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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Kathmandu, Nepal

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

Kathmandu

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

No, aside from traveling to other lesser developed countries like Mexico, Bolivia, Morocco and, to some extent, Thailand.

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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?

I picked up the language while in Nepal, and moved up to an intermediate level with a lot of work and practice. Still struggling with Devanagari script at times, so spoken Nepali is my stronger area.

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

By the time I moved there I had visited the country five times, so I knew what to expect. Even the first few times I was there the culture shock was not great, but getting to know the cultural norms and practices does take a little time and thought, and reminding yourself - like passing on the left, and not using your left hand for transactions with people, walking to the left and clockwise around Buddhist and Hindu religious structures and icons, and a myriad of social ones I don't have the space to get into right now.

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

Pretty minimal.

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?

Went through all of them - the irritation to anger one is a constant threat when you do business with the Nepalese, as (by and large) their understanding of how business works, and I'm even speaking about education, can be very lackadaisical, with the assumption that a little baksheesh can solve any problem. There is a laissez faire attitude - the ke garne syndrome - that can be maddening. Cultural adjustment goes along at the same time, but I became aware that there are significant cultural differences that aren't going to change simply because you understand them, can anticipate them, and know how to deal with them.

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.

Not applicable.

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

The friendliness of the Nepalese, their spiritual practices and belief, the social nature of the culture, and the way that they care for you - I have far more friends and family in Nepal in the US (my wife is a Hindu Nepalese, bahun caste).

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Bandhs, Maoists, load shedding, bad water supply, and everyone asking me if I can get them a visa.

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

Yes - during our five hour wedding ceremony I occasionally used my left hand! But friends helped out - there were a lot of intricate mudras or handling of objects, and as I am ambidextrous, just using the right hand doesn't happen naturally for me.

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

Take some time before you go to read about Hinduism and Buddhism - especially the former, as it is the majority religion, and the taboos and the orthodoxy of observance are much stronger than the latter. Tibetan Buddhists, by comparison, are far more lenient and understanding. Newari Buddhists are a different thing altogether.

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