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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Jan 18, 2016
Submitted by souix

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

An expat living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala talks about the culture shock she experienced when she moved to Guatemala. Her biggest challenges was getting used to cold showers! She advised newcomers to be friendly, interact with locals even if you only speak a little Spanish, speak more quietly and be gracious.

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 training and little Spanish.

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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 speak a little Espanol. I am a person who smiles easily and noticed my whole life that most communication is non verbal. So, I have never been afraid or unwilling to use my little Spanish to try.... to chat. It's a bit difficult but have had 80% success in getting what I need knowing & discerning the essential nouns I need!? Being a bit of an artist...I'm not tense or need perfection!

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


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

Sometimes it's good to be forced into being more patient. In Guatemala, NOTHING is easy or convenient. It takes hours to find things like a hot shower & it took months to realize you CAN get clean AND get used to tepid water!? This was my only real cultural shock....!

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?

Initial annoyance for ME was accepting that everywhere in Guatemala.... is based upon the Al la Carte principal. Anything over basic you will PAY for.... Basics ARE affordable but anything above you WILL have to pay for. Hostels are cheap. Hotels are NOT. Market food is cheap....restaurants are not.

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 notice my health & vigor have improved because I have to WALK a LOT more!?!

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

The people's willingness to SMILE. Old people who are still active and friendly. The busy cultural norm of walking. The noise of vehicles can be annoying to me as its constant... from morning until night....!

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The chronic noise of vehicles... grinding gears, horns and just general loudness not of the people but the blaring speakers and vehicles....non stop chaos.....! Arrgh! The other challenge in Guatemala is finding a decent WIFI signal. Not common like up in USA or Canada...at all.

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

Blunders all humans commit wherever they are. No one else notices so get over it. I think the one blunder I personally notice a lot is how LOUD many Americans talk. Be aware of this and attempt to chat quietly. Whenever I saw 2 or more Americans I heard them first! Whatever you think you have to say.... remember to say it quietly.

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

Talk more quietly, observe and learn. People notice your non verbals. Remember to be gracious. Let the older lady carrying a big bundle board the bus ahead of you. She's working. You're on holiday. Politeness is appreciated and noticed even by the poorest Guatemalan.....

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