Leading up to my flight, I was dreading going abroad. I had dramatized everything in my mind and I thought living in the jungle was going to be the worst thing to happen to me. I was going to miss out on so much because I wouldn’t be on social media at all and because I wouldn’t be able to contact my friends as much as I was used to. But adjusting to life at the Center for Amazon Studies (CAS) in Iquitos, Peru was much easier than I expected.
CAS is on kilometer 54 of the Iquitos-Nauta highway, the only major road in the Amazon. In some ways, we are pampered. We have a gorgeous pool that we can use whenever we want and the chef, Jorge, cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us every day except Sunday. On Sunday he goes back to Iquitos to cook at his restaurant. However, life here is anything but easy. The power goes out randomly so we are often left without any power – which means no ethernet, no fans, no power for the refrigerator. We have to be wary of mold growing on our clothes and frogs and snakes coming out of the toilet while we are going to the bathroom. I have a mosquito net around my bed so I don’t get bitten at night.
Despite this new way of living, I didn’t experience any culture shock yet. It was nice to be so disconnected from my phone, the power going out was a way for people to bond, and I have seen some very cool frogs in the bathroom. The first time I experienced culture shock was when we did our first field exercise for our Conservation Science class. We went to Belen Market in Iquitos to ask vendors about their products and see the relationship between the city of Iquitos and the Amazon. I saw some things in the market that I had never seen before. Live fish with their egg sacs hanging out. Turtle legs and eggs. Cow placenta and testicles. The smell was overpowering, the amount of people were staggering, and it was the first time in the country that I felt out of control.
When we got back to CAS, I realized that the center is kind of like a bubble. Not a bubble like I am used to at Colby, but I am still not constantly in the midst of a new culture because almost everyone at CAS speaks English and the staff are very good at making us feel comfortable and welcome. We interact all the locals who work at the center and when we go in to the very small a few kilometers away. I hadn’t experienced any of the craziness that was Iquitos, so it shocked me. However, once we discussed our emotional reactions as a group and our intellectual reactions in class, I was able to move through my shock and realize how normal these products are in Peruvian culture. I was surprised that the thing that has challenged me most so far was not the low access to internet but the actual culture because I went in thinking I could be so comfortable in a new culture. As I explore the country in the upcoming months, I am interested to see how I react to situations in CAS compared to situations outside my bubble.