Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
An expat from the United States describes what it was like to live in Guadalajara 40 years ago. It's fun to read about experiences from a while ago, especially if you live there now!
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?
Not really. Note, this was 40 years ago, when I was married to a US medical student attending the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara. We learned about the medical school. But not much else. I was merely a spouse.
But my experiences may be relevant to newcomers to Guad even now.
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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?
I spoke a bit. Learned Spanish in HS and college, but the real Spanish was different form what I had learned. But, I could get along more than our friends could. It enriched my experience.
Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?
No. I was clueless and saw this as an adventure. It took me entirely by surprise.
How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?
We were looking for a place to live. Visited my then husband's fraternity brothers from the states who lived near aguas negras. Yuck!!!
We found Lomas Atemajac (it was just being built which tells you how long ago this was).
But, I woke up at our hotel one morning and burst into tears. The thing that upset me the most? No bathtubs! Everyone told us amoebas were a problem, and no one had bathtubs.
All my clothing was melted by the high temp dryers (until we learned that you could hire help for less than the cost of a dryer session), and then our clothes were shredded on the roof top cement scrubber. Remember these were the days of worn jeans, so it became styish. :-)
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?
Probably all. But the honeymoon stage for poor medical student families was short indeed.
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 cried and cried. Then figured things out and enjoyed it enormously. I had a radio show, sewed, read, cooked and shopped.
What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?
The people. We also loved alambres carbon, the markets, the aguas and tortillas. Music was wonderful.
What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?
Pounds to kilos. :-) Power-outages for no reason. Bugs (especially black widow spiders and scorpions hitching a ride on the plant trucks).
exchange rates and devaluations. (Luckily we had a USD account when they devalued the peso by 50%.
Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!
I ordered 1.1 lbs of american cheese, not understanding the difference between a kilo and a pound when we first arrived. We ate cheese for a month.
Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?
Yes. Relax. It's not NJ, or NY or Chicago or Boston. But it's an interesting place with the world's best weather. Account for Mexican time and for delays. Take a breath. Enjoy what you can't get in the states and import the rest. :-)
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