My boyfriend Colin is on a study abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico. An introvert himself, he wrote this guest post about how being in Mexico gave him the confidence and drive to connect with people he normally wouldn’t have.
If you like this guest post, please leave a comment or email Colin at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s thinking about starting his own blog, so any feedback will be welcome. Enjoy!
When you look at the stars you can forget where you are. You can look up past the stars into the darkness, the same midnight blue around the world, and be comforted. That is, until the little differences start to build up, the new constellations or the angle of the moon, and again you feel alone.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, the moon waxes vertically, so that all I can see is an ever-thickening canoe, distinct from the classic DreamWorks chair. The people here eat chapulines (grasshoppers), put ketchup in their beer, and consistently arrive at least a half-hour late for any scheduled meeting. The worst cultural quirk one has to overcome is the infuriating habit people here have, upon being asked for directions, of instructing you on an imaginary pathway when they have never heard of the place you are seeking, all for the purpose of being polite. These are the small differences that weigh on you. Nothing revolutionary, but enough to weigh you down and make you question why you came: culture shock.
How do you overcome it? For me it was the simple act of discussion. When you talk to a Oaxacan beyond the obligatory “tell me about Oaxaca,” they rarely discuss the subtleties of munching on a cricket or the need to throw toilet paper in a trashcan so as to not clog the toilet. These are things that they do, not things that they are, just as Americans are a bit more complex than cheese-whiz, to-go coffee, and a bizarre desire to flaunt red, white, and blue.
When you talk to a Oaxacan, they often cease to be a Oaxacan to become a person. My host mother in the city, Martha, likes to travel and loves to tell stories about her children. My Spanish teacher, Miguel, studied geology for a semester in Oregon, and when his girlfriend at the time broke up with him his roommate helped him to discover Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. When you look past all the little differences, the customs that mean hardly anything, the placement of the stars, you realize that we are all the same. The comfort of a familiar midnight blue is the comfort of a shared humanity.
So then why do we travel? Why did I go far from home, learn a new language, and waste money to talk to people who are deep down the same as people back home in the Northeastern United States? After much thought, it can be put simply: to gain new perspectives. When you have to learn a new language, you not only have to work hard to be understood, but you also have to talk to strangers. People you would never have spoken to otherwise. You have to look for that deep blue sky somewhere under the new words and alien accent, because you’ll never learn French by talking to a Frenchman. Only from a person who speaks French. So now, I, the same boy who never raised his hand in class and murmured awkwardly as classmates introduced themselves to me, have begun to initiate conversations with complete strangers. I can talk about myself, not for myself but to connect with someone else and feel the humanity that they share with me. I can only hope that upon returning to my English-speaking homeland that this new perspective holds. Everyone is more than just their title. A brief connection can help you forget the strange angle of the moon.