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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

May 14, 2015

An expat in Guatemala shares her story about the impact of a relocation to San Juan La Laguna. Read this informative report to learn about her experiences and and what one can expect from a move to Guatemala.

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

San Juan La Laguna

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

No, but did lots and lots of research before making the move-reading books, online, emailing folks who live here that I'd met on previous trips.

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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?

When I moved here all I knew of the local language was how to order a beer, and ask for directions to the bathroom. With some language lessons since I've been here I speak enough to get by, but am still learning. I would like to be able to participate in a conversation for more than five minutes. I'm getting there, slowly.

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


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

Not very. I knew it was going to be a much different lifestyle but that's what I wanted and was looking forward to.

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?

I feel like my time here has all been part of the "culture (and language) adjustment " phase. No anger, irritation, or rejection phases at all.

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.

Almost all changes were positive - feeling a closer connection to nature, appreciation of the simpler things in life, a definite feeling of freedom.

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

The connection to the world of nature, the closeness and importance of family, the spirituality of every day life.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The most challenging has been the language barrier. Although I'm getting better at the language I still have a long way to go. Another challenge is the double price standard for foreigners. I'm not a tourist, I live here but still am charged double or higher for many goods and services. There is also an attitude among the locals that there's something wrong with a single woman living alone. It does get a bit tiresome explaining that I'm single because I want to be. And no, I'm really not interested in meeting your brother, cousin, neighbor, etc.

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

Yes, I did - but don't feel like sharing.

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

If you come here to live, embrace the changes. Enjoy and learn from the people whose country this is. Learn the language and the culture. Make every effort to fit in. Sure, you'll always be a foreigner but If you're uncomfortable with the local people and customs maybe this isn't the place for you.

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Comments about this Report

May 25, 2015 14:15

Hi, I'm very familiar with Lake Atitlan and 3rd world countries. You have to remember that no matter how little money you have from whatever country you come from, you are much richer than the local people. You chose to come there and can leave. So, they will always charge you more, even tho you live there for years. Its a beautiful place to live, and I've thought about moving there myself, but the 90 day visa runs can be a pain.

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