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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Nueva Gorgona, Panama

May 08, 2017

An expat who has been living in Panama has written a long culture shock report about life in Nueva Gorgona. She has a great perspective on what it means to be an expat in Panama, which is probably why she's enjoying life there!

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

Nueva Gorgona

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

I visited Panama a few times but had no cross-cultural training. I have always been a "jump in with two feet" kind of person.

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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?

Before my move, I used some cd's to learn Spanish but I was not very serious. After my move, I took some tutoring and am now in a class as the local international school. I'm not learning as fast as I'd like to but I'm learning and I can convey my message when speaking with a non-English speaker. I also rely (probably too heavily) on my translate app on my phone.

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

I was only mildly concerned about culture shock before my move. I had visited Panama a few times. I knew there were things I'd have to do without and other things that would be difficult to locate, but my concern was not enough to dissuade my move.

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

There are a lot of expats from the US and Canada in the area where I live. The culture shock was not significant. I can get everything I need and most of what I want nearby. There is great shopping nearby and there are a lot of activities that I can be involved in.

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've been in my current apartment for almost two years. I love my life and I love where I live. I respect that I am a visitor in Panama and this is not my country. I think if expats remember that and respect the manana culture of Panama, the adjustment is much smoother.

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 noticed that I have more energy here than I did in the US. I think the climate in he Pacific beach area is better for my arthritis and my back than the dry climate I left in the US. The biggest adjustment for me was the fact that sunset is between 6 and 6:30, every night, yearound. Since I live only 9° from the equator, sunrise and sunset are constant. All things considered, I'll live with that.

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

I love walking on the beach, collecting shells and sea glass and photographing the patterns the waves make in the salt and pepper sand on our beach. I love hearing the waves crash on the shore first thing when I wake up in the morning and last thing before I fall asleep at night. I love watching the Pelicans fly by and dive for food in the ocean. I love that there is a lot happening where I live and there is an active expat community and I can be involved in as much or as little as I want to. I love retirement and have days that I do absolutely nothing and enjoy the peace. I love all the fresh fruit at my disposal locally. My eating is more healthy than it has ever been. Life is good.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

I am the first to admit that learning a new language at an advanced age is a challenge. It's not easy but I'm plugging along and it's coming. Sometimes I'm challenged finding ingredients for a recipe but, I must admit, it's more reverse culture shock visiting the US and seeing the multitude of choices for any item and trying to decide which one to buy. Here either they have it or they don't, it's as easy as that.

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

After walking the beach, I used to tell the guard I was mucho calliente until I found out that meant hot like spicy or sexy. Now I've learned to say mucho calor.

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

The easiest way to transition in a new culture is to respect the locals, it's their country. They may do things differently than I would but that doesn't make your my better. Don't jump on trying to change how things are done just embrace the differences. You may even learn better ways to do things.

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