Tag Archives: culture shock

Spanglish: A Poem about Identity

Last weekend, I was invited to recite a poem at two different events: the first was a Peace Corps poetry jam hosted by the Oiste volunteer magazine team; the second was the annual poetry and music exhibition in Pradomar, commemorating Julio Flórez, a famous local poet.

I wrote a poem about my experience with language acquisition, in which I have reached a point where the two syntaxes, cultures and, ultimately, identities meet, in a single, confusing mindset called Spanglish.

My brain speaks Spanglish–half and half, whatever comes out first. And that’s kind of how my concept of self has become–no longer wholly a single culture or perspective, but a mix of two.

I hope you enjoy!

Spanglish video



Yo tengo this thing, sabes

My lips, teeth, tongue

boca, garganta, lungs

They’re all vueltia’o

Running over, under, in and out

And quedan abusa’os

todos agota’os

All combined to one

One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

that no one understands

no one but maybe tu

On one hand, hay

words, ideas,

quid pro quo

Irony, analisis, wit and GO!

Al otro lado, pues

rhythm, rrriccccoooo beats

Sensual, sexy, sweet

cogele suave, amor

One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

not pa’alla ni aca

It’s Spanglish, this vaina!

It’s a viva thing

Two identities a la vez

Dos mundos, one fluidez

Jodaaaa, now what?

Aja, so here we are

que hay que hacer?


Welcome to el nuevo ser
One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua


not here, not there

But somehow, everywhere

To Flush or Not to Flush: 5 Indicators You’re Entering the Cultural Transition Zone

One of the most baffling truths of modern transportation is that in the space of a couple of hours (more precisely, two cat naps and one plane-bathroom break), one can take-off in one culture and climate and land in a completely different one. Breakfast in 90-degree Colombia, lunch in 20-degree America.  Let’s call this the “cultural transition zone.” 

#1.    What’s the very first sign of the “cultural transition zone?” The toilet paper. During your pre-boarding pee break, you don’t even blink when you have to perch on a porcelain bowl and throw the paper in the trash can. You’ve done it for like, 500 days already. Continue reading To Flush or Not to Flush: 5 Indicators You’re Entering the Cultural Transition Zone

Integrated and it feels so good

(Note: This week, I’m writing my one-year-in-service reflections. There’s a more comprehensive post coming, but I was enjoying writing this mini blog tangent, so I figured I’d share it now!) 

Here’s a huge–though gradual and ongoing–success: I’m integrated! That is to say, the integration and culture struggles no longer take the bulk of my time or energy. At the beginning, every conversation took extensive effort, and I spent a lot of time getting lost, asking questions, observing people and trying to deduce the idiosyncrasies of this culture.  Continue reading Integrated and it feels so good

On poop.

*Warning: this post may contain graphic images and descriptions*

Often the first sign of culture shock appears in the digestive system–or, more accurately, in the products thereof. In the toilet. Bowel movements. Shit. Poop.


Cultural Adjustment Phases

The first stage of cultural adjustment is, of course, the honeymoon phase. This is when your bowels still believe they are in the home country. Everything is dandy and you have a cute little bowel movement in between fun, touristy activities in the host country.  You foolishly think, this is great! Culture shock is for the weak! However, in the bowel movement adjustment process, the honeymoon stage can only last a period of 1-2 days, or approximately two new local meals in the host country (this period may be prolonged if you tend to eat in the hotel restaurant or the omnipresent McDonald’s.)

But here in the Peace Corps, we live with host families. This is fantastic, but it’s also an immediate immersion into the host country food.

Thus, the crisis phase hits, also cleverly referred to as “when shit hits the fan.” (author’s note: no fans were harmed during the writing of this blog.) The crisis phases has two distinct manifestations, known simply as “stop” and “go“.

Stop: An invisible perpetrator, the stop phase can take anywhere from two days to over a week (any longer, and you’re advised to seek medical attention.)  The point of the “stop” phase is that nothing happens. However, the victim/traveler experiences side effects ranging from severe lower abdominal cramping to a strong desire to post bitter social media status updates about one’s bowels and the injustice of the world. Sometimes, the “stop” phase culminates in a temporal, accelerated “go”  phase (see below.)

Go: The symptoms of the “go” are easily recognizable, with a timetable of roughly 10 minutes…repeatedly. After a meal, the traveler begins to exhibit distinctive facial expressions: first, intense concentration, then utter anguish, followed quickly by flat-out panic. This is accompanied by a full-body sweat and a tendency to break all cultural norms to sprint to the nearest facility. It’s important to note that some countries’ facilities are more supportive than others; it’s always a good idea to bring your own toilet paper and, in some cases, toilet seat.

The crisis phase can take anywhere from a few weeks to indefinite years, depending on the location, the traveler’s physical condition and their degree of curiosity. It’s important to identify triggers, such as eating food or drinking water, and establish a prevention plan, such as consuming only pre-packaged, preservative-ensured meals and drinking only Coca-cola products. Treatment plans should incorporate a simple, bland diet and a Netflix account. 

For digestion rockstars, a final stage is attainable: the recovery and adjustment phase. To transition, the traveler must undergo repeated crisis phases until his or her intestinal tract adjusts to the triggers or an effective prevention strategy is discovered, often in lifetime supplies of Imodium and Miralax.

Three types of cultural adjustment emerge from the adjustment phase:

“Rejectors” view the culture negatively and withdraw emotionally and socially and, in the case of the bowel movement adjustment, culinarily. These are the people you find in Subway, Burger King and McDonald’s, the “safe zones.”

“Assimilators”, on the other hand, adjust to the culture by exchanging the home country cultural trends for the host country’s cultural elements, thereby losing their own culture. These are the people who swear they were born in the wrong country and all along, they were host-country nationals. While in country, they reject ties to the home country and pretend to love everything about the host country. They’re the ones claiming to adore those local dishes that even the locals avoid (I’m looking at you, sheep brain meatloaf, intestine soup and durian fruit!)

“Adapters” are thought to be the happy medium. These travelers embrace aspects of both the home and host cultures, utilizing a balanced approach to facilitate integration through compromise and collaboration. By selecting customs from both cultures, the adapters (and their digestive systems) successfully combine the successful elements of each side. These are the people who add new to the tried-and-true; this is my potato soup with bananas; this is my friend Jeremy’s patacon y tomate de arbol burgers.

As travelers face the bowel movement adjustment phases, it’s important to note that the process is inevitable and likely cyclical. As such, it’s best to view the stages as simply another rite of passage in the cultural integration process. And as any rite of passage, it could one day lead to a tongue-in-cheek blog post and a story for someone’s grandkids.

End note: This blog was inspired by my breakfast, as pictured below. It’s actually a delicious boiled banana with scrambled eggs! 🙂