Remembering Culture Shock

Lago Deseado

It’s been almost 2 years since I first moved to South America, and as its winter here right now, the grey weather and cold temperatures have fostered a more contemplative lifestyle in me, and has often made me think about my first experiences in southern Chile.  When I arrived in Punta Arenas it was not only the first time in Chile for me, but also the first time in a Spanish speaking part of South America (I had visited Brazil the year prior).  I remember being apprehensive about my virtually non-existent Spanish speaking skills, and thinking that with French and German already in my arsenal, I perhaps will be a faster learner, and therefore, “it won’t be so bad.”  Then came the connecting flight in Santiago…I was in the airport and every word being spoken around me seemed utterly foreign.  Luckily I began to understand relatively quickly and became accustomed to the barrier.

Thinking about this made me check some old emails I had written to friends back home when I first arrived in Patagonia. Below I’ve posted an email that garnered a lot of attention, due to its comedic nature.  I’ve also included some photos I took while in Patagonia, which I have recently been revisiting because I find them peaceful, tranquil, and in accordance with my recent moods.


I have now been in Punta Arenas, Chile, for exactly one week, and am more or less settled in.  After 27 hours of traveling I landed in Patagonia (albeit on the pilot’s second try…apparently he was a rookie and didn’t like the 60mph winds) and miraculously so did all of my bags.  People from the race were there to pick me up and they took me to the house that serves as the race headquarters which is, for all intents and purposes, in the center of town.  Most of the people here do not speak much English, but some do, which is extremely helpful for my learning Spanish.

In any case, I spent the weekend settling in to my new home and on Sunday I tagged along with some of the people from the race who were helping some marine biologists collect starfish for research.

We went down the one paved road that exists here, and then once that ended, continued on a dirt “road” for another hour (I now understand why the Toyota Hilux is the preferred vehicle of choice in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Patagonia: and  We left the biologists to go scuba diving in the 2 degree Celsius water, and continued on a little further to the Fuerte (Fort) Bulnes, which was the first colony in the area before Punta Arenas.

Although my Spanish is improving, it isn’t going as quickly as I want it to.  Around the office this week people kept saying, “donde esta Elisa?” and I kept thinking to myself, “I never met any Elisa since I’ve been here….who is this girl and why can’t they ever find her?  Did something happen to her?  I hope she’s ok…”  Turns out that Donde Esta Elisa is a very popular Chilean soap opera…  I became privy to this information last night when it happened to be on the television when I had a beer with the Chilean interns.  One of the guys, Ruben, now gets a big kick out of popping his head into my office and asking me, “Donde esta Elisa?” and then chortling as he walks away.  It’s happened 6 times already….

Darwin Range

Tierra del Fuego

One thought on “Remembering Culture Shock

  1. Pingback: Wordsmithing: Entrepreneurial Conservation « Raxa Collective

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