Beginnings of the “Cultural Adjustment Curve” in Cuenca, Ecuador

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You may have heard of the term “Cultural Adjustment Curve.” Essentially, it’s a theory on the different emotions one will feel when immersed in a foreign culture. I haven’t experienced the full curve yet although my first month in Ecuador has definitely had its ups and downs. At first everything is new, exciting and you feel great! After awhile, you may get frustrated with everyday differences and lack of go-to resources or comforts you’re used to in your hometown (where are you Cuencano Donkey Coffee shop?). I am about one of three months through my study abroad journey, and I notice that my experiences so far relate to the beginning of this adjustment curve.

During my first week abroad, I had an orientation to prepare for life in Cuenca and see the diverse landscapes within the country. This week was a wonderful first week vacation in Quito, the equator, Otavalo and the Amazon – there were no classes, only orientation sessions to prepare to live with host families in Cuenca the following week.

The first week in Cuenca, Ecuador however was the hardest for me thus far on this trip.  It is important to realize studying abroad is not always the idealistic, easygoing dream that people imagine.

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I first noticed the Cultural Adjustment Curve on my first walk to school alone. My walk to school takes around 35 minutes, and on my third day in Cuenca I decided I was ready to go by myself. Unfortunately, I ended up getting lost. I used my Spanish language skills to ask people where my school was and got help. It was so difficult trying to navigate through the center of town but eventually found my way and was only 15 minutes late to class. Once I was in the building, I explained to my friend how I got lost and suddenly could not breathe. I suppose I held in the anxiety to seem confident navigating my way so I wouldn’t stand out as a vulnerable tourist. I then realized I forgot my debit card and struggled to find a taxi on a Friday night in Cuenca. This problem was also solved with the support of my community in my new home of Cuenca, Ecuador.

I’m learning little by little through these experiences to remain calm in the face of stress and the unknown –  life is always changing and throwing me challenges. That’s the beauty of going global! You learn from all these layers of good and not so good experiences, which turn into insights that you’ll carry with you for life and help you become a better version of yourself.

International education not only provides lessons in language and culture, but also about yourself and how you deal with stress in a foreign place. Remember to utilize your resources at your school and home; speak with your host family, peers, professors, and coordinators – they will be there for you along the way.

Through my recent experiences reflected in the cultural adjustment curve, it’s evident that going global truly can be an emotional roller-coaster – and I don’t even know the half of it yet!

Laura Gilbert is a sophomore majoring in Spanish Language. She is currently studying in Cuenca, Ecuador on the Spanish Language and Culture program. Follow her adventures abroad on Instagram @_lauragilbert.

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