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I was in Ecuador when it happened to me. Many seasoned travelers had warned me about it, but I, with my buoyant wanderlust, had always haughtily considered myself above the adverse effects of foreign travel. No, I was certain. It couldn’t happen to me.

But it did. And I still remember the look in my victim’s eyes.

Gutsy Women, Book Cover Photo, Marybeth Bond

Culture shock stalks even gutsy travelers

It was a beautiful day in Cuenca, the kind of day that I lived for. Cool in the shade, warm in the sun and perfect for strolling home from class in a worn out tee shirt and jeans. Ordinarily, I would have ambled along the colonial cobblestones with a swagger, faintly bobbing my head and feeling hip in my iPod and aviators.  That day, however, this happy-go-lucky optimist had been replaced by a dark doppelganger who stomped down the street frustrated, fuming and loathing everything about her previously beloved city. The sun was too hot; the buses were suffocating; the people had evidently never grasped the concept of personal space. I was the anti-traveler. And I was huffing and puffing and scowling my way back to my host home when I lived out one of my most vivid travel memories to date.

Out of thin air, he burst into my path. As I passed a dark, narrow alley he popped out in front of me and walked backwards, keeping pace face-to-face as he harassed me and tried to force me to acknowledge him. He just kept desperately thrusting his goods in my face, smiling, refusing to take no for an answer.

Finally I snapped, shocking him and everyone else around me with a string of obscenities that would have astonished even the hardest of thugs. I’m not sure if it was the look on my face or my impressive knowledge of back alley gutter Spanish, but he stopped dead in his tracks and I saw the eager kindness disappear from his soft, wrinkled eyes. He slowly staggered away in disbelief with his tray of colorful iced clown-faced cookie pops. Yep. I’m a horrible person.

Upon verbally assaulting a kindly (if not slightly overzealous) old baker, I realized that not even I was impervious to culture shock.  On my previous trips, I had never experienced the famous “anxiety, feelings of frustration, alienation and anger that may occur when a person is em-placed in a new culture.” However, after a series of irresponsible decisions that had resulted in the loss of my debit and credit cards, I was broke, helpless and utterly desperate. The situation was compounded when I ached to be home and was instead met by unwelcome cat calls, reckless drivers and one particularly pushy cookie salesman.

The truth is, at some point we all have moments when we want to throw in the towel and curse the inconveniences of other countries and go home to the good ole’ USA where roads are marked and people speak our language and we can scream at our friends and family instead of total strangers. When I started this article, I intended to give you some advice on how to get through the inevitable troughs of travel. But the truth is, there is no panacea for homesickness. You just have to suck it up, stomp away and look forward to the next day when you will once again appreciate that you can buy a homemade sugar cookie from the affable old man waiting for you in the alley.

By Molly Dugan, Cubical Correspondent.