together, with only a handful of hours apart while he went for a walk on his own or I went shopping. It feels weird to be alone so much and not even see each other some days (our apartment isn’t ready yet so we’re each living at our parents at the moment). Aren’t you sick of each other? Surprisingly not!

In the countries we were in, the sun didn’t rise until about 7:30a, and didn’t fully set until about 9p. It’s depressing and disorienting that it’s fully dark here by 7:30p. The time zone change also had both of us waking up at 6am for several days.

In Spain, every evening we went for a paseo (walk) around 9ish and ate dinner sometime between 9:30-11p. Yesterday I was completely done with dinner by 6:15p – four hours earlier than what’s become normal. I’ve had a strolling walk most of the days, but it’s just not quite the same in my parents’ suburban neighborhood versus bustling, beautiful Valencia.

My first day back at work was yesterday. Taking the train up from Attleboro, it felt odd popping out in South Station and seeing all the modern skyscrapers – I sort of stared up at them in awe. While waiting for the train and on it, I sheepishly grinned to myself about my excitement of being able to casually talk to strangers and understanding strangers talking to each other after months of working myself up to talk to people in foreign languages.

The endless options are both overwhelming and exciting. 10 pairs of shoes to choose from when I’m used to 2? 20 pairs of earrings when I’ve had access to 4? And a closetful of clothing when all I’ve had is a small backpack with a handful of shirts?! The options are nice, but I also miss the simplicity of having so few choices. The same goes for food – great, yet dangerous, to have a [free] fridge and pantry at my disposal!

Along that same vein in the issue of having a lot of stuff. Luckily, my current frame of mind is to reduce my material possessions after surviving with so little for so long. This is greatly helping me as I go through all of my stuff to try to clean and organize my parents’ basement in anticipation of moving!

I’m generally a bike helmet fanatic (after getting hit by a car a few years ago). Through all our bike riding in Europe, there were no helmets even available. I slowly got used to riding without one. Getting on a bike for the first time yesterday, I felt like my helmet was an unwelcomed, foreign accessory – as opposed to being part of me like it used to be. However, this won’t change – I will always ride with my helmet while stateside. It did give me pause – helmets are to protect you for when your head hits something hard – but they aren’t the answer to bike safety – it should be about preventing what causes your head to hit something in the first place….

Well, being home and back to work, it’s already starting to feel like I never left. The “how was your trip?” questions will start to end and life will be ‘normal’. Have any tips on how to avoid feeling like our great adventures never happened?

P.S. we have several more great entries in the works- including a smattering of photos, details of the tomatina, cooking classes, some differences we observed, and a run down of the trip by the numbers – stay tuned!

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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Europe, Travel


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Familiar Products, with a Foreign Twist

While being in a foreign country for a long period of time can make you feel homesick, being American usually means that the familiarity of home isn’t much further away than your closest 7/11 store (which are everywhere). Before we went out to Asia, I felt a lot of anxiety about what I would need to bring and what I could be able to get there.

Did I need to bring 2 months worth of toothpaste, shampoo, contact solution, etc? No. They sell that nearly everywhere we went, and it wasn’t too foreign….

Iced Tea in Thailand (Lipton)

Oreos! Available everywhere in strawberry, blueberry icecream, and plain. I can’t even count the number of Oreos we ate while in Asia…

Gotta keep those teeth clean!

Nori seaweed Lays…so delicious, a common easy snack for us.

Ketchup and hot sauce on Koh Jum..thanks Heinz!

Thai Pantene..keeping our curls at bay (though with the humidity, it’s an uphill battle!)

Sodas come in tall, thin glass bottles. While we were in northern Thailand, there was a Sprite shortage – something with the distributor from the south not getting it in. This one was a rare treat. Note the straw – nobody drinks out of bottles/can – you are ALWAYS given a straw.

Besides Singapore, you cannot drink the tap water anywhere that we went. Locals don’t drink it either – everyone buys bottled/jugs of water. This made water very inexpensive – thank goodness! Due to our transient nature, we only bought smaller, 1 liter bottles of water.  There were always several choices, with the foreign brand being 2-4 times higher than the local brand. Most of the time we went with the local brand (below at right), which we dubbed “the rubbing alcohol water” because the bottle looks like a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

Local water (note that the expiration date is 15/2/56. It is currently the year 2555 in Thailand!

Nestle water

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Posted by on May 20, 2012 in Asia, Travel


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An Examination of Conscience

[Note: This blog post is not about fun adventures we’ve been having, but rather difficult things we have seen. While it is depressing, it is reality here and as travelers we feel an obligation to share and educate those around us.]

While in Laos and Cambodia, the subject of economics and inequality has been on our minds a lot. We have frequent discussions about the situation in Laos and Cambodia, and to a lesser extent Thailand and the rest of South East Asia. This post is modeled after a discussion we had on the way to dinner after helping some Lao students practice their English at Big Brother Mouse, a Laos non-profit that works to improve literacy in Laos through book distribution, as well as English learning.


Laos is a mixture of beautiful scenery and a terrible past

Jenny: I love it here in Luang Prabang. It is super gorgeous, with nice people, beautiful buildings, and delicious food. But on the other hand, I feel really torn because I know this is one of the poorest countries on the planet.

David: Right. What we see here in town is not what this country is really like. People that live here don’t stay in these beautiful French villas and eat croissants and expensive food. They live outside the city without access to clean water, eating rice and whatever vegetables they grow.

Jenny: I feel guilty haggling over a dollar or two at the market, even though that’s what you’re supposed to do. Those extra few dollars won’t make a huge difference to me, compared to someone who lives on just a few dollars a day.

Jenny: Also, the lack of health care is terrifying. The other night we saw a toddler get hit by a van. There was no ambulance to come. Did that child die? Does that family just accept that as the way of life?

David: Remember when you were sick with a fever? If it had turned into something serious we could have flown to Thailand where there is good healthcare. For the people here, they can’t just evacuate to another country.

Fancy car

There is a huge wealth gap in Laos.

David: I’m glad you printed out those pictures of Boston and your family. Those kids at Big Brother Mouse were really excited to see the photos. I thought about taking out my iPhone and showing them pictures on there, but it seemed weird. I didn’t want to be like “oh look at me, a rich American with a fancy phone.”

Jenny: Yeah, that would have been awkward. What did you say when they asked about your job?

David: Well I told them that I work with computers. They said “wow, we wish we had computers.” They don’t even have access to computers at school or the library. Think about it, I work in an industry doesn’t even exist in their country.

Jenny: Life here seems a lot more simple than at home, yet a lot more complicated at the same time.  Extended families all live and eat together and there aren’t all the complications and nonsense of computers and stress that seem so strong in the modern world. It seems nice to romanticize such a simple lifestyle, but on the flip side, their stress and worry is do we have enough food to eat? Do we have access to clean water? Is my family safe and healthy? Their concerns are about basic human survival, while at home we worry about making deadlines or what someone said. It’s such a different world and makes so many of the stresses at home seem so unimportant.

David: One question I got was “if you already have everything, why do you want to travel here?” Deep question.

Jenny: That is interesting. We were looking at a map of the world, and I asked some of those kids if they could go anywhere in the world, where would they go? They answered Vientienne. That’s the capitol of their own country! You can drive there in a day. They said they heard there were tall buildings in Vientienne. And here we are, having flown 25+ hours to get to them. However, I’m glad that we got to chat with some local kids for a few hours. It makes the barriers seem like a lot less – we are all people, wanting to learn more, thrive, and be happy.


We are millionaires here. 1 million kip = $125

Jenny: What do you think it will take to clean up all the unexploded bombs and land mines in Laos and Cambodia?

David: I don’t know. There are a lot of them. I read that the US covertly dropped about 250 million bombs in Laos during the Vietnam war. They wanted to break up supply lines going to North Vietnam. But an estimated 80 million failed to explode on impact and now they are laying in fields and cities. They still claim lives today. Laos is the most bombed country in the world.

Jenny: That’s insane. And don’t forget that the Khmer Rouge and the Royal Army planted millions of land mines in Cambodia in an attempt to kill each other. There are no maps of those.

David: Can you imagine going for a walk in the woods, or in a field near your house and being worried you might accidentally set off a bomb?

Jenny: What I want to know is, what is the U.S. doing about it now? And, is something like that happening now and we don’t know about it? (i.e. bombing in Libya). There is no solution or easy way to fix the legacy left behind.

A bomb dropped by the US

Imagine how we felt standing in front of this bomb that the US dropped on Cambodia?

Bombing map

Did you know that we bombed Cambodia and Laos? This is the legacy we have left behind.

David: One thing that I do love about this region is the resilience of the people and the sense of hope. Heroes like Aki Ra put their life on the line every day to make their country a safer place.

Jenny: And don’t forget Ponheary Le, who owned our guesthouse in Siem Reap. She started a foundation to improve access to education for children – her family starting from nothing after the Cambodian genocide.

David: Yeah, and there’s little things we can do as tourists that can help. First of all, our money is supporting the local economy. We just have to be wise how we spend it.

Jenny: Right. For instance, by not giving it to the little kids selling junk outside of temples. Like Ponheary says, those kids need to be in school, not on the streets hawking bracelets. But, it is so hard with their sad faces and big wide eyes (and absolute persistence). I wish there was an easy solution to help.

Aki Ra

Aki Ra is a former Khmer Rouge child soldier who now works to remove land mines and has diffused more than 10,000 by hand. He also cares for orphans and victims of land mines.

David: I wonder what everyone at home thinks about this stuff?

Jenny: I don’t know. Let’s put it on the blog and see what they say!


Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Asia


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Arrival in a Foreign Land

This is a post by Jenny.

Nothing I read or heard before traveling could have prepared me for the culture shock and discomfort we’d face when arriving in a foreign country. It’s actually fascinating to understand and reflect on the feelings of discomfort that come from not knowing the social expectations. We felt most uncomfortable in our first two days in a new country because we’re so uncertain about everything and feel like we know nothing- what are the social norms? How are you supposed to act? How does everything work? All of the knowledge you have from your own culture is irrelevant and you feel uncomfortable not knowing how you should act – not even realizing how much knowledge you took for granted in your home country. Here are a few examples:

Cars drive on the left, and there is a lot of traffic!

You see all sorts of vehicles...

Walking/traffic: in Singapore and Thailand, they drive on the left hand side. They seem to make a left on red without stopping, motorbikes pass cars on both sides, really narrow streets still have cars driving in both directions, and most traffic rules seem to be more of a suggestion. This makes it really difficult to figure out how to cross the street, and even more difficult to decide how to walk on the street. Which side do you walk on? (left, according to our Thai friend Palm). Which way do you look to cross the street? (after a few near misses, you look every way, multiple times). After stepping out into traffic, I did get “oohhhhh”d by a car-full of high school kids. I learned my lesson.

Beautiful Buddhist Temples (Wats) are everywhere

Temples: there are gorgeous temples everywhere. Can we go in them? What are the rituals of a Buddhist temple (as opposed to the Catholic churches I am used to?) Can I take pictures? Am I allowed to go everywhere? Is anything I am doing offending anyone? So far, I think the answers are that I can visit them, I should be respectful by being quiet, discreetly taking pictures, and covering my shoulders and knees.  I think close to the front/Buddha, I should go on my knees. It seems nice to offer a piece of incense or a flower, lei like item.

The infrastructure in Thailand does not support flushing TP

Thai toilets

Shower into bathroom..without curtain, tub, or door

Bathroom: bathrooms are what mystify us the most, and are the thing we can least ask questions about. However, we have had a lot of good laughs trying to look up answers online . The pipes in Thailand cannot support flushing toilet paper, and the showers don’t have tubs or curtains! If you don’t put the TP in the toilet, what do you do? (answer: you put it in the trash basket next to the toilet). There is also a hose/sprayer connected to the toilet to clean off – but if I use the high pressured hose, I get water everywhere – all over me, on the toilet seat, and maybe on my clothes. Then, how do I dry myself off? If the shower head is just in the middle of the bathroom, how do I avoid getting water all over the place? Then, the floor of my bathroom is all wet all day. There will most likely be more blog entries about bathrooms..

Songtao..shared taxi in the bed of a remade pickup truck

Tuk tuk...a 3 wheeled scooter/motorcycle

Transportation: When you arrive somewhere new, figuring out the transportation system is a big challenge – we usually just walk A LOT for the first few days until we give in to figure out some better way around. What does the map look like? Do you pay ahead? Need to keep the ticket to get out? Which side do you stand on? These are all questions for big, developed cities like San Francisco or Singapore who actually have a public transportation system. Arriving and understanding how to get around in Thailand is a whole uncharted beast to us. To get a cab from the airport, we waited in line at a ticket counter to be given a number of a taxi to wait for – and every taxi cost the same no matter where we were going. There is not really a public transportation system here (no subways or buses), but instead there are shared cabs (songtaos) and private cab bikes (tuk-tuks). How do I know what to take to get somewhere? How do I pay? What color truck do I need for where I am going? What if the driver doesn’t know where the place is? How do I get one to stop in the first place? How do I negotiate a fair price?  Luckily, after 5 days of only walking, we have now taken both a songtao and tuk tuk. Quite fun!

Restaurants: Seat yourself or wait to be seated? How do you order? Do they bring the bill or do you have to ask for it? Why is the waiter standing next to the table? Why is our food coming out at different times? Do I leave a tip? Is certain food going to make me sick? Will my belly ever adjust to eating this different collection of food groups?

Misc: How do I turn the lights on? Open the door? How does the shower work? Is there hot water? Every single time I leave the house, I need to look at a map, multiple times. Every time I am hungry, I need to hunt down food – a barrage of decisions to make when you just want to eat.

Ah, settling into a foreign land is a great (and exhausting!) part of the adventure!!

Note that this entry is being published a few days late and reflect our feelings from our initial arrival in Thailand – we have since settled and feel much more comfortable!


Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Asia


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