Culture shock is often downplayed by those planning to move to another country. Often people think that they know a country and that they will adjust with no problems. Maybe some will, but I think that people are often affected more than they want to admit.
The experts say that 'change' is the most stressful thing in a person's life, even when the change is for the better. Moving to another country results in more change than anything else I can think of − down to the air that you breathe. These are some of the first culture shocks that I experienced when coming to La Ceiba, Honduras.
Ears: Music blasting so loud from stores and restaurants that it actually hurts and makes conversation is impossible. Communication has to be by hand signals, i.e., pointing, let's try that store.
Eyes: Electrical wires strung like out-of-control cats in the cradle barely high enough for trucks to drive under. The ever present trash and malodorous garbage. The bars on every window and door and the razor and barbed wire everywhere.
Nose: Rotted food, meat, fish − only in certain areas, though. Worst of all was the smell of diesel fuel which sometimes puts me into a coughing spasm the minute we get to town which doesn't quit until we leave.
Mouth: For the first few weeks, I could feel the grease from the food coating the inside of my mouth. I was used to less fatty foods and it was a big adjustment. I felt like what grease wasn't oozing from my pores was settling in for a long stay in my rear end. I craved fresh vegetables the way I used to crave chocolate.
Skin: Although I was used to hot weather (tempered by A/C, of course!), Dallas has a very dry climate. I was not prepared for the oppressiveness of the humidity. Vacationing in it one thing; living and working in it is something else. Feeling sweaty all the time was not fun. Although our current living conditions now have alleviated that tremendously (less dust, more breeze, bigger windows, ceiling fans), the humidity still completely zaps the energy out of me some days.
True fear: I truly have feared for my life from the crazy drivers and with good reason as hardly a day goes by that horrific traffic accident deaths are not reported in the newspaper. And very often they involve or are caused by the taxis and buses that I feared so much. I still worry about El Jefe all the time.
Poverty: No matter how in tune someone might be to the Hispanic culture, I think that everyone must be shocked by the extreme poverty in Central America. Until I got to know some people personally and was invited to their homes, I really had no idea of what poverty means in Honduras. We from the U.S. are likely to think of poverty as not being able to afford a new car and wearing old clothes. Poverty in Honduras can mean not being able to eat or to afford to buy a notebook and pencil or pair of shoes to send your child to school.
Isolation: I didn't realize how much I would miss the English language. I knew some Spanish, but Honduran Spanish didn't sound anything like I learned or had heard on television. I didn't understand people and they didn't understand me. I found myself tuning out to everything around me, just like I do for commercials on TV.
Those are just some of the things that came to my mind when I sat down to write this article. After awhile you get used to some things, adjust to some, some you just ignore because you can't do anything about it, and some will bother me until my dying day!
What are some of the culture shocks that you've experienced or think that you would if you moved to another country?