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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Grecia, Costa Rica

Apr 20, 2015

Costa Rica

One woman explains how she was lured to Boquete, Panama and Grecia, Costa Rica by romanticized articles on other sites touting that she could retire for $1,000 or less. Once there, she found the cost of living to fluctuate significantly, the streets strewn with garbage and transportation challenging.

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?

I had no cross-cultural training. I was lured into the "Retire for Less" hype in the glossy very romanticized articles in other publications and ventured out entirely on my own as a very gullible and naïve older single woman.

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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 tried to learn Spanish once I arrived in Grecia and even took lessons for several months, but was disappointed in the teacher and his lack of teaching pedagogy. I attempted to learn it through Duo Lingo, but abandoned that because living alone I discovered that it was extremely difficult for me to PRACTICE.

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

Probably to some degree, but because of the HYPE presented in the magazines I thought that there would be enough interaction with other x-pats to overcome it and to assimilate.

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

I lived in Boquete, Panama and then in Grecia, Costa Rica. The culture shock in Boquete was more severe than in Grecia due to the filth that was in abundance. Garbage strewn out on the streets for days at a time with little or no attention paid to cleaning it up, drunks sleeping in the streets after a "night on the town", the putrid odor of spoiling meat wafting through the grocery stores. It had less of an impact on me when I relocated to Grecia although, as in Boquete, the cracked and broken sidewalks, dimly lit stores, and the unreliability of finding consistency in the super markets was frustrating.

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?

Absolutely! The honeymoon stage didn't last long at all maybe a week or so. I wouldn't describe my second phase as irritation-to-anger so much as it was disillusionment-to-frustration. It didn't take me long at all to become disillusioned and to eventually become increasingly frustrated by the inconvenience associated with living there.

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 was never angry. After all, I made the decision to relocate so the only person I could be angry with was me. I was never depressed, but felt extremely isolated and lonely particularly in Grecia. I am a people person and became increasingly frustrated because the opportunities to mix and mingle were off set by the difficulty to get to them. If I wanted to attend any event be it in Grecia, San Ramon, San Jose it required a strenuous walk up a steep hill and then at least three bus trips ONE WAY to get to any of the surrounding cities and towns. Not to mention what I call RIDGE CLIQUES.

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

There was little I found to appreciate about the culture in Boquete. I sensed a certain resentment among the Panamanians against x-pats. The ones I encountered did not make an attempt to engage. Grecia was distinctively different. The Ticos were gracious, friendly and willing to provide assistance as best they could.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Communication, lack of mobility, the total inconvenience of it all. Also, trying to make ends meet financially. The phrase Retire for Less and only needing $1000.00 per month is bogus. In both locations supply and demand caused prices on consumer goods to spike, rent is on the rise. Only utilities were in line with the advertisements.

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


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

Unless your wired toward the rugged adventurous life, willing to make lots of sacrifices in your standard of living, and don't mind dealing with the labyrinth of paperwork, procedures, and inconsistencies in communication associated with acclimating and attempting to gain residency not to mention not so reputable landlords, attorneys and others then go for a visit, but don't relocate,

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Comments about this Report

Apr 27, 2015 12:41

Hello, I'm just wondering if you had visited either place before relocating?

Apr 27, 2015 18:21

Cost Rica is the most expensive country to live in Central America. Sorry you were duped about living on$1,000/month----maybe in Haiti. We live happily in San Ramon but did many hours of research for many months. Not to mention a relocation tour and ARCR seminar. Many resources available to research. It's a very expensive mistake to relocate to a foreign country and be unhappy. Lots of misinformation abounds re CR. Perhaps it was true some 20 years ago, but things have changed significantly in the last decades.

Apr 28, 2015 10:45

First of all, anyone moving to a different country should know that they will encounter a different culture, including a different language. And the question of whether or not you can live in Panama or Costa Rica for $1000 a month is answerable with a YES if - a big IF, you are willing to forego the American brand names in the grocery stores and the clothing stores. After all, where in the US can you rent a nice little house less than $1000 a month and have money left for food, etc. It is more difficult in Costa Rica as things have become more expensive there in recent times.. And learning the language is very important - it isn't easy, whether you live alone or not, it can be done. Remember the old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do..." Well, that principle has not changed. After all, you are a guest in someone else's home. As for the writer's attitude toward Boquete and Grecia specifically....I am not a full time resident of Boquete, but I have spent several months over the past few years there and have found it a very enjoyable retirement community. Are the sidewalks cracked? the parking crazy? yes. As for garbage on the streets, I have not seen any excesses as described by this writer. Although there is a new Mayor who has made efforts to improve such things. There is regular twice a week pickup. The expat community is great. There is significant effort to help the community from the promotion of annual Jazz to a community theater. we just attended an entertaining performance that was written, directed, and performed by expats, some of whom were engaging in their first on-stage appearance. Also last week, I went to a fund-raiser for Buenos Vecinos - Good Neighbors , a group that helps provide for the needs of the indigenous inhabitants of the area. There is also a monthly spay and neuter clinic staffed by members of Amigos de Animales with local vets and vets from Costa Rica. We help with that too. Boquete is a good place....if the newcomer chooses to get involved and contribute, while living economically. As for Grecia, it is a lovely town in Costa Rica, much larger than Boquete. - I have never lived there but did so in nearby Atenas. I have friends in Grecia....Again, the newcomer chooses to become part of his or her new environment or sit back and find fault with it. It may be noteworthy that the writer of this letter, lived in two different places in Central America and found fault with both of them. Perhaps she might consider some of the points I have made and renew her efforts to become a part of her new community. PS - I would like to note that I have been amazed at the number of single women, widowed, divorced, unmarried, who have made new lives for themselves in their later years - having left their comfort zone of many years to embark on a new journey. I couldn't have done it alone, and I admire them greatly.

May 25, 2015 06:04

I appreciate the positive information given as I am thinking about going to CR to check it out as a place to continue my retirement years. Being familiar with parts of Central America, speaking, (but not fluent), Spanish and fairly well low cost traveled in Asia I think it shouldn't be too hard to adjust. As long as one accepts that they are in a different culture and it isn't their place to change it, then adjusting and joining in will be easier. I hope the writer of the report has found a place to live where she is happier.

May 20, 2016 09:09

I and my husband also live in Grecia, but both of our attitudes are different than yours. We are 67 and 61 yrs old. We do not own a car out of choice. And yes we walk up and down the hills around and over the cracks and holes in the sidewalks. We have made lots of friends/acquaintances and cannot walk down the street without honking, waving and stopping to talk with both Ticos and Gringos. Although I am married, I KNOW that I could live HAPPILY as a single person on $1000 a month. We are in process of buying a house, but have lived happily in a $500 month furnished with electric, cable, included. Yes, it is a slow incline just out of property, and we walk 30 min coming and going to Centro every day. But there are neighbors that do not walk and so are always coming and going in taxi which is about 1000-1400 each way. If I couldn't walk the hills, I would just go to town maybe 3 times a week. Or whatever was in my budget. Also if single, would get a couple boyfriends with a car. Hey. Life can be great single or married. My husband and I live on about $1300 per month. But that includes pricey cheese, and food items I could live without. And some initial dentist and doctor visits that we never did in US. And not continuing. We rarely eat a meal in restaurant, but have coffee with friends. The food I cook at home tastes better than any restaurant. We choose to be frugal. But there is no way we could survive on our budget here in south Florida. You NEED a car in Florida and most places in U.S. And taxis hard to get and more expensive. If you are not happy perhaps CR not right for you. But what to ask yourself is, would you be any happier or social if you went back to US? If you had same problems in US - remember the expression - Wherever you go, there you are!

Jul 27, 2016 09:11

Also living in Grecia, Costa Rica, I find this interview disappointing. To anyone considering such an adventure I urge you to open yourself to the wonderful and infinite possibilities. The climate, produce, beauty and people are nurturing. Yes, we weather cultural and political process frustrations. One learns the language well or plans to dwell in the heart of an expat enclave. Same as everywhere else we live, we must adapt ourselves first in order to benefit from the best that surrounds us. Living in Costa Rica is a gift.

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