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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Pereira, Colombia

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

Pereira

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

Not at all!

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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?

They speak Spanish, but I do not. I had a basic understanding of Spanish, but it turns out that it was Mexican Spanish...trust me when I say there is a BIG difference. The LL sound in Mexican Spanish is pronounced Y, whereas in Colombian Spanish it is pronounced J. People love asking me my address because I still pronounce calle as cayay instead of cajay. I have started Spanish lessons, but not soon enough.

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

I was aware of culture shock, but wasn't particularly worried. I studied culture shock as part of my degree and knew what to watch for.

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

My culture shock is still on-going and IS extremely significant.

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?

Honeymoon phase: This didn't last as long as I would have preferred. Possibly a week. I loved everything and everyone.

Irritation-to-anger stage: This was probably my most interesting stage. I was lucky enough to instantly make friends here and only had them to talk to. They weren't too thrilled with my complaining. I whined about being stared at, about how the food has NO spice, how I nervous I am, etc. I didn't pull through this until I realized that I was isolating myself.

Rejection of the culture stage: I still feel like I'm somewhat in this stage. I am still refusing to wear Colombian clothing. To me it is too revealing. I also had a hard time forgetting my culture's food. Finally, was my rejection of Colombia's sense of time management. I still expect everything to happen on an American time schedule.

Cultural adjustment phase: I am just beginning this phase. On some things I am willing to conform to a Colombian time schedule, but not always. I have also fully embraced Colombia's food.

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 had a decreased appetite. To the point that people had to remind me to eat. My caffeine intake exponentially increased along with this. I suffered from daily, almost debilitating, headaches from overload.

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

The people! The people I have met here are the most sincere and kind people I have ever met. I am from the Mid-West (USA), but have never experienced the level of hospitality that I have here. Colombians never take themselves too serious. They always take the time to enjoy life and explore its possibilities. This is something that I am hoping I will learn while living here.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

I have the American sense of time ingrained in my very soul. I am really struggling to accept that things don't always happen when I want them to. I purchased a refrigerator that was promised to be delivered the next day at 4pm. 4pm came and went with no refrigerator being delivered. I then called the company and they assured me that it would be delivered by 8pm that night. Again, it was not. This pattern continued for several more days, until it was finally delivered. It didn't HURT me to wait, but was extremely frustrating for me.

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

My use of Mexican Spanish is a constant embarrassment. People love hearing me use it and often laugh. It's all in good humor, but is something I am always conscious of. People also love my gringa accent. I'm always getting asked to say certain words because I struggle pronouncing them.

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

This to shall pass...

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