Culture Shock, Or Rather, Hemisphere Shock

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

So much I didn’t know about the world.

After 10 months in South America and Africa, I’ve just returned to the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the place I’ve spent most of my life, and yet, it feels completely foreign. I find myself in Lisbon, rushing to be home by dark, and then realizing I no longer have to watch my back, and yet, bizarrely, I miss doing so. I doubt my own safety for some time, despite knowing it’s no longer necessary, and realize I’ve taken this part of life for granted for almost a year.

A street in Lisbon.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2019

My ride to the north from Johannesburg is turbulent. Less because of the air and more because I wasn’t ready to leave. Air France has changed its seat layout since last time I flew with them and even though I’m short, the leg space is unbearable especially for a 12 hour flight. When the person in front of me lowers their seat they end up in my lap like in a bus which makes me miss all my bus rides around South America. All the way from Africa I am sad to be leaving this continent and the southern hemisphere, with which I have viscerally connected.

Even more, I miss the clicking of the Xhosa language and the pleasantness of people I met from Zimbabwe and Malawi, Zanzibar and the Cape. I realize that having to be alert all the time made me be even more in tune with my intuition. Walking around Lisbon it feels so safe that I don’t trust the safety. My intuition feels unnecessary, and it feels like a loss.

“Culture shock is part of the journey.”

After adjusting to the color of my skin making me stick out like a sore thumb, I miss that, too. I keep hoping to meet Africans everywhere I go so I can maybe speak some Xhosa or Shona and rejoice in the connection. On my flight from Paris to Lisbon I meet a lovely man from Angola traveling with his adorable children. They, too, have made a long flight from Africa to come to Europe.

One of my favorite memories – a visit to the Himba tribe in Africa.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2019

I’ve seen the power of the universe showing up so many times during my journey that I shouldn’t be surprised anymore. Perhaps my surprise is becoming gratitude, which I realize on my train ride from Lisbon to Faro. I bought an assigned seat, and the universe gifted me a neighbor who is Portuguese but lived in South Africa for 30 years! We speak at length about life there and I feel like I’ve received a gift, someone that understands how I feel broken-hearted to be gone from Africa.

Walking around small towns and a deserted island in the Algarve I realize this is the first time in months I can end up all alone in the middle of nowhere and not have to worry about it. In so many places in South America and Africa, it seemed a bad idea to venture alone into the wilderness. Here, once again, it’s perfectly safe.

I come to realize how much easier it is to feel lonely in the Northern Hemisphere. In South America and Africa, though many of the people that approached me were vendors, they wanted to talk to me, to know my name, and where I’m from, and speak about life. It was sometimes impossible to be alone. Up North, people are so involved in their phones or their own thoughts, that I can walk along public streets and wonder if I might be invisible. I don’t miss this about where I come from.

Near Cusco, a reminder of stolen wealth. There used to be a golden snake that decorated this rock.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020

Another question that plagued me during my travels is why the Northern Hemisphere, in particular North America and Europe, have so much more wealth than the Southern Hemisphere. As I ventured from country to country and from one continent to another, I learn the thing all these countries have in common is having their wealth stolen by people from the north. A Moai statue taken from Easter Island, gold taken from Peru, people from Africa….I wonder if the world would be different and the distribution of wealth different, had these thefts not occured.
And yet, despite the evident different distribution of wealth in the South, seen in materials for housing, less expensive clothing and lack of ostentatious jewelry, I am overjoyed at how much happiness exists. Family connection and friends are valued much more, something some of us have perhaps lost with our focus on material things and work.
I think the most shocking, for me, is that though I realize I’ve taken many things about “home” for granted, there is perhaps more that I haven’t fully lived or experienced because of the wealth-focused life I left behind. Our life in the North may be more materially wealthy, but the South has, for me, felt more wealthy in connection, intuition and beauty. I look forward to my return there.

Learn about Heather and what set her on her world journey. She also explains why this life is not just for Millenials, it's for anyone that wants to create a life around what they love most in life. 

Listen to an episode of the video interview series that will inspire you to follow your heart. Whether you want to travel full time or have another calling, this series is for you.

See the amazing people I've been meeting on my travels and the fun stories that go along with the meetings.

Check out my travel photos from around the world to see the world from wherever you are.

If you've been thinking that there's got to be  more to life than work, or, you've lost your job, and wonder whether now is the time to do something you're more excited about, this quiz will help you. Answer a few questions and get a free guide to help you know the areas you need to work on, followed up with inspirational and helpful tips to put your dreams into action.

Traveling the world full-time may sound glamorous and exhilirating. (In many ways, it is!) But, it's not full-time fun. Before you decide to go, take this quiz to make sure you're ready, and, if not, find out how to bridge the gaps.

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If you want to see every post I've written, starting with the most recent, this is the place to start!

In 2020, I was traveling in New Zealand as the coronavirus pandemic brewed, and, got stuck there. If you want to read about what this time was like and traveling during this time, check out this page.

Many of my blog posts are about things I've discovered about myself or about being, while I've traveled. If you'd like to focus on posts that only have self-discovery themes, click the button below.

I've been traveling the globe solo, and many of my posts share thoughts and resources specifically for other solo travelers. If you're a fellow solo traveler, or you're thinking about solo travel, this is a collection you will find of interest.

Sometimes I write posts where I give insider information on certain cities I've visited, which may be more along the lines of places to go, how to save money, etc. If that's your main interest, check out this compilation of posts.

At the heart of international travel is learning about the many different cultures and ways of being around the world. The posts compiled on this page speak, specifically, about the cultural observations I've had.

If you're looking to read blog posts about specific destinations, click the country of your interest below to go to it's blog page and get country-specific reviews and thoughts.

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