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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Curitiba, Brazil

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

Yes, I received some cross-cultural training before moving to Brazil.

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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?

The people in Brazil speak Portuguese. I tried to learn the language before arriving but I find you really have to be in the country to fully accept the new language. I took an intensive course 3 hours a day for 6 months right after arriving. In addition, I was "forced" to speak Portuguese with my cleaning person, at the grocery store, etc. This isn't exactly a country where you can assume everyone speaks English. Speaking the language of the country you move to is EXTREMELY important if you want to feel accepted or to even feel comfortable where you are. I highly recommend that anyone who moves abroad learns the native language.

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

I wasn't so worried about the culture shock when moving to Brazil because I moved from the States to Germany 15 years ago. THAT was the country where I experienced a bigger culture shock. I feel Brazil experience is closer to the N. American feeling than Germany was.

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

When I first moved to Germany 15 years ago I was hit hard with homesickness. Apart from the fact that I couldn't understand anyone, the weather was very different for me, everything smelled and tasted different and the people were not as friendly. It took quite a while to adjust. Learning German helped me to meet other Germans. I also searched the community for other expats to exchange my experience with them. THAT was a huge help for my sanity.

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 definitely went through these stages in Germany and now in Brazil. It is a constant up and down and I go through feelings of utter happiness but also complete sadness. I think it is important to go through a personal assessment of what is actually important to yourself to make you happy. Maybe it is finding a box a pancake mix? Or making sure to go to the beach once a month? Or finding a place to practice a hobby/sport that you love? I try and search for people to be with - locals and other expats. I think staying at home alone is probably one of the worst things to do to yourself. I find that when I am alone all day I start thinking about all the people and things I miss back home and in the process I miss all the good things in the new place I am in.

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 go through mood swings, depression, frustration, etc because of the fact that EVERYTHING seems different when you are away from your home country. In addition, I feel as though I am anoutsider, at least I felt that way in Germany and here in Brazil.

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

I love so many things here in Brazil. The nature, food, environment, most of the people, etc.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The language is the hardest for me here.

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

I did so many silly things here. I constantly say something wrong. Once in the beginning here in Curitiba, I went grocery shopping. I was looking at the meat and couldn't read the package. I wanted beef cubes. I thought the word on the package said mule so I tried to get someone to help me. I wanted beef, not mule. The butcher could not understand my portuguese - I was asking what animal the meat was from. In the end I pointed and said "mooooo" and he laughed and nodded "Sim, mooooo."

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

When you move somewhere new things will be difficult. Try and stay positive. GO OUT and FIND people like you in the community. GO OUT and meet others from the country you are in. Don't bury yourself at home and reject everything, it will make life so much harder. Every different country has it's positive and negative parts. Find the rainbows after the storms. Be active in making your experience a positive, remarkable and memorable one.

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