After 6 months of him travelling the Americas at breakneck pace I finally get to talk to Josh Hewitt again. A 21 year old college student from Norway, he left as a science-loving and slightly geeky friend and has returned the same, albeit more worldly and colourfully dressed. As we sit casually in his family home Josh nurses a mug of tea, continuously glancing around in quiet amazement. “It’s still weird how clean everything here is”, he remarks.
Having only returned yesterday from Ecuador, over four months south of the United States has evidently left him unaccustomed to the plush comforts taken for granted in Melbourne. It is hard not to consider him a stranger in his own home dressed in a rainbow striped woollen poncho and matching pants, although ‘home’ seems like a distant concept when it is nothing more than the rucksack on your back.
He fidgets even as he laughs when I ask him if it’s harder to acclimatise to returning to Melbourne than adapting to the Peruvian jungle or surviving New Years in Rio. “It’s strange,” he remarks “it probably took me a good three weeks to stop being consistently ‘freaked out’ in South America. I can’t imagine taking as long to acclimatise here but feeling out of place still bothers you.” He explains the huge economic disparity as he shifts in his chair, his vivid description of the huge expectation put on as a tourist evidently from a ‘first world country’ particularly stands out. “The beggars are the first confronting thing, even as you get off the bus they know just who you are and it’s so in your face. Even wanting to help there is so little you can do for everyone and the poverty isn’t sugar-coated.” ‘Perhaps unlike here’ is left hanging unsaid, but he continues. “Brown hair, blue eyes and pale skin are a complete give away,” “people are curious.” Despite the presence of other travellers like Josh this curiosity is maintained throughout the continent, although not everyone takes kindly to their visit. “It’s impossible not to notice some aggression towards you, especially from older men.”
Josh shrugs as I ask why this might be. “There is definitely a lot of anti-U.S. sentiment in the northern countries” he remarks. Despite the majority of travellers to the area being Europeans and Australians ‘back-packing’ to see the local wonders, some distaste for the ‘western’ world on whole is not unforeseen given the historical political issues throughout the Central Americas. Politics aside however, Josh notes that for the most part people are very friendly throughout South America. “They are very open, much more so than in the Unites States […] especially once they discover you’re an Aussie” he says with a grin.
A new cup of tea later he continues, “I probably acclimatised after about three weeks, I suppose you could call it moving past culture shock.” Born in Norway Josh is no stranger to new cultures after moving to Melbourne while very young, and avidly travelling with his family “this was a new experience though.” The responsibility and consistent networking has left him more self-confident than when he left, and simultaneously more aware of himself. “Travelling through the US and Canada wasn’t all that different to being home, but as soon as we crossed the border I knew I had to acclimatise. This was a much bigger change than ever before.”
“It was the biggest changes I remember the most, visiting New York; then Rio; then Macchu Piccu, these are not places you can approach in the same way.” The cultural pressure and culture shock has clearly been immense for him, even just as a tourist. Whilst it can’t equate to the struggles of many immigrants Australia is home to, it is humbling to see someone try to walk in their shoes in the name of growing and experiencing the world. “It is about contrast,” he concludes “it was enormously confronting at times, and extraordinarily disorientating, but for the experience I would gladly do it again.” “Would I be more aware what I was getting myself into?” another laugh, more pensive now “perhaps, I think by definition you can’t prepare for that type of culture shock. That’s the struggle and the reward.”