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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Granada, Nicaragua

Submitted by bushamy13

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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?

No, except we had traveled to many countries previously.

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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?

No, still learning Spanish as I will always be. Don't listen to guide books, it is harder to learn a second language when you are older. Still fun and necessary to learn a new culture.

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

Yes since we did not want to find out we needed to return to the USA.

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

Actually we did not experience much culture shock or at least less than we expected. Even back in the USA we moved around a lot so having the wanderlust probably helps you adapt.

Sure, there are mornings when you wake up and say "Where am I and why am I here?". But just as many times you look at a neighboring volcano and think "How can so many people just stay in their home country?".

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?

Even my wife and I get the "ugly American" syndrome once in a while where you criticize the locals for some way they do things. I can't say we went through the stated stages. It is more like some days you are just in a bad mood and don't want to put up with the differences. My cure is usually to just walk away until the mood passes.

Not knowing the language certainly does not help your adaptation. If I were to do it over, I would have done a family stay Spanish immersion for the first six months to ensure we were more fluent. You learn more in the immersion process in a week than a year of regular Spanish classes.

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.

Anger and frustration were the two moods I encountered most when having a bad day of cultural differences. Again, limitation of language prevents a true discussion on a frustration.

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

I guess the depth of the new culture is what I appreciate most. Especially in the states you are conditioned to think the USA is number one in all aspects and that everyone wants to be like an American. Even in a small country like Nicaragua you find they have just as much national pride, historical richness, musical and artistical creativity, etc.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Learning the language has been a challenging but fun task. Nicaragua being a poor country, you are challenged to see things in a new perspective. You first learn there is a huge difference between being poor and having no money. You appreciate how many people live well without money and those that just seem mired in poverty.

The average education level here is around the third grade and the education system is so lacking that many people just don't have a lot of common knowledge. The expats know the history here often better than the locals.

Once in a while I just want to have a deeper conversation with someone without arguments. The language barrier and level of education often prevents it.

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

Being pensionados we have less money and income than almost any time in our lives yet we are rich compared to our neighbors. No matter how much we try we will never quite understand this disparency and how the locals see us. Our neighbors believe we are wealthy beyond their dreams and no matter how much we share it, they think we are hiding even more wealth.

Let me give you an example by a story that actually happened to me. We use Cordobas here which presently exchange at 23 cordobas to one US dollar or about a nickel. Often I will give 10 or 20 cordobas to the street cleaners, garbage men or other deserving souls.

Anyway, one day I was walking my dog when I was approached by a young man in need. After exchanging courtesies he stated he needed 50 cordobas to buy a pair of shorts. I was rather surprised that he was asking for so much since requests are using for 10 or 20 cordobas or the change in your pocket. I told him so but he insisted he needed that much. Since he was polite and courteous I reached in my pocket but all I had was a 20 cordoba note. I gave it to him and said that was all I had. I walked away feeling I had helped the young man.

The following day I was again walking my dog and the same young man approached me. After the usual courtesies he told me "Do you have the 30 cordobas you owe me?". I was in such shock that I gave him the 30 cordobas and walked away, stunned. In the states I would have been indignant but that is the way it is here. And it is a humorous reflection of society here.

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

We were fortunate in not experiencing a lot of culture shock. Many people that come here do not stay since they cannot adapt. The best advice is always to visit the new country for a few months before committing yourselves.

You will often find your complaint is an unfair criticism when you think about it later. We keep reminding ourselves that we are guests here and not all things were better back home. If you think your home country was better in so many ways, why did you leave? Reflect on your reasons and you may find you are happier for making the change in your life.

I remember when living in the states so many people thought life was simpler in the 1950s or 1960s. It wasn't simpler but we thought it was because we were kids then and everything was simpler for a child.

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Comments about this Report

Sep 26, 2011 13:13

Giving money to young people in Nicaragua for any reason es counter productive. Then you become a target and when you can't or won't help the resentment of you begins. In Granada there is a big problem of young beggars in el centro bothering tourists. When they learn they can make more begging than working they do just that.

Sep 27, 2011 11:04

Interesting observations! I went to Nicaragua twice, visited the Caribbean coast as well as the Atlantic coast but the level of poverty in Nicaragua can be destabilizing for any North American. Three months was the longest period I could endure without going through a nervous breakdown : insecurity on the highways, petty theft by the locals, the permanently dusty streets. The positive : the sheer simplicity of life and the people smile, their endurance despite a harsh and violent history . Mostly, it is an experience based upon living in Leon, the Pacific coast university town.

Oct 8, 2011 15:25

bushamy13: Do you have any comparisons with living in Nicaragua and CR? My boyfriend and I are planning to retire to CR as soon as my house sells, and we know we have to leave every 90 days, etc. We also know CR is more expensive than other Central American countries, and have heard of many preferring to retire to Nicaragua and Panama rather than CR for that reason. Health care is also an issue. What are your experiences with these issues?

Oct 8, 2011 20:13

As the author of this report and having lived here for five years, I will try to respond to the comments and questions. Giving money to kids or other people here It is easy to say you will not give money to people but harder in reality. Often we will give food or buy them a soda if very young. I do give money to people that are working such as street cleaners and they remember us by doing a even better job around our home. These people are making less than $1 an hour. We do have a problem with the tourists giving money to the young beggars which is why some families put their kids on the street since they make more than their parents can. Comparing Costa Rica to Nicaragua I have been to Costa Rica several times but am certainly no expert. It is much more expensive to live in CR though their roads and police seem to be poorly maintained. We chose Nicaragua because we like the people here more than the people of CR or Panama. We almost moved to Panama but kept coming back to Nicaragua. Medical Treatment in Nicaragua For details I will refer you to my website www.nicaragua-guide.com. We are very happy with the medical care here. We have no medical insurance now and could get free medical care like the locals but it is not at the level you would want. Our Granada doctor speaks English and charges $15 a visit. The Pellas Hospital in Managua is the best in Central America yet very inexpensive. I just had a colonoscopy and total cost for hospital, doctor, anesthesiologist, etc was $291 and they set it up within three days of my request. And I went home with all of the results, photos and a one hour video showing the camera traveling through my nether regions. Yes, we are satisfied with the medical care here. Darrell Bushnell

Jan 5, 2012 12:21

My wife and I just returned from a month in Granada and all we can say is that we are counting the days until we return. We are still trying to learn the language but we found the Nica people to be warm and helpful at every turn. We did not hang out at all the tourist places, but Tommy O'Shea's Pub and of course Kathy's were a couple of our favorites. Lilly's serves the best coffee I've ever had . . . ever! We made friends with some local families and were surprised at how helpful they were. Even the taxi drivers tried to be helpful, even helping me in with my groceries a couple of time, (no palms held out). We plan on returning in a one year rental to explo9re it further!

Mar 5, 2012 23:09

Dear Bushamy13, I had to smile when I read your article. Your experiences remind me so dearly of the year I lived recently in Antigua, Guatemala. Fortunately, I had attended language school there for two summers before I moved there with the intention of living there permanently. My Spanish language teacher and the workers in the pension where I stayed and some American missionaries I met along the way taught me enough to keep me from having an over abundance of illusions. I made an extra trip to Antigua 6 months before I moved. During that trip I was helped by my local friends and contacts to reserve an lovely, economical apartment which I wouldn't have otherwise found and I interviewed and obtained a volunteer position which was exactly what I wanted. During the next 6 months, I had made Plans A, B, & C regarding what I would do if my volunteer job didn't work out and what I would do if I found that didn't want to live in Guatemala permanently. I worked on my budget and kept my bridges with my U.S. employer in sturdy condition before I left. My weakest link was that my Spanish language skills weren't as strong as they should have been which would have made my volunteer job go more smoothly. It didn't stop me from making friends and living a good life but it's difficult to be of really good help to a charitable organization if your local language skills aren't truly functional. After living in Antigua for 11 months I decided to return to the U.S. for a couple of years to regroup and refinance. I now have a more well rounded idea of what my budget should be especially for medical costs, local traveling and making trips back to the U.S.. Medical costs may be significantly less expensive in Central America but if you don't carry health insurance you have to pay upfront before a private facility will treat you. You may only have to pay $5K to be treated for a serious injury or illness that would have cost your health insurance $250K in the U.S., but if you can't take that kind of financial hit all at once then you're still up a creek regardless of how much less it costs. And then there is the initial flush of wanting to rush to the aid of the poor people you work with and the children you come to know. Just like imbibing alcohol, you must learn when to "say when". As you calculate your living expenses you must pace your charitable giving at a realistic level and stick with it. There are enough tragedies and destitute situations just around Antigua, not to mention the whole of Central America, to drain the resources of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the estate of Steve Jobs. By all means help when you can but.... know when to "say when". Currently, I'm working for my former employer, saving for my return to Guatemala and developing more fluent Spanish language skills. Going to Guatemala changed my life forever and for the better. You don't have to stay forever in the destination of your choice if it's not for you, but you should at least give it a try. You'll never regret it and you'll never be the same.

Mar 10, 2012 19:32

My own experience dates to just after the revolution. I was installing a new transmitter for Radio Catolica. At the end of the job I went out to celebrate at the Intercontinental Hotel and took a 'pesero' taxi back to my hotel. I was kidnapped and beaten up and nearly lost my life. I can tell you that when someone has a 9 milli in your ear, you can speak any language perfectly fluently. The second time I went, I was in the departure building when an earthquake started. Chunks of concrete fell from the wildly swinging ceiling onto our heads. We tried to get out but armed police pointed automatic weapons at us. However, I did get to meet Sandino and his mates, and Bianca Jagger, too. So it wasn't all bad.

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