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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in La Buitrera de Palmira , Colombia

Feb 09, 2018

An expat living in the mountains outside of Palmira, Colombia talks about the culture shock she experienced moving to Colombia.

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

La Buitrera de Palmira

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

No I did not. I visited with a friend a couple of times and I just loved the beauty and Colombia has wonderful healthcare. I also knew I could live quite well on my fixed income.

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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 did not speak Spanish when I moved to Colombia. I have been here 7 years now and I do speak, I have used many tools to learn. It is the hardest thing I have done in my life. Total immersion does not give you a quicker learning experience, you must practice and study every single day.

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

No I was not. I was a flight attendant for many years and I know about different cultures. I love the Latin culture.

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

It was good culture shock, People actually say hello and look at you when you walk into an office or go anywhere. Everyone is polite to each other even when they might not like you. There is a difference that is so great from the American society. People are so friendly, they will stop what they are doing to give directions. Colombians are lovely people.

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 I went from being surrounded by people for years as a flight attendant to a more solitary existence in nature. I only have irritation about some of the laws which are quite complicated. I still don't speak Spanish well enough to do complicated things without an interpreter. I have a hotel in the forest, and I have made it legal. I have felt frustration with the process.

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 cannot say I have experienced anything like that since moving. The only culture shock negative thing is driving here. I don't like to do it. It is very difficult to drive in the cities with all the motorcycles, buses, bicycles and traffic.

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

I appreciate the climate I live in. I have the perfect temperatures year round. I have 360 degree views of the mountains. I feel like I have air conditioning but it is just the temperature. I live with my doors open. I have over 30 species of hummingbirds. I have other birds as Colombia has the most birds and butterfly species in the world, the fruit and flowers are so amazing. I can't express how wonderful it is to live like I am. I truly found Paradise.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The language of Spanish, it is full of rules and I still have trouble with the language, although I can speak well with my friends. Also the driving. It is very difficult to drive in the cities. I lost that independence of just jumping in my car to run to the store or go to an appointment. I have to always think about when to leave and how long it will take me etc. I still feel it is worth it to live as I do.

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

When I was first learning Colombian Spanish I used the word cochina because as an American we use the word nasty like a slang word. For instance öh how nasty is that?"Here cochina is used only for the real reason and if used other ways it is considered an insult.

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

Just visit the country you are considering on moving to a few times before committing. Then rent for at least a year before you buy. Also make sure you understand the process of getting Visa's to live in the country. Colombia is not hard but it is involved and you do need someone to guide you, just like I have help getting all the proper paperwork for my hotel Villa Migelita Ecolodge.

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