Consider Culture Shock

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Consider Culture Shock

Culture Shock can HIT HARD!
Culture Shock can HIT HARD!

First, a little background on exactly what culture shock is:

Culture shock is the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) that occurs in individuals adjusting to life in an unfamiliar culture. Basically, culture shock happens when a person finds that the ways they have always done things no longer work in the new culture.

EVERYONE who leaves their home country to live on foreign soil for any extended period of time will experience some degree of culture shock. Degrees can fluctuate significantly, depending. * Culture shock is the primary reason an estimated 40% of those who move to Costa Rica return ‘home’ within the year. These people will rarely admit to this, instead citing numerous other reasons why it didn’t work out.

Read this for a humorous perspective of who moves to Costa Rica


Honeymoon Phase – This phase usually lasts a few weeks, but a couple of months would not be unheard of. The new culture is seen in a romantic like, similar to a two week vacation where everything is seen as wonderful and new.

Negotiation Phase – Reality of the situation begins to set in and the honeymoon phase is officially over. This is the phase when things are seen as they truly are, and comparisons typically happen between the ‘home’ and ‘host’ country. “This is not how we did it in the States,” would be a typical remark. This phase is often marked by uncertainty, anxiety, and uncomfortability- usually in the form of mood swings or lashing out on minor issues for no apparent reason.

Adjustment Phase – One begins to become accustomed to the new culture (usually 6 – 12 months), and develops routines. Things become more “normal,” and one knows what to expect in most situations that arise. The ‘newness’ has worn off.

Three things can happen during the Adjustment Phase. Some people find this new way of living impossible and move back “home.” Others totally integrate to their new culture while losing their original identity and will usually remain in the host country forever. The third group manages to adapt and adjust to the aspects and/or the differences of the host culture, while maintaining some of their own identity and establishing their own unique blend.

Reverse Culture Shock – Returning to one’s home culture after acclimating to a new one can produce the same effects as mentioned above, which the person frequently finds more difficult to deal with than the original culture shock.

The truth of the matter is many foreigners who elect to make Costa Rica home come unprepared for the trials and tribulations that await them. A two week vacation in Costa Rica is a far cry from putting down roots here.

That said, there are strategies for minimizing the effects of culture shock (in no specific order).

Understand how you learned about your ‘own’ culture. Know that culture is taught, but at an unconscious level. Cultures aren’t right or wrong per se, they are what they are, which means they can be vastly different. Be prepared for differences in Costa Rica. One way to become aware of one’s own culture is to ask residents in your country who are from other cultures their opinions about your culture. Be prepared, because their answers will sometimes surprise you, but are great for perspective.

Learn about yourself. Personality traits such as flexibility, openness and curiosity often allow some people to adapt to Costa Rica more successfully than others.

Self-discovery and self-reflection are important because many people who move to Costa Rica have a tendency to find fault with their new environment rather than taking a personal responsibility for their problems and discomforts and making the appropriate changes. Playing the victim is so ‘unbecoming.’

Learn about Costa Rica and its culture before putting down roots here: E.g. reading, studying the language, surfing the internet or attending cultural classes. This way, Costa Rica and its people are more familiar and one is more aware of differences and better prepared to deal with them. In other words: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

If possible, spend some time here before making the move. This seems obvious, but doesn’t happen as much as you might think. This can save time, energy, money, anxiety and regret, to name only a few.


Far and away, ‘tico-time’ is the hardest adjustment for most foreigners. This is a BIGGIE. Things happen here when the happen, and not before. Actually, there is no time, at least not in the sense we understand the word. And there is absolutely NOTHING you can do to expedite the process. You expect construction on your new house to be completed in 6 months, well 12 is closer to the reality (maybe more). Schedule your appointments for the day- forget about it. Tico-time is a WAY of life and ‘rude’ never enters the picture. If you’re not prepared for this cultural difference, you could find yourself packing for home within the year. Humorous look at Tico Time

Making it in Costa Rica

Here’s what everybody who has made the move to Costa Rica, and stayed, knows:

Be flexible, open, and curious when dealing with new information and ways of doing things.

Give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

Be proactive, as opposed to reactive, when getting information, getting involved and getting help.

When you’re wondering if you did the right thing, give it some time, you’ll know. Feelings of anxiety or frustration are normal. They soon will pass.

I’m inclined to give my personal opinion on this matter because I think it’s relevant. Hardly scientific- I have observed a few things. If you’re a person that has been thinking for some time about simplifying life, experiencing new ‘things’ or moving in a completely new direction and ‘something’ seems to be calling you- culture shock will be minimal. Yeah, you’ll have some anxious or frustrating moments, but you will make it here, so don’t worry.

If your motivation is to maintain a certain style of living but at a lower cost, but in a really ‘cool’ location- let me save you the trouble, look elsewhere.

Check out this video for a possible other problem when making the move to Costa Rica: