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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Lake Chapala, Mexico

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

Lake Chapala

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

My "cross-cultural training" existed only in the fact that i was a graduate student in social anthropology in the 1980s (albeit not related to Mexican culture), and that i had worked with foreign-exchange and native American workers in the US national parks.

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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 consisted of two years in high school (in the mid-1960s). had not used it since then. I've now been in mexico for two years and I would say that my spanish (in general) is still only at the level of, say, a first grade child. My communication "skills" consist of a combination of Spanish, Spanglish, and charades.

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

not really.

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

I intentionally moved to an area of Mexico with a fairly substantial gringo population, so my culture shock was not nearly as bad as it might have been.

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 don't think I've really had to go through all the stages of culture shock. for the first year I was here, I lived in a gated community wherein I was the only one living on my street full-time. On the weekends, Mexican nationals who owned condos in the gated community came down, so my exposure to locals was fairly limited.

After a year in the gated community, I moved to a small pueblo wherein I am one of only two grigos. I still need and want to interact more with my neighbors, but because my spanish is still so bad, I am somewhat reluctant to do so. However, I still haven't gone through "culture shock" as herein defined.

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.

Changes that I've noticed can be more attributable to not working than to culture shock.

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

I love that Mexicans, as a rule, put family before anything....work, themselves, money. And the fact that they are so accepting of foreigners, unlike the feelings in the United States.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Knowing that you are never really going to be part of it....that you'll always be an outsider to some extent.

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

Io far (knock on wood), my biggest blunder is going into a doctor's office and saying to the receptionist "habla espanol" when, of course, I meant "habla ingles." however, she was very gracious about it and laughed with me instead of at me.

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

My only advice (which is worth exactly what you are paying for it) is that, if possible, learn the language of the country to which you are moving BEFORE you move.

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