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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in San Rafael, Heredia, Costa Rica

May 16, 2016

Homes in Costa Rica's Lanscape

An expat who has had some challenges with the culture in Costa Rica makes some pointed observations about his experiences.

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

San Rafael, Heredia

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

Studying Spanish, visiting 6 times over 2 years.

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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, I speak intermediate-advanced Spanish.

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


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

Significant. Cultural and social mores are incredibly subtle yet profound. Do NOT believe what Hollywood and the US media 'sell' as nice, humble (their made up word) 'hispanics'!

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?

Yes, and I believe that after 2 years of visiting, and 3 years of living in the culture, I continue to go through these stages daily. The MYTH is that these stages are 'stable'. No! These stages are 'jello', because the cultural mores are 'jello'; 'mas o menos' doesn't just mean 'more or less', it's a way of life in Latin America!

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.

Frustration, try harder, more frustration, noting that Latinos can be just as mean and rude as the rest of the world (sorry CNN!).

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

Climate. Food. Music. Environment.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Lack of individualism. Rampant conformity. One better understand exactly WHAT socialism means before diving in. Don't read the US educational system's biased propaganda. Study the culture you will be moving to, and always ask 'WHY?'!

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

No, other than attempting to make sense of their monetary denotations and being ripped off at stores by knowing and unethical employees. Why? Because to them I'm a gringo.

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

Accept others, but know that others will not always accept you because of your culture, your skin color and your heritage. Understand that there IS racism in Latin America! Remain yourself. Love your heritage. Seek out the best in the new culture. Be both an expatriate and a newly baptized Latino. Refuse to accept the derogatory word 'gringo!' Do not apologize for who you are. Do not apologize for the US! And do not give one iota about the thin-skin of Latins who blame all that's wrong in their world on the US.

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Comments about this Report

May 20, 2016 08:23

I first came to CR when 19 yrs old for 6 months. Then when 40 for 4 months. After many vacations and now 67 live in Grecia. I never experienced culture shock for a minute. But lived in south Florida for many years which has worse crime than what we experience in Grecia. In process of buying house. Yes, one lady was trying to get about $70,000 more for her house than worth, all the while crying and putting on a show about how she didn't believe in taking advantage. However, after we sold our house to a real estare house flipper lady in Florida she sold the house we had for $75,000 more than worth to couple from Canada. Was not worth that much any more than the man in the moon. However, we are now getting an adorable 4 yr old house at a fair price even according to Tico friends and others. And the price is lower than what had been offered to a Tico. People are people. We have wonderful Tico friends in a church with about 100 people, and we are the only Gringos and we are treated like one of them. We are invited to their birthday parties. And no they don't get presents or any bug offerings as we are pensionados. They have been sweet to us from day one. We walk everywhere, and made Tico friends that way. Most smile, but no not all, and of course we see the I hate gringo looks sometimes. But they are way friendlier than I ever experienced in Florida, Oklahoma and my mother's town (village) of 3500 people. When walking there we were lucky if people conversed. or said hello when passing them. Here strangers every day smile and say good morning. Sure things are different. But Grecia is smaller than San Ramon. We cannot walk to centro which is 30 min walk without Gringos and Ticos honking and waving and walking past us to smile and stop to talk. Also have cafe where a bunch of Gringos are there to chat with every day. I've always joked about being a Gringo. But after your reading your report will be asking a few Tico friends if it is considered as negative as you say like the N word for blacks OR is it like saying someone is gordita or gordito which they do not consider negative.

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