Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Port of Spain
Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?
My husband's company provided a 6 hour session after our move. We didn't get it scheduled until he had been here about 8 months - I had been here about 3. That was actually good, because by then I had questions for the trainer and especially the historian who accompanied her.
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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?
It's English, with British influence. They have a very different inflection on the words and speak very fast, so sometimes I have to ask for a repeat! But the longer I stay, the better I understand them. Lots of slang, too.
Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?
Not really. I was more worried for my teenagers. But they settled in very well, helped by the International school. The staff there is used to orienting students. Now my kids have really good Trini friends, as well as other ex-pat friends. We knew this would be an adjustment and tried to have a good attitude about it.
How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?
I'm finding that the longer we stay, the more certain things bother me. We've been here a year and a half now, and I'm really missing the states. While I love some things about Trinidad, I'm getting increasingly frustrated by incompetence of many workers, the time-consuming struggle of dealing with any government institution or business, and the lack of customer service and choice of products. The immigration authorities just had my daughter in tears after she entered the country by herself - and it's the third time they've been obnoxious. She's got a visa, a letter from the government, and they still act like they won't let her in! She loves her friends here, but can't wait to leave Trinidad. They just don't seem to want us here. I sometimes feel targeted by doctors and dentists - as if anyone from the states or the UK must be rich. I know I'm paying higher prices for services and get procedures recommended that we don't need. That also just happened to us - we flew back to the states for medical care because of it.
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 feel like I adjusted very quickly - not going through these stages. In fact, as I said above, I liked it more when I was first here. I do have some good Trini friends now, and I finally found a gym I like. It's just such a struggle to do things here sometimes. Life is easier back in the states. I just pay to have certain things I like shipped here - my coffee, clothing, stuff for my pets. It's expensive, though. And getting the things my family likes to eat takes a lot of time and driving.
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.
I definitely have an occasional "I hate Trinidad" day. I try to laugh it off and go have a swim in the pool. I get a little tired of always cooking because restaurants are so expensive here and there's no take out to speak of - unless you eat KFC.
What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?
I love the tropical weather. We live near the bay, and I love to watch the birds and ships go in and out. The Trinis are a happy, fun-loving, music-addicted culture - people burst into song in the grocery, always have time to chat and spare a laugh. Social life is very family-oriented, though, and while many Trinis are friendly on the surface, getting to know them more deeply isn't the norm. They tend to socialize with their own extended families. I have yet to be invited to a Trini's house for dinner that wasn't a business function, although I've had them over. Ex-pats socialize with each other, though.
What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?
The pace. Everything takes more time - driving, getting any work done, dealing with any bureaucracy. And the systems make no sense. Efficiency is like a dirty word. My A/C technician calls to say he'll be here in half an hour and shows up two hours later. I just waited a day and a half for the guy to show up to fix my garage door. And the last time he fixed it - he was here for 3 days!!! I watch my neighbor remodel (not build, just remodel) his house - it took 16 months!! Every time I looked over there, the workers were taking a break! Trash is everywhere - I watch huge bunches of it wash out to sea after every storm. There's no recycling, no sense that the environment is something to be protected, not just used. Water shortages every year, power outages, the cable goes out regularly. They cut off our phone for no reason - the bill was paid - and I spent 2 hours on the phone getting it reinstated. It didn't come back on for a month!
Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!
Only that my housekeeper's accent was so strong, I could only understand her half the time. My daughter had to translate.
Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?
I do think you can minimize culture shock by cultivating the right attitude. You do learn a lot about your own culture and biases by living in another. This experience has given me a perspective I otherwise never would have had. I would advise not to do anything drastic like buy or sell a house for a while - wait until you settle in. Things look different on the outside. But that said - I'll always be glad I lived here for a while!
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