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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Samara, Costa Rica

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?

No, We only researched the country on the internet. We then took an extended vacation to the areas we wanted to explore. We ultimately purchased properties in both Carrillo and Samara. This was in 2004.

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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?

Yes, to a degree.. The language they speak in Costa Rica is Spanish. I had some very rudimentary Spanish language skills that I had received through a class where I worked, prior to leaving

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

My wife and I are a bit adventurous and were somewhat surprised concerning some cultural differences. We did worry a bit partly because we had heard some negatives just prior to our move. We learned though that by trying to embrace the culture and become a part of it along with treating people like they were important, rather than acting like we were above them. That we were not only accepted but never had a problem during our entire 4 year venture there.

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

We were surprised and delighted in the hospitality. We have never seen the type of efforts to help ones neighbor displayed in the U.S.A. that we saw regularly there. We noticed that people had a hard time getting to work on Mondays. That was somewhat discouraging, but Sunday was their day to play. the people there work very hard and long hours every day of the week in order to survive. Other things of note, were that many businesses closed for lunch and nationally people received their vacations during the weeks of Christmas and Easter. They also quit selling alcohol over the weekend at this time. A clever item was the dunking of your thumb in purple ink after you voted. Something they should do here..

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?

Yes, we went through some of this. I remember going through the honeymoon. We were lucky to live upstairs with a wonderful couple who were in their sixty's who grew up there . They continually offered us their guidance and help in establishing ourselves. We had a wonderful attorney who also was of great help. We were only angered by some of the driving efforts along with the lack of maintenance on some bridges. But never rejected the culture. We were forced back to the United states due to medical problems.

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.

The only thing I remember that I did feel was that I needed to use my head more when I was living there. They don't have all the safeties in place in Costa Rica that they do here in the U.S. to prevent people from getting themselves in trouble. It kind of reminded me of what it was like when I was growing up when I think we had a few more freedoms.

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

What I really enjoyed, was the personal relationships that we established. I had many Tico friends that felt comfortable stopping by our home to visit. One friend threw a surprise birthday party for me.

I also found it amazing that when we arrived, we found ourselves without money due to a bank screw up and our attorney right away offered us a couple thousand dollars till our money showed up.

Many more times, if we didn't have money on hand for something, business owners told us to pay them when we returned next. You don't see that happening in the states.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

I think that banking can be a challenge and setting up insurance along with other services such as your electric, phone and internet services.

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

On one occasion we had traveled to San Jose to see our attorney and were lost. When we spoke to the doorman of what we thought was his office building we could see that whoever he was speaking to on the phone he was describing us as being dressed very trashy, as we were not wearing business attire. We were dressed in jeans and t-shirts. Most people dress in business attire in the city.

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

I think that one of the best things you can do is to immerse yourself into the culture and embrace it. Learn its subtleties and grow with it. Just as you wouldn't want someone from another county coming to your doorstep to impose their culture on you. You shouldn't expect people of another to want to have you impose yours on them. If you are interested, I have a really fun website sharing the driving experiences of Costa Rica at ( ). I think you will enjoy it.

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Comments about this Report

Sep 19, 2011 10:46

Thank you for your report! I have a question, if this is not too personal. You said you were forced back to the States because of medical problems. I thought the medical care in Costa Rica is quite good? If so many of us hope to retire there, then certainly medical issues will come up as we become more elderly & eventually die. Thank you for any comments you can offer!

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