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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Hopkins, Belize

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An expat in Hopkins, Belize describes in great detail about life there. Here cultural blunders, the food available there, and the pace of life and much more provide a nice glimpse of what it means to be an expat in Belize.

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?

In college I majored in Cultural Anthropology, but the only countries I had visited at that time we're Canada and Mexico. In moving to Belize I hoped to move from being an "armchair" anthropologist to a real life anthropologist.

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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?

In Hopkins, Belize you commonly hear English as well as Garifuna and Spanish. I had taken Spanish classes in College, but my understanding is still very limited. Since most people here do speak English though, it makes it less of a priority to learn either of the two languages.

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

I was more intrigued than worried. For a long time I have wanted immerse myself in another culture rather than simply visit and then return to the US.

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

Being such a friendly people, the Beleazians are easy to be around. I immediately had to adjust to the easy going attitude toward time. The day is as long as it is light, so there is generally no hurry. For example, if someone is going to meet me, he may say "mid day" rather than two or three o'clock. If he's late, "no worries," he'll get there eventually, even if it isn't until the next day.

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?

Again, the friendliness and warmth of the people in general made the transition easier. In the beginning I was frustrated with the lack of interest in meeting specific dates or times, but now I'm accepting that life is slower and at times I enjoy the relaxed attitude. No worries! How does worrying change anything anyway?

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've learned to accept the culture and pace here and even enjoy it. Around noon, for example, many businesses, banks and government offices close for a "siesta" time. Keeping this in mind, I have learned to shop or do business in the morning or afternoon. Oftentimes I take a siesta too!

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

I appreciate being reminded that it's important to live as stress free as possible, and this includes appreciating the pace of the culture and not expecting North American precisene.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Remembering not to be in a hurry! The day is plenty long and there is always tomorrow.

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

Many! In a nice, small outdoor cafe I was served a traditional Garifuna dish called hudut. A whole fish lay in a bowl of delicious broth and on a plate was a mound of mashed plantain. I had no idea what to do with the plantain, so I asked the waitress. With a bashful giggle she told me to dip it in the soup. Additionally, a napkin was put on the table with a smooth rounded brown rock. I asked what this was, thinking it was also something to eat! Even the cook laughed and said, "it's a rock so the napkin won't blow away!"

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

When you move to another country, or even just visit, don't frustrated yourself by demanding or expecting behavior you are familiar with. Recognize differences and adjust. Too often I hear tourists or expats complaining that the people are not like them!

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