Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
Abidjan, Ivory Coast
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?
My husband and I made a one-week pre-assignment visit about two months before the move. We were also given security briefings.
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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?
Yes, French is the official language, and I had learned it in school and during a two-year stay in France. The Ivoirian accent is strong, however, and it will definitely take me some time to become comfortable with the every day spoken language. I may take "refresher" lessons.
Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?
Slightly, especially as this was my first time in a "developing" country.
How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?
The most difficult thing for me to see is the garbage. The streets are filthy, the lagoons are filthy, the buildings are filthy. I had been afraid that the poverty would be heartwrenching, but somehow it isn't... it's the trash.
Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?
I'm still too freshly arrived, I think, to give an adequate answer. I am having a difficult time adjusting to my new, and very comfortable, way of life. Staff to cook, clean, drive, tend the garden... I'm looking forward to finding something productive or interesting to do with my time. I'm lonely.
What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.
Definitely leaning towards depression at the moment. If they were readily available, I think I'd be inhaling tortilla chips and chocolate bars (thank goodness they're not!) I miss my daughter very much - she stayed with her father in the US and will visit me here for vacations - but modern technology lets me speak to her face to face every day, and that helps. I miss having pets. I'm eager to find some cats for the house!
What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?
The streets are so active, day and night. I think the Ivoiriens are a particularly handsome people, and I love their sense of style - beautiful fabric made into shirts for the men and pagnes for the women. People make an effort to look their best here, from educated business people to produce vendors on the side of the road. And although I have, as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white woman, definitely been the recipient of many long looks, I have never felt threatened in any way.
What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?
Again, seeing the filth in the streets, and the deteriorating infrastructure. So many wonderful buildings left unfinished or abandoned. I have come to appreciate this place in a very short time, and I find myself wanting very much for it to be reborn as the vibrant city it once was.
Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!
Not yet, but with my fractured French and slightly clueless personality, I'm sure I will!
Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?
Make an effort to understand and appreciate the local culture. Just because it isn't suburban America doesn't mean it's "bad." Try to see life from the locals' point of view and appreciate the little things. Have an open mind!
More Expat Advice about Culture Shock in Ivory Coast