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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Cumbaya, Ecuador

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?


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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 have picked up a little but can no longer remember vocabulary to the extent I could become fluent. This can, at times, be frustrating, but has not prevented us from accomplishing what we want to do. I find Google Translate extremely helpful, and there is no end to those who are fluent in both Spanish and English who are willing to help. I would not let the absence of language skills keep us from living in Ecuador.

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

No. Our experience is that you cannot predict where cultural differences will appear- or where they will pose problems.

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

Extreme! US citizens are used to virtually unlimited choices, delivered overnight, if need be, and arriving as described. If such is not the case, US citizens have recourse to a number of "solutions" to remedy less-than-satisfactory situations.

I found this to be nearly universally not true in Ecuador. Promises made by builders are not executed as promised, and one is simply out of luck.

The legal system is difficult to navigate for natives, much more problematic for non-Spanish speaking foreigners. Often told one thing by lawyers in Ecuador, their advice was not accepted by consulate workers in the US. Residency and other Visa formats are very tricky, and invariably cost substantially more to obtain than first proposed.

The "dumbing down" of Americans and the care-less attitude of sales people, service people and the like we find objectionable in the US has spread globally. It is no easier to accept in a foreign country, just disappointing.

Bouncing back and forth as we do makes us ever aware of the materialism in the US- and how corrosive the quest for material things can be. Absence of "choice" takes some getting used to, but is ultimately a good thing- especially if one has the ability to return to the US for essential items not available in Ecuador.

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?

The honeymoon phase lasted through the first week or so after we decided to purchase a home in Ecuador, but was gone long before any actual accomplishment was achieved. Two and a half years on, I still get irritated at a number of situations, even angry occasionally, more because I realize I cannot accomplish everything I want, no matter how hard I try or how concentrated my efforts. These feelings, however, are shared by everyone across the world, whether native, visitor, or ex-pat. I doubt I will ever be able to accept bureaucratic stupidity, but that is true in my native country, too. Ecuador is not going to change for me, and I either must accept that- or go back to where I came from- where I will still have to deal with it.

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 find that the pace of living, the cost of living, the surrounding natural beauty, the lack of junk mail in my box, the warmth of families and our acceptance by Ecuadorans in general permit me to reflect so favorably about our experience in Ecuador. WE are not ex-patriots, but live alternatively in both countries throughout the year, missing each when in the other country, glad to get back to each when in the other country.

This lifestyle has ingratiated itself and we find ourselves enjoying life more in totality, as the cumulative effect is most pleasant.

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

Everyone tells you you will experience culture shock, and they are correct. However, it is impossible to anticipate what you will experience- or how you will react to it.

There are a number of times I am certain a less determined person than I would have crumbled and given up. When I encountered the worst such situations, I reminded myself it is because I had a place to return to that I even considered doing so. In honesty, there are many things about life in the US that are frustrating, irritating, unpleasant, but we tolerate them because we must- or leave.

Indeed, it is those unpleasant things that cause people to look elsewhere in the first place. We have spoken to many Americans the world over who have tried living outside the US and given up. Also spoken to many who have not given up. Each is happy with the decisions made. We certainly are.

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Comments about this Report

Aug 24, 2010 15:27

This was very helpful and insightful. I'm looking to retire in Ecuador next year. Thanks. Gary

Oct 27, 2010 15:05

I think you gave a very good overview. I myself have lived 16 years in Cumbaya and I think it is the best place in Ecuador. The prices are higher but Cumbaya softly bridges the gap between American style living and Ecuadorian life. No one every hears about Cumbaya or the valley of Tumbaco, which in my opinion is very tragic. I would be pleased to meet you the next time you are in Ecuador. Patrick

Jan 1, 2011 16:57

What an excellent, well-written analysis! The details given would prove invaluable to anyone considering a move out of their home country.

Jan 19, 2011 20:40

Quality of life in Ecuador is amazing if you got the money... sorry to say but you just need to learn to surf the waves with grace.

Jan 19, 2011 20:43

I am sorry but quality of life in Ecuador is great if you have the money. You just need to learn to surf the waves with grace and try to adapt. I live in London at the moment and coming back to Ecuador for Christmas every year is so refreshing.

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