This article was first published on August 13, 2015 and now dear reader we bring you the companion video and new article updates.
Culture Shock is Real
We all have certain expectations for our new life abroad and it’s wonderful to feel the sheer delight of moving to another country and wondering what the unforeseen adventures will be like. There are a lot of things to think about. It can be stressful and somewhat daunting taking care of all the preparations that are necessary for a move overseas and what about our emotional preparedness once we move overseas? Are we prepared emotionally for the changes? We will all experience some form of culture shock.
Definition of Culture Shock:
Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves
to a cultural environment which is different from one's own; it is also
the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an
unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country. (Wiki)
Culture Shock Ecuador
This article is about culture shock Ecuador but you can experience culture shock anywhere in the world. Here are five ways to help lessen the shock of moving overseas or simply moving cross the United States. Yes, even moving to a different state in the U.S can bring on mild forms of culture shock.
1. Do NOT Have Expectations of How You Want Your New Life Abroad to be Like - When you go abroad you will soon learn that many things will not be how you thought they would be, or how you think it should be. We can think the Retire Abroad Media for that. Some newcomers to Cuenca have certain expectations and needs they want fulfilled and when these expectations and needs do not get met, it can be a huge disappointment. Did I say HUGE disappointment?
Culturally Challenged Abroad = Culture Shock
The disappointment of having unmet expectations can make us feel a myriad of things such as sad, homesick, angry, despair, or resentful and these emotional feelings come out in our interactions with the community we live in and then we get labeled as “rude or ugly expats”. But maybe some of us are NOT really “ugly expats”? Perhaps we are just having belated culture shock. Let me explain.
Culture Shock Experiences
Did you move abroad not prepared emotionally for the cultural differences? Did you expect certain things to be different for you? Are you having a difficult time adjusting to the changes in environment and community of people? Did you think you would be speaking Spanish like a pro by this time? Are you homesick for what you left behind? If you are having a hard time adjusting to one or all of these things you are having culture shock experiences that bring up heavy laden emotions.
Culture Shock Examples
We’ve heard many remarks from expats who expected life in Cuenca to be different for them and now we’re going to share them with you. These are mild forms of culture shock examples and how we may have a difficult time adapting to the changes.
1. We moved to Cuenca to save money but I’m spending just as much because we’re taking taxis every day and buying the foods we like.
How do we adapt? We stop taking taxis all the time and stop buying our favorite imported foods from the grocery store.
2. We didn’t know the smog was this bad; why didn’t someone tell us before we moved here?
How do we adapt? We either move or stop going to the areas of town that have so much smog. We had to stop walking on the busy bus roads.
3. I thought I’d learn Spanish by now.
How do we adapt? Don't let it get you down; learning a new language for us older people is difficult. Don't give up, just keep trying and get out there and talk with the local people more; they will like it that at least you're trying.
5. I miss my wide open spaces (front and back yard) back home.
6. Our doggie is not adjusting well; maybe we should have not brought her.
How do we adapt? Some doggies take longer than others; they just need a little extra special TLC and before you know it, they will become adjusted to their new environment.
7. I’m having a hard time adjusting to the slow pace of life.
How do we adapt? Slow down yourself and realize "there is no rush" to get anything done and the manana attitude is just something that is engraved within the Latin American culture.
8. Men peeing in public?
How do we Adapt? They're not embarrassed and so we shouldn't be either. Another thing engraved within the culture.
9. I don’t like seeing the garbage and the homes not painted.
How do we adapt? No one likes seeing the garbage and it's something you have to live with. Unpainted homes are something you will see all over in developing countries; some eventually get painted and some don't, it depends on if they have the money to buy the paint. It's one of those things that has to be accepted.
10. Why the sawed off shot guns, that’s a bit intimidating?
How do we adapt? Security guards and police in Ecuador are some of the nicest people we know. They do a good job protecting the cities institutions. Be happy they're there. Actually Ecuador is slowly phasing out the sawed off shotguns for intact weapons.
11. If Cuenca is so safe, how come the tall walls and electric fences?
How do we adapt? Realize that this home protection is part of the crime culture and not to have it puts you in a vulnerable state for a home invasion. You either accept it or get robbed; it's up to you.
12. I’m tired of being gringoed everywhere I go!
How do we adapt? Well, there are many things you can do. We had to stop going to the Mercados because they love to gringo the gringos; its' gotten worse at the Mercados. You have to know prices and once you learn prices, simply walk away if you are getting gringoed. You can also negotiate for most things.
13. I thought it was safe here; I was robbed in broad daylight
How do we adapt? Stop making yourself a target by pulling out expensive valuables and wearing expensive valuables in public. This is part of the crime culture. Many expats become shocked by the crime culture.
14. There are no road rules; I’m scared to cross the street in Cuenca!
How do we adapt? Be really careful crossing the street.
If you notice, most if not all of these shocks about the culture are about how we feel and how well we have emotionally adjusted to the differences of living in another environment abroad. Most of these things can be adapted to but some people will never adapt. Some people have a hard time adapting to their surroundings than others.
How can we emotionally prepare ourselves for living in a developing country abroad? Don’t bring any expectations and needs with you, period. Some people are so used to a certain standard of living they can’t and don’t accept anything other than. They might not be “ugly expats” but belated culture shockers instead.
Reality Check: The Retire Abroad Media only shows you the clean areas and nicer neighborhoods and makes it sound like the whole country is that way, but it's not so.
There are two types of people that have a more difficult time accepting things in a developing country: Felix Unger the "neat freak” and Speedy Gonzales the “fastest mouse” in Mexico. We think you understand why. Do you think you fall into one of these two types?
2. Don’t EXPECT to Be Speaking Conversational Spanish in 6 Months –More like ‘get by’ Spanish is what we should expect. Most (older) people, me included, who have never spoken another language (only English) will not learn Spanish in 6-months, so do not expect that you will. I don’t care what Spanish program you use, unless you APPLY the new words you learn every single day to your daily life, you will not be speaking Spanish in 6-months or even one year.
3. Saying Goodbye to Family. If you already have a close-knit family back home and they live in the same city or town as you, it is going to be emotionally more difficult for you to be separated from them, especially once the newness of living abroad wanes. This is just something else to think about before moving your life abroad.
4. Don’t Think You Can Bring Claims against Those Who've Wronged You -- One of the biggest differences between North and South America is how people receive retribution for wrongs done to them. Some N. Americans sue over the smallest of issues, but here, personal responsibility is key.
-If you accidentally spill coffee on yourself and the coffee was piping hot, you’re not going to be able to sue McDonald’s because the coffee was too hot. Heck, you won’t even get a free meal out of it. And to top it off, if you behave like an “ugly gringo” about it, they’ll think you’re loco.
-You’re coming to a place that does not watch-over you like you are a still a baby in a playpen like they do in the states. If you accidentally fall out of the bus onto the pavement, because the driver took off too fast, and you weren’t hanging on tight enough, who are you going to go running to? They’ll just get a new bus driver, maybe. Thinking of suing the driver or a foreign transportation department? Good luck.
-If you don’t realize the ocean on the day you are there has a lot of rip-tides in the water and you drown, it’s your fault, not Ecuador's. You can’t sue the city because there was no life guard on duty or no signs stating the waters were dangerous. Ecuador does not have life guards watching over people and most beaches do not have signs letting people know the water can be dangerous. Swim at your own risk! Many expats drown in Latin America.
- If a young guy working in an established business makes sexual remarks to you, you won’t be able to sue that business for sexual harassment. All of Latin America is labeled machismo culture for a reason...it's best to learn to ignore it or consider moving somewhere else. We're not defending disrespectful behavior but rather letting you know it's just the way (some men are) in Latin cultures. It has nothing to do with you; it's their problem.
-If your iphone gets stolen from a passing thief, it’s no big deal because it’s normal here. Steal from the rich to feed the poor. You are a rich American, right? We’ve even heard it said, “It is the gringo’s fault for flaunting their electronics.” We have to realize that we’re not being watched over and when we move to Ecuador, we’re not in the playpen anymore.
5. Bring Diligence and Patience with You – Your best defense against the savage beast of a foreign land is diligence and a patient heart. You won’t need anything else. Learn how they work together and leave the expectations at home.
Why diligence and patience? Some people don’t seem to understand how things work here, even if they have been doing research for years! All the issues I mentioned above don’t have to happen to you if you come here with South American diligence and patience. These two things will prepare you the best emotionally and financially. Believe us!
Culture Shock Stages
There are three stages of culture shock that most people have:
1. Euphoria of the new land you moved to;
2. Frustration and disappointment of the new land you moved to; 3. Adapting to the new land you move to or going home. That's the three stages.
Most people only make it to stage two and eventually move on, however some folks do make it to the adaptation stage, like us and stick around for the long haul...that is essentially when you have to accept the things the way they are and simply enjoy your life abroad. No place is perfect but no one place is the best either.
We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!