Culture shock is an almost universal experience for expats, no matter where they go and how eager they are to get there. It doesn’t matter how excited you are about moving abroad; eventually, there are things about your new life that will get to you, and will make you feel frustrated, anxious, angry, resentful, or homesick. Even the most enthusiastic expats are affected when the reality collides with the dream.Ecuador has plenty to appreciate and fall in love with, but the cultural differences can be quite stark. Infrastructure is lacking in many ways; dealing with bureaucracy can be slow and frustrating, and often requires bribery; punctuality is not particularly valued; and ideas of etiquette and propriety can seem strange, arbitrary (as they are in any culture), and difficult to keep track of.
Here are a few tips to help you deal with culture shock in Ecuador.
Visit the country a few times: This of course is something you need to do before you move, and you will still be a tourist on these visits, not a resident. As a tourist, you’re meeting people with a lot of international exposure, most of whom will speak your language, and everything is being tailored to make you feel at home and like you want to return. Going for longer, less touristy visits will give you a clearer idea of what it’s like to live in the country.
Learn the language: It’s always important to learn the local language, but particularly so in Ecuador. There are many situations in which you will find a lack of fluency in Spanish to be debilitating and frustrating, from getting information out of a government official to explaining your symptoms to a doctor. Not knowing Spanish will also cramp your social life, making it difficult to form close friendships. English is the most widely spoken foreign language in the country, but nonetheless, it’s not very common, except for people in the tourism industry and a few other professionals.
The best time to learn Spanish is of course before you get to Ecuador. However, if this isn’t possible, make it a priority as soon as you arrive. And in both cases, make it a point to practise your Spanish at every opportunity, no matter how bad it may be.
Remember you’re not alone: Get in touch with other expats in Ecuador. Talking to people who have been through culture shock can be a great release, and they will often have good advice. And whilst sharing frustrations can be cathartic, try to avoid spending too much time with expats who spend most of their time complaining about the country – they’re not helping themselves, and they won’t help you. Also make it a point to mix with the locals – you haven’t come to Ecuador to live in a little expat bubble. It’s nice to connect with people from back home who understand what you’re going through, and it’s nice to get things off your chest, but don’t overdo it.
Limit your complaining: It’s important to vent a bit, but try to keep it under control. It’s easy to get trapped in a little bubble of resentment where you’re always complaining, and that’s a terrible place to be.
Look at the positives: Always try to maintain some perspective and keep the positives in sight. Yes, the culture may be different from what you’re used to back home, but it’s a wonderful culture with many good points of its own. Sure, you might not be able to find your favorite foods, but there’s so much new food to explore, and you’ll probably be eating much more healthily too. Many expats say that they feel much healthier and have lost a good amount of excess weight since moving to Ecuador and eating the local cuisine.
Give it time: Finally, remember that culture shock doesn’t last. You will get over it, and you will embrace your new home and culture if you let yourself. Who knows – like many expats, you will eventually probably find yourself experiencing culture shock when you visit your home country and not be able to wait to get back to Ecuador!
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