Gargantuan Encounters with Foreign Culture

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Like hitting a buffalo while driving down the road... You're never going to be the same again, but what if that buffalo became a permanent fixture on your car and added to its functionality and beauty?  That's what it's like when you travel and try to become someone different.

Just a taste of the travel bug will send your life spiraling, down or up I cannot say, until you cast off all else and pursue everything foreign...Everything NOT (whatever I am) is what I became infatuated with.

My first collisions with foreign culture were: 9 days in Costa Rica, and 5 weeks in Chile.  I can tell the story of my life almost in a before/after 2005 fashion.  After that year I was never the same.

What was your gargantuan encounter with foreign culture?  Can you pinpoint a specific time, date, place or experience?  Please do tell.


  1. Thanks for your comment on my blog...I wanted to respond, but did you know? You're a "no-reply blogger".
    Anywho, yes, I can relate to this subject matter. The first specific date was September 23, 1994 ~ Specific place ~ entering Moscow via the Sheremetyevo Airport. We disembarked the jet directly onto the tarmac, boarded a bus which drove all of us to the terminal. It seemed we entered into a basement to go through customs... everything was so dark (yet it was daytime) and gloomy, and rigid. We stood, individually, one by one, in front of a plate glass booth, which protected the agent who stared me down. He looked at my passport, stared at me ~ looked at my visa, stared at me, туда суда (back and forth) for such a looooooooong time. The experience was almost movie-ish, looking back. It was chilling.
    The next Specific date: September 25 1994
    Specific place: Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
    But that's for another day.

  2. Unfortunately no.. I was kinda born into two worlds, it feels weird, it always has, but it hasn't really been a clash. A smooth transition, ish.

  3. Probably when a young Korean student showed up at my middle school, not knowing more than a few words of English, when I was in the 7th grade. Needless to say, that eventually set my life off on a much different (and better) course than I ever could have expected.

  4. ah, yes :) i went to southern florida over christmas with a neighbor when i was fifteen and sixteen. i was already interested in linguistics, but as you'll know, miami and naples with everything hispanic and (for us anyway) tourists from europe is decidedly foreign when you've grown up in rural southeastern nc. you realize there is one big world out there, hundreds of them, even, all with their own languages to be learned, cultures to be jumped into. and then five years later i finally got to really do it. went to beautiful colombia for a month, and like you said, life can sort of be told in a before then/after then way.

    just out of curiosity, when you first got back from chile, did you do the obnoxious thing where you denounce all things american, embrace all things [country of first-travel-love] and so on? i definitely did. i just wanted to pretend i was colombian and only hang out with people who'd talk with me in spanish. but anyway i've found living in romania has given me much more of an appreciation of my own culture in the dirty south than i think i would have had otherwise. you know?

  5. Foreign culture is almost foreign to me. I don't get out much... but not because I don't want to. It's a financial issue. When I have the funds, I would love to travel more!

  6. Mrs. Tucker, wow, you sure do have an excellent memory for those experiences... but then again, I feel that I would remember that dark, dreary feeling entering a foreign country forever. Even after you had been there for a while I'm sure there were days when you felt so strange. Immigration folks gave me a hard time in Venezuela years ago and I felt so awkward. In the future you should start a blog sharing your feelings and experiences from Russia. It would probably be very successful. I have resolved the 'no-reply blogger' situation. Thank you!

  7. D4, being born into both worlds most certainly counts. I was born into a group of people who looked like me for the most part. If you were born into two cultures your whole life has been a culture shock in a way. If you are between groups I think you have perspective that most of us can never dream of having. But perhaps because it has always been a part of you it doesn't seem as foreign to you.

    My children will be in between, as they will be Asian-American, but I will help them embrace both sides :) Yay for multi-culturalism!

  8. Steve, I try to imagine being that young Korean boy. He must have been so brave to have come like that, albeit he did not have much of a choice. It's funny almost, how many signs I had pointing me towards different cultures from a young age and I never realized it. We had a Korean church next door to our church for 7 years and I never thought much of it. Now look at me.

    Did it smell like kimchi when you arrived at Incheon airport? I didn't know what kimchi smelled like so I cannot answer.

    Shutterbug, I will also have to work hard to travel now that I am married. It will not be as easy to just leave home and visit the other side of the world. Plus we have a lot of stuff to buy for our wedding and apartment if we can ever get into one! Anyway, you are Asian so I believe you started the whole 'cultural awareness' thing at a very very young age. We didn't have that benefit because we are just plain pasty white European :) Heh.

  9. Sarah, you're right that Wilmington, NC is no melting pot of culture. We have certainly branched out from the 'norm', but what do you think it was from the beginning? Was it just upbringing or merely our genes? God only knows, really.

    I did denounce American culture for a while and tried to listen to only Spanish music, watch latin american movies, and read in Espanol... It wasn't as if I could only absorb Chilean but everything Spanish-speaking. It was pretty much infatuation. Whoever said that sort of thing was a bad thing? Anywho, by the time I came back to the USA from Chile after one year and after Korea I do find some good in the American system... I guess we might be living in parallel universes or something like that. You with Colombia and Romania and me with Chile and Korea. :)

  10. Went to Asia and I loved it. It just feels alive, there are people everywhere and the cities and tall and glamorous.

    And then I come home to my city and it's like dead. Sigh...


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