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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Medellin, Colombia


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Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

I had visited CO in 2005 and 2006 so I knew something about what to expect. I lived in China from 2006 - 2008 and moved to CO in 2009. I've now lived here in Medellin for 1 year 8 months. I am retired on disability so I live on a very tight budget.

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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?

I took a short Spanish course in 2006 but ended up living in China long enough to forget most of what I learned. So I would say that for all intent and purpose I spoke no Spanish before moving here.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Somewhat concerned although I am a bit familiar with Latin culture in a very general sense. It was a huge problem trying to adapt to Chinese culture. That was the primary reason I decided leave China and move to Colombia.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

I found it hard to get on not speaking Spanish but I am fortunate to be living with a Colombian friend who speaks English quite well. The biggest culture shock has been the question of security. I'm a photographer and I'm used to taking my cameras everywhere without putting much thought into it. In China I wandered around taking photos even in very poor areas. Here is is not wise.

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?

My stages are a little mixed up since I get on much better now, so my frustration came before the honeymoon. I'm very adaptable so it hasn't been a big thing. I find that within a few minutes of meeting people they ask about faith. I'm atheist and everyone here is Catholic or Christian. But I get no hostility here only a bit of confusion. I find them to be very open and warm. In China it was never a subject of conversation everyone was atheist or Buddhist.

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.

There is a lot of crime here and while I don't really fear terrorists or drug gangs, not being involved with either, street crime is a big concern. I ran a business in a bad area in CA for 30 years and am "street smart" but I am not familiar enough with the area to be comfortable traveling the city alone. I also find that people from the barrios don't understand the greater risk for foreigners. When you go into the smaller towns there is no problem.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

I hate to sound like a monger but I like the fact that I can date women of a much wider age range. Of course I can do far more with my limited funds. But I don't drink and I'm not a partier. I find people here to be very warm and inclusive, when you meet a family you always become one of them right away and they are your friends from then on.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The language is a problem but of course it become less as I learn. One must be very careful as to where you go do to the problems of crime.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Nothing really bad a few minor things. I decided that I should address my friends father as Don Perez but in my tounge tied Spanish I said Don Perro which would be "Sir Dog". Again I have a Colombian friend watching me and giving me tips.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Study the language before you come, there isn't apt to be anyone who speaks yours. While this is more true in China it is also true in CO. If you are planning to do any dating you really need local knowledge for the culture in the area.

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Comments about this Report

Jun 9, 2012 11:18

Thanks for sharing. I also live off of SSA disability on a tight budget. Nice to know someone else is doing the same thing. Any hints on healthcare? Gracias, Pasquale

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