A Travellerspoint blog

Culture Shock and Looking Back

The wrap-up.

sunny 85 °F

My Sister Sara and almost three year old niece Ella picked me up at Denver International Airport. Sara said, “Hi, Brother.”, Ella just said, “Unc.” and we drove off toward Denver (DIA is WAAAY outside of Denver). Culture shock set in almost immediately. It was pretty warm, maybe mid 80’s, but without the Costa Rica humidity it felt pretty comfortable. We drove along perfectly maintained roads in an air conditioned Nissan Pathfinder. I watched what seemed to me now like huge tracts of empty prairie go by. I don’t remember everything being so big ... spacious, empty. I could see the front range of the Rocky Mountains and the Denver skyline in the distance. I could see for miles in every direction. Well maintained, quiet, seemingly brand new cars passed us every once in awhile on the uncrowded highway. The whole scene was astonishing to me. I felt like Fred Flintstone would if he visited the Jetsons. I tried to chit chat with my Sister but I didn’t have much to say. I was staring at my once familiar surroundings and wondering why they felt so strange. As we got closer to Denver we started to hit some of the suburbs. I understand urban sprawl now. I was thinking to myself, “Why don’t they put stuff closer together? Look at all that room between those two strip malls. You can’t do shit around here without driving.” My Sister asked me if I was hungry. I came out of the fog and said, “Yeah, Burger King. Whopper with cheese, fries and a Coke” I hadn’t had a decent burger in six months. We got my Whopper, fries, and a Coke at the drive through with some extra fries for Ella. Nine bucks. Seriously? I made some comment like, “Holy shit!”. Sara said, “Well we got extra fries for Ella.” This was going to be a difficult home coming, no doubt about it. I had gone native in Costa Rica.

I spent 162 days in Central America from January 20 to July 1, 2010: 146 days in Costa Rica, 5 days in Panama, and 11 days in Nicaragua. My total distance travelled by Jeep, airplane, bus, taxi, and boat since leaving San Francisco in December is 11535 KM, 7168 miles, covering around twenty never seen before cities.

Over the past six months I have seen breeching whales (mother and baby together), howler, spider, capuchin, and squirrel monkeys, a pregnant reef shark, a hawksbill turtle, sloth, cayman, and countless outrageous birds, bugs and butterflies. I’ve been attacked by a “sandwich hawk”, random birds have hit me in the head or crapped on my laundry for no apparent reason, and Oso nipped me because I wouldn’t let SiSi into the house at 2AM. I’ve seen poison dart frogs and vipers, massive toads, and all kinds of lizards. I learned about blister beetles the hard way. I learned that geckos chirp. I zip-lined, walked in the canopy, snorkeled and surfed. I learned to hate roosters. I sweated off fifteen pounds and got four haircuts. I wore out my flip flops and lost one sock.

I am now a TEFL certified ESL teacher and have many ESL teaching contacts in countries around the world. I have a whopping 5 days of formal Spanish training under my belt and five and a half months of learn as you go survival Spanish on top of that. I no longer feel self conscious about speaking the local language in a foreign country. I know how to use Skype now. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the Facebook community because it was the best way to keep up with people I had met on my travels. I know how to do a Blog and know that I love writing about my travel experiences and would like to continue to do so. I have an unlocked quad band GSM phone that I can use in any country and have cut my cell phone bill in half. I know how to surf (kinda). I have dozens of new friends and a Tica family that I hope to see again some day. I am completely free, without obligation right now aside from a $126 per month storage unit in San Francisco that contains most of my worldly possessions. I saved $7500 by taking on this adventure (assuming that I would have spent the last six months sitting on my ass in San Francisco without a job). That’s the good news. Not too shabby for a six to nine month period of my life depending on where you start counting from. If I could fill up every six month period of my life like I did the last I’d be very happy.

The bad news. I didn’t find a teaching job. Kindof a biggy. That was the ultimate goal after all. I’d have to say my effort was half-ass at best. In a way I feel like I’ve returned to the U.S. defeated. Another biggy ... freedom is a double edged sword. I am free to do whatever I want to do right now (within budget and reason) but I don’t know what that is ... and I’m homeless. If I still had my apartment in San Francisco to go back to I’d feel much better about things right now. I’d have my fortress of solitude. I have temporary places to live in the U.S. but they’re not mine. I didn’t have my own place to live in Costa Rica either but that was OK. Totally different circumstances, totally different needs and expectations.

So now what? I looked back at the ‘Looking Back’ post that I wrote after the completion of TEFL training and realized that I need to set another meaty goal for myself and then start chipping away at it. Maybe I’ll apply for ESL teaching jobs where the jobs are more plentiful ... South Korea, Thailand, ... somewhere and accomplish what I set out to do in the first place. Maybe I’ll join the Peace Corps. I sure like this travel writing gig. I wonder if I can make something out of that. Maybe I’ll go back to San Francisco and make some money as a software engineer (it’s not that bad, really) while I’m sorting out what’s next. I’m open to suggestions.

And so ends this blog. Thanks to everyone who read, commented and encouraged me to keep writing, travelling, and pursuing a teaching career. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about myself in the process.

Hasta Luego!,
Dan

Posted by dfilipia 20:45 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged backpacking

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