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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Managua, Nicaragua

Aug 07, 2013


Managua, Nicaragua

An expat who recently moved to Managua, Nicaragua was initially overwhelmed by the country's extreme poverty. But, the loving, caring Nicas have had the greatest impact on her.

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?

Formal training: no, Internet / books: yes, Nica Friends: yes

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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. I will have to attend school. The person I moved with, however, speaks moderate Spanish.

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

No ... just language barriers because I arrived 1 day before my friend did.

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

Broad question!

1) Arrival at airport. Overwhelmed by what was NOT a typical hotel but too tired to give a damn.

2) Ride from airport along Carretera Masays and Carretera Sur: I saw only poverty and debilitation of habitats even though I passed major structures. I really didn't expect that even though Nica is a 3rd world nation.

3) Got over the initial shock in 1 week and proceeded to finding a home. I then saw again the filth and poverty when riding around searching for a rental home with my friend. At the end of the day I went to bed at 7:00 and woke up at 5:00. That says it all. I usually only sleep 5 to 6 hours. I was so overwhelmed by the bombardment of language that I didn't understand, by the poverty, by the 'difference' from my home country that I couldn't even think at the end of the day.

4) It's been 5 weeks and now I am growing used to what initially shocked me. I keep thinking that it is better in another town but I kept seeing the same thing in all the places I went to. It's a MAJOR adjustment. But I am a "fighter" / survivor and this too shall pass.

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 am in the Honeymoon stage. After the initial shock, I 'settled' into a rental home and a routine and the curious mode of seeing Nicaragua.

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 had one bout of depression equivalent to "what the hell did I think I was doing?" It lasted one day as I was able to express myself to my dearest friend of 20 years by sending an email. I lost weight (10 pounds in one month) from eating differently but not from culture shock. This resulted in having to adjust my insulin level (for type II diabetes) and I was really surprised by that. I did miss my friend of 20 years (and her daughter / my godchild) and my Teddy Bear (that I had to put down before leaving due to a serious illness.) I missed them but I also know why I left and knew that staying wasn't the answer either.

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

The loving, kind, generous personalities of all the people I've met. These people (of which there are many) were mostly bi-lingual Nica's with hearts of gold and silver. I think that's why I didn't suffer so much culture shock. I was immediately surrounded by loving / caring people.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Buying things that I perceive as "necessary" like furniture, basic household stuff etc. You can't go to one store like Walmart or Target or Home Depot and get what you need and go home. It takes LOTS of time, effort and savvy to get the basics of living.

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

Mostly language stuff. I would say muy bien for "things" when I should have been saying muy bueno. I started mixing the Italian language with Spanish by accident. Words that I've heard my mother use slipped out of my mouth and didn't make sense to the person I was attempting (very badly attempting) to communicate with. My friend kept catching me on making up words in my desperate attempts to communicate. It made everybody laugh.

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

Nothing could have prepared me for the "reality" check I got when I came to Nica. Words, pictures, books, magazines, internet etc cannot effectively communicate what one experiences. Like I said, I am a survivor / an adapter .... sooooo .... I don't think it is in the preparation so much as the attitude / personality of the person experiencing it. Unless one has experienced poverty or "less than" before, there will always be culture shock. I was overwhelmed by the count of homeless dogs with their ribs showing. I wanted to rescue every single one. It's in my heart.

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Comments about this Report

Jun 25, 2015 13:46

Hi Is Managua poverty stricken? I'm thinking of retiring there or Granada. Any advise? I'm a single male trying to figure the best place to live. Of course, I will do what everybody is suggesting...stay or rent a room or hotel before deciding where to live. Thank you Greg

Sep 9, 2015 20:08

Your honest accounts are refreshing. Unlike most who have already "sold the farm" and moved to "Heaven" and as such reach out from the filth and welcome others, your accounts are realistic. It's been said that a society is judged by how it treats the poorest and the animals. Hmmm?

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