Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
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.
Moving to Nicaragua soon?
Choosing an expat health insurance provider is an important decision. Take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA. Sponsored by CIGNA.
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.
More Expat Advice about Culture Shock in Nicaragua