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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Bogota, Colombia

Apr 06, 2015

Bogota, Colombia

An expat living in Bogota, Colombia advises others to start learning the language before you go, prepare for significant culture shock, understand that "yes" sometimes means "no" and be careful on the roads.

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, I dove in without any idea of where I was going or why.

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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 have lived here now for just over 5 years and I am just now starting to learn the language. It is a shame I wasted so much time fighting learning such a beautiful language.

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

I was not worried at all.

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

OMG!!!!! So many things are beautiful here, with how they deal with people, but they cannot say no, so they say yes and do not mean it. They are generous and loving, but a filthy city, terrible roads, terrible transportation, terrible water, and they have no respect for others. They are number one and no one else counts for nothing.

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?

All of them! Yes, it is so true. At first you turn a blind eye to many things, young love, then I became angry with the lack of manners and respect for others. The drivers on motorbikes that have no respect for anyone or anything and get killed for their disrespect of an object bigger than they are. Then I said no more, I need to get out of here, but so many things held me in place and now, well I am adjusting, but some things are adjusting a lot slower than others.

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.

Anger, depression, increased eating, wanting to be alone. Absolutely no homesickness though.

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

Family, this is something that for the most part does not exist where I am from. Watching a family all holding hands as they walk.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Men have no respect for women, and as a result the women have become cold and indifferent in many ways. It is a shame.

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

When I was learning to speak Spanish I did two things; I told a woman she was hot, meaning very beautiful, but when you say chica caliente here it means that she is a woman who likes to go to bed with a lot of men. OOPS! then I entered a restaurant and asked for un beso con agua instead of un vaso con agua. A kiss with water instead of a glass with water. It was kind of embarrassing, but I did get kissed.

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

At least learn a little of the language before you go. Read, talk, study before you go and most of all go with a positive attitude that change will be something that will happen as no matter where you go change is in the wind so to speak. Enjoy.

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