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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Belmopan, Belize

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

Belmopan

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

No, I did not receive any cross-cultural training for my move to Belmopan (fall of 2009).

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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?

Well, in Belize and particularly in the administrative and political capital of Belmopan, the language is English. So, I did feel quite comfortable with the idea of moving there.

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

I was not too much worried or concerned about culture shock before I moved to Belmopan. I had read a lot on the Internet about the city, its civil servants atmosphere, its central park near the public market.

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

The culture shock was huge. Yes, they speak English and so it was easy to communicate and express my needs.

I had planned to stay for a week at the most in a small hotel to save money and even made my reservations 4 days ahead my flight.

But, what I did not suspect was the customs and traditions which I discovered are QUITE different: No Large food supermarket like back home, literally No sidewalks on streets, No real taxi service or company to call. Well, you get the idea: all the little comfort things one takes for granted in a country like Canada were absent there.

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?

No, I did not go through the honeymoon phase as I went straight to the irritation-to-anger stage the first day as it was difficult to get a taxi, and difficult to find a real estate broker or a daily newspaper with classified for apts or houses to rent. Real estate people there do not advertise their services in newspapers nor do houses or apts for rent carry such a sign. For rental you need to ask people on the streets or at public places if they knew of places for rent.

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.

Yes, I did become angry at a country or rather a Capital city where real estate business people (brokers, etc) do not advertise or carry signs in front of homes for sale or rent.

The lack of a daily paper was revolting to me as, after all, this was a Capital city.

On top of it, I had to quickly buy a cellular phone to stay in contact with possible leads. And the cheapest one came from the Government owned Telecommunications company for fifty dollars U.S.

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

What I did appreciate most: of course, the cheap price of buying fruits and vegetables at the public market, of eating dinner or lunch for less than 6 or 7 dollars. Professional services, such as dentistry work came at 75% less than at home in Canada.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The most challenging aspects of the new culture:

1) the absence of the concept of customer service: for example, even a glass of water is charged in a restaurant, mostly Chinese controlled

2) the necessity of renting or buying a car as taxi service in the evening and at night is not there

3)the concept of unexposed Sewers as sewers do not have cover

4)the rarity of night life: bars, coffee places

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

Losing patience at the only 3 international banks when the Teller Machine was out of service for some malfunctioning and I needed to take out some money to go out and eat.

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

Even when you are going to a country where your country tongue is spoken, don't think it is going to be a cinch.

There are customs and traditions, behavior that are different and standards do differ.

Be prepared to adjust your standards to a lower level, be prepared not to find the services you take for granted back home : taxi service on a phone call, fast food delivery even past midnight.

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