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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Comitan, CHIAPAS, Mexico

Apr 30, 2020
Submitted by milesandcoffee1


An expat, who traveled to Mexico to take a 30 day course for teaching ESL, fell in love with Mexico, was offered a job and made the move.

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

Comitan, CHIAPAS

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?

No. I do not speak Spanish but I'm able to make my needs known through gestures, short phrases, and Google Translate. I plan to learn Spanish so I purchased an online course and practice a bit each day. O find the locals are helpful when they see you WANT to learn.

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

No. I came to Mexico to take a 30 day course for those who want to become certified to teach English as a Second Language. I fell in love with Mexico and was offered a job upon completion of the course. I returned to the states to set my affairs in order and made the necessary arrangements to return shortly thereafter.

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

After my arrival I immediately asked myself "What did I get myself into?". I arrived shortly before the holiday season and that's when I realized just how far I was. I quickly realized that holidays would look and feel different from what I was accustomed to in the states. How quickly we rely on tradition! It helped to be surrounded be a group of ESL teachers who had also moved to the region to work. We formed a bond they and became my surrogate family. After a couple.of months I was fortunate to meet an expat couple who'd made a life here for 20 years. We became fast friends. Meeting fellow expats was the turning point in my journey here in Southern Mexico!

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?

As I began to settle into my new life, I began to weigh the pros and cons. After the honeymoon and "Taco mania" wore off I started feeling the stress as reality set in. My new job was no picnic! It soon dawned on me that a few key details had been ommtted from the job description. I couldn't quite as I depended on the paycheck to get me through while I was still getting myself set up with housing accomodations, work permit, etc. I quickly went from honeymoon to irritation to anger -- within weeks of my arrival. Ironically it was the local people that encouraged me. The people of Comitan are some of the kindest people I've ever met. I've been invited into homes, family gatherings, and have been accepted as part of the family. I'm welcomed by the community and everyone wants to help me. It's the culture that I want to be a part of. It's the reason I fell in love with Mexico to begin with!

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 guess I'm pretty stubborn because I have no desire to go back home! Lol If anything, I belt I've become even more determined to make things work here. I am safe. I can walk wherever I want ( within reason and using the common sense precautions), and I have a base of friends that I can truly rely on. I feel safer here than I did in the states. I also have had a more satisfying social life here than I did in the states.

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

Here, I have found people to be genuinely interested in your well being. People are more caring and the pace is more congenial and slower paced. You can enjoy life and slow down! My blood pressure has improved. I've lost weight. I get out more and I'm learning to negotiate a new way of doing things. I eat much better here and it's cheaper here. My apartment is fully furnished and I have a separate office space and patio in a 2 bedroom apartment that would cost 10 times what I pay for it if I lived in the states, that's for sure! Even the doctors are more gracious as they tend to be more concerned about your health than your bill! I enjoy the slow paced luxury of the family time from 2 to 4 on each day. I enjoy the fact that no one bothers you once they serve your meal at a restaurant. You're encouraged to linger and actually enjoy your meal and stay as long as you like. I also enjoy hearing "Thank You, Teacher" from my students. As U said before, the culture drew me here and it is what keeps me here. I have no intentions of moving back to the states.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

For me, the most challenging part is the language barrier. Learning Spanish is not easy. Abd though it will take about 5 years to be fully fluent I've embraced the challenge.

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

I was told by a good friend to just throw the words out there. They noticed that I had a tendency to be a lot quieter than usual during table discussions where everyone is engaged and fluent in Spanish. He said "Just like a baby babbles and throws a word incorrectly just do it anyway. We will correct you!". That was a relief! He knew that I was afraid of making mistakes so he told me to do the opposite of what my mind was telling to do. Don't stay silent, just jump in there and graciously accept the friendly help! They love it! And it breaks the ice! It makes sense. As a teacher that's exactly what I encourage.my students to do -- I tell them to just jump into the discussion and I'm there to help as needed.

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

Don't be afraid to talk to people. They re as curious about you as you are about them. Besides, isn't that the reason we came here in the first place?

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