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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Sora, Panama

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Panama

An American woman and her husband visited Panama yearly for 10 years before making the move from Texas. She describes the challenges they faced dealing with a dishonest gringo contractor who was building their house. The Panamanians' love of family and their friendliness are two things she appreciates most about the local culture. She confesses that it took her a year to unwind from her fast-paced life in the medical field.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Sora

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Before. We visited Panama yearly for 10 years prior to our final move.

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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?

My Spanish was learned in the medical community of Houston, TX. I found it to be a totally different dialect here. My understanding of the language is better than my ability to speak it. I find the Panamanian people gracious with my faults, willing to correct my errors without being judgemental.

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

No, but I should have been. I came from a fast paced medical environment as employment. I found it took me nearly a year to find inner calm. To be able to sit for an hour without jumping up to try to find something to busy myself.

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

The people, not much. I had visited for many years prior to our move. I soon found why people weren't on time to appointments. My Shock came with the driving, the lack of road courtesy seen in the states. Many do not obey traffic laws so extra care for unexpected accidents became my priority...and my first auto accident in over 50 years of driving.

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?

Not really. I had years of experience adapting to change in my medical field. I found that my household help, when I had some, were reserved, respectful. I have never in my life treated anyone by what their position in life might be. It took a while to get the trust from them. I was able to get across that if I invite you into my home, even as an employee, you are a friend I value.. I am different from many I have met. My heart and training as a caregiver has served me well. I cared for my patients as people, not by wealth, status or station in life.

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 anger while our house was being built. Our contractor was "shady" and I was frustrated beyond belief. My husband even sent me back to the states for a month to get me away from the creep. In the end, when all his dishonesty came to light, my anger grew but I just had to let it go. It was making me I'll. I will say now that our contractor was another gringo, not a Panamanian. He cheated those who worked on our house as well.

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

Their love of family, easy smiles and nods as you pass in the markets and streets. And no matter their situations in life they seem to be happy.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Finding underclothing that fits. Being taller than most I meet has it's difficulties. I have had to order my clothing sometimes not because I am extremely overweight but because of differences in overall bone structures.

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

Well, I did take a night class or two prior to moving here and learned the importance of also typing in Spanish. Without the squiggle over an "n", asking how iold are you becomes how many asshole do you have. My instructor shared her mortification on that one.

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

Go with the flow! Do not try to bring YOUR culture to those who already have their own. You are the one who needs to change to meet the expectations of your new country, not the other way around. Respect your host country in their traditions and holidays. Do not take advantage of your workers if you have them. They are doing you a service.

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