Posted by: Jena Davison | July 10, 2010

Jena in the U.S. of A.

To clichely quote the Grateful Dead, “what a long strange trip it’s been.” I just returned to the States on Thursday night and am utterly overwhelmed by all I experienced these past nine months. It feels like a dream, and in some ways, it all was.

I was told that you can’t realize the real impact of your experiences or choices until you are back home and out of the environments where the experiences have been had and the choices have been made. I couldn’t agree more. I think back to that first day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, giddy off the prospect of impending adventures, so unaware of the ways I would be challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. I certainly knew I would have fun along the way, but it definitely wasn’t all fun and games. I was exposed to poverty and living conditions I still cannot believe exist, I was mentally and physically drained at some times to the point of wanting to just give up and turn back around, and I was lonely and left alone with my thoughts enough to drive even the most level-headed person crazy. Among all the worthwhile things I have gained, new perspectives have been the most valuable. New perspectives on rich and poor, old and young, cost and value, tall and short, safe and unsafe, time and levels of patience, and emotional highs and lows. I feel as if I experienced the highest highs of my life, but also the lowest lows of my life, during the trip.

I love South America. I love its unpredictability, its intense natural beauty, its open and welcoming people, its colorful cultures, its various versions of Spanish. I also hate South America. I hate how nothing runs smoothly or on time, how unsafe its streets are after dark, how crowded and incompetent public transportation is, how men don’t respect women, how toilets don’t know how to flush, how international food doesn’t know how to taste. But, overall it’s this sick balance of bad and good, right and wrong, clean and dirty, that gives it its overall character and appeal.

A few things I have noticed about American culture since I’ve been home:

1) It is a credit card-happy society. South America is driven by a cash culture. I rarely–almost never–brought out my credit card or debit card because no places accepted it. In the States, many people prefer to pay by credit card and if some friends go out to dinner together, it is commonplace to split a bill five ways by credit card.

2) Americans have a lot of stuff. I have lived a very simple life these past nine months. I never wore jewelry, my wardrobe was a selection that could fit into a large backpack, my phone was nondescript and had no capabilities beyond calling and texting, etc. As soon as I got onto the plane in Panama City, full of home-bound Americans, I noticed women and men glued to their iPhones and Blackberries, scrolling aimlessly up and down their screens. I noticed laptops, iPads, iPods, iYouNamaIts populating the plane. I couldn’t help but thinking that soon we will need whole planes to fly beside ours just to transport our absurd amount of stuff. I am not exactly criticizing this (though it probably sounds like it); I myself have an iPod, a Blackberry, an Apple laptop. But, after living in a developing country for the past six months, it is shocking to realize how connected and reachable Americans are, and how reliant we are on our gadgets. Plus, already on my first weekend back home, the Saturday afternoon activity was going to the mall to shop. I can’t remember the last time I spent the day shopping in South America. Americans make money to spend money. Many South Americans just work to get by.

Here are some habits I picked up in South America, that I can’t seem to quit yet:

1) Throwing toilet paper in the garbage bin instead of the toilet. South American plumbing can’t handle flushed paper, so it is necessary to throw the toilet paper away instead. Since I’ve been home, I have continued to do this without fail. It has just become so ingrained in my head I don’t even think twice about it anymore.

2) Only bringing out what I can afford to lose. Since the possibility of being robbed literally loomed at every corner, I trained myself to only take out what I could afford to lose. Usually that meant $20 cash, a copy of my passport, my phone and keys. I also used to put a back-up stash either in my bra, pocket or shoe just in case. This became a problem yesterday when I went to order a drink at dinner and was carded, only to realize I hadn’t brought my ID out. I can’t remember the last time I was really, truly carded in South America.

3) Speaking in Spanish. It is weird hearing everyone speaking and interacting in English all the time. I have trained myself to think, speak and listen in Spanish. This became apparent when I said “gracias” when I received my change this morning. It is so automatic at this point, it takes actual effort to not say things in Spanish, especially like frequently used words like “gracias,” “por favor,” “de nada,” etc.

Overall, I have concluded that my lifestyle is both a blessing and a curse. I feel so lucky and fortunate to have met and connected with all the people I have, to have seen all the beautiful and not-so-beautiful places I did, to have matured and grown in a personal sense, and to have had the opportunity to really interact with and live in another culture. However, I realize once a certain comfort level has been established and a life of sorts has been formed, I always have to leave. I always have to say goodbye eventually, and it is really upsetting and life-altering when this happens. Yet, I would much rather to have known and experienced and have it taken away than to have never known or experienced at all.

Thanks to everyone who I met along the way. Thanks to all the people who taught me about life and love; I cannot thank you enough.

Te extraño Quito, hasta pronto espero.

Note: There is a possibility I may be returning back to Ecuador in a few weeks time, at which point, I will start up the blog again. But for now, this is the last post and I thank all of you who have read it along the way. I am glad I was able to share a small part of my experiences with all of you.



  1. Hey Jena, I loved this post! It really struck a chord with all the things I love / don’t love about South America. I hope you are well and that I’ll see you back in Quito soon!

  2. Hey, are you still in the US? Where did you get the picture for the header.. Its great!

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