Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
Aug 07, 2013
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?
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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Protests in Nicaragua
I'm exploring different countries to possibly move to in 2019, Nicaragua being one of them up until reading news of protests in the country. How are expats handling the current crises in Nicaragua?
Appears there are lots of grievances the president needs to settle with the population at large beyond repealing his widely unpopular social security reforms.
Will the president and his wife be ousted or is his grip on all branches of government too strong? Is Nicaragua sliding into a dictatorship?
Hard to see how the country can be included high up on the 2018 International Living list of the best countries to retire to when violence is rocking the capital and other cities, the police are killing protesters and journalists alike, and throughout it all, the president is spouting propaganda,
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Moving to Nicaragua - Lots of Questions
My wife and I are planning early semi-retirement and then full retirement in Nicaragua. We have been to the country, familiar with the pros and cons, and my rusty Spanish will come back with use. In that respect, we know what we are signing up for (well you never really know until you're there)
We are planning on buying multiple properties as rentals for an income stream. We are going to rent for our residence until we figure out where we want to live. We are looking at a spectrum of properties, one luxury home, and then progressively smaller properties to a single room converted garage.
We've explored Leon, Granada, Ometepe and San Juan del Sur. (other areas, but these were areas we looked at closer)
I loved Leon, my wife enjoyed it but not as strongly as I. Leon felt more "authentic" to me, a blending of the old and new.
We liked Granada, but it felt touristy in its central core and felt like a city in transition. Not touristy in a good way (read on). Best way to explain, we were eating breakfast outside and must have 20 or 25 vendors stop by selling us stuff.
Por favor no me molestes. No he tomado mi café
We both LOVED Ometepe, but the challenge of being dependent on the ferry stuck in our mind. We are still agonizing over a property we are interested in on the island, but managing it remotely sticks out in our mind as a big issue. Ometepe felt to me like Hawaii with no development.
We both loved San Juan del Sur, but can see that this is a city deep in transition. Cost of living is clearly higher there, almost all services were in USD, and some prices were just nuts. 45 cruise ships coming this year. To me San Juan del Sur must feel like Cabo San Lucas circa 1990 or 1995.
With all that said, the allure of easy access to Granada and Ometepe and Pacific Ocean sunsets has us settling on San Juan del Sur.
1) We have concerns about the NICA Act going through the US Congress and potential economic impact. Any input on this?
2) We are looking at starting a business in Nicaragua along with the rentals. Clothing manufacturing (wife has a small line). Have others come in on an investors visa? Any input on this?
3) We both want to give back to the community in a big way. We are interested in supporting Nicaraguan artists in particular, providing an artist in resident program, and promotion - up and comers, students, etc. Any input on this?
4) Wife is a physician, and initially Russian trained (now a doctor in the US) and as we understand it, the Russian training is likely a plus in Nicaragua. She might be interested in per diem work to pick up a few shifts and make some money. Any input on this?
5) Should we be looking at other areas? We love the San Juan del Sur climate, location, and think we can have good turn on the rentals. On the other hand the infrastructure is already taxed (roads, sewer, water), costs are pretty stunning, living infrastructure is meh (basic grocery shopping there is pretty terrible on a good day).
6) We've been given differing advise on moving our "stuff." We plan to significantly downsize no matter what. We've been told by some don't bother moving our stuff, just buy stuff here. Others have told us move what is dear to us e.g. furniture pieces etc.. Some have told us don't move our truck (common vehicle, common parts, dealer network in Nicaragua) others have told us no issue. Interested in hearing your experiences!
One other attraction to San Juan del Sur, we discovered there is a small, but very active Jewish community that welcomed us with open arms. I love my wife (happy wife, happy life) and for her, San Juan del Sur brings back happy memories of Israel because of climate and the Jewish community we found.
We've basically been told between partial and full retirement, we'll have to be clever and work to carve out a life for ourselves. Short of World War III, we will have enough assets to have a comfortable full retirement in Nicaragua.
We definitely do not want to be part of a problem, real or perceived, of expats coming in like locusts, we want very much to be fair employers, give back to the community, and help Nicaragua grow.
Interested in hearing about your experiences. We have a good real estate agent, lawyer, starting our economic visa process (just starting) and have a translator here in the states.
As for motivation? We are both pretty burned out in our work, demanding jobs and good careers that many would envy that come with long hours and massive pressure. We're not happy with the direction of the US (can we please just leave it at that), our last one is out of the nest this June, and just feel it is time to go, downshift, downsize, and live a quieter life where we have to answer to ourselves.
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