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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Cuenca, Ecuador

May 27, 2015


Flower Sellers in Cuenca, Ecuador

A semi-retired woman who relocated to Cuenca, Ecuador once her children were grown is enjoying life there with her husband. He has longed to return to Central America, since living there as a child.

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

Cuenca

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

No

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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?

Yes, Spanish. Yes, technically fluent (via testing) but needed improvement. Worked on it for a year prior to arrival, and am continuing to work on improving depth.

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

no

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

Not at all. We have traveled in Central and South America often, and visited Ecuador for extended periods in advance of the move.

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?

No. More that there are individual incidents, or days, when I either appreciate my adopted country more, or miss certain elements of the US - usually a certain food item :-)

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.

Nothing concrete

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

The weather.. and my spouse's contentment. I am still working remotely from Ecuador, but not being in an office is wonderful. I could work and be happy most anywhere if I have moderate temperature and solitude to read. My husband, however, although a U.S. citizen, was born in Spain to diplomatic parents. He spent his childhood in mostly central American countries, and has been feeling trapped in the US for the past 30 years, while we raised our children. I am thrilled for him and with him that we are able to once again live in a Spanish speaking country. He states that Cuenca today is much like San Jose, Costa Rica was 35 years ago - and that is very special.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

My Spanish - when caught off-guard, or in the early morning, my language ability (Spanish, but to a degree, English as well :-) fails and I am floundering. By afternoon, all is well.

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

Excellent question. Actually, in Brazil, where I thought my Spanish would be good enough for the 'Portunol' we were speaking to the cab driver. When he asked if he could pick us up to take us to the airport the next day, where, as we had explained to him, we had rented a small private plane to fly to the Pantenal, we said sure. While walking into the hotel, my husband and I both had a feeling that we had missed something in his request. The following morning, he showed up to drive us to the airport - with his own suitcase packed. We had apparently agreed to take him with us on the plane to the Pantenal. Actually, there was no extra charge him on the plane, and he paid to stay in smaller quarters in the Pantenal himself - so it all worked out :-) That flexibility, enjoyment of your mistakes and desire to help others, are important parts of travel and expat life.

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

If you don't speak the language and don't or can't learn (it is MUCH harder as an older adult!) adjustment will be so much more difficult. You will find yourself by default associating only with other expats. This is not a judgement, it is just a fact.

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