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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Thies, Senegal

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

Thies

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

Yes, I received some minimal cross cultural training from the Peace Corps. It was not much.

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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 spoke some French (not enough) and no Wolof, Pular or other local language upon arrival in Dakar.

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

Probably not. The term was used loosely and had little meaning for me.

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

Culture shock in West Africa was massive. (for me) It was also ongoing making every day a challenge. Only on retrospect can I see that attempting to navigate such a thoroughly foreign culture is what gave life texture, excitement and meaning for me.

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, there were some stages in my adjustment but they did not include anger and any honeymoon phase only lasted a day or so.

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 I noticed in myself included some depression and anxiety over time and some big time homesickness occasionally.

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

Most? the warm caring and dignified people of Senegal made my stay there unforgettable. I also learned to value a simple unaffected smile and was not tainted by my American preconceptions of other people and races.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Understanding and adapting to the differences in interpersonal relationships and learning to not read to much in to circumstances I "believed" I understood. Often I merely thought my response to someone was appropriate. Often it was puzzling and confusing- especially at first.

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

Of course! I actually began to eat from the communal bowl with the wrong hand one night. Everyone else went hungry that night.

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

Embrace it! Don't use the term culture shock. It is not helpful. Better consider each day a lesson in how other people live, love and work.

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