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Colombia Culture Shock

Although Colombia has been a melting pot of cultures, predominately Africans, Indigenous and Europeans, the majority of the people have a European/North American appearance. Unless you arrive in Choco, a department/state where the inhabitants are largely descendants of African slaves, you will probably feel quite at home here.

They look like us, ergo they are like us – right ?  – cue – the buzzer rings here.

Colombians are wonderful people. You will find the ‘Paisas’, the inhabitants in the department of Antioquia and surrounding regions, to be some of the most friendly people in the country. There is however a significant difference in our cultures.

Compare the Americans with the Canadians. They inhabit the same continent, speak the same language (almost), in many ways share the same cultural backgrounds yet there is a difference.

When you close a car door, do you give the door a firm pull or push to make certain that it shuts tight ?  For this very reason a Colombian taxi driver may actually reach over to close the door of their vehicle when you exit, as they perceive ”we” slam them. If you have a bag or backpack, where do you leave it ? In Colombia, never place your purse or bag on the floor.   These are just a few examples of things we may view to be harmless yet are important to the locals.

Colombia, while it is making inroads in training its young people to speak English, is still a predominantly Spanish speaking country.  It behooves you, if you are intending to move to this country, to learn at least basic Spanish. While they are clusters of expats there is not a huge, visible expat community.

Be prepared for frustrating moments. Line-ups, especially in banks can be incredibly tedious. If you are over 62, by law you are entitled to use the priority line that some banks provide. Certainly if you are going to experience Colombia culture shock it may be on the roadways. The drivers are crazy and Colombia totes one of the highest accident rates in the world. Be prepared for chaos, especially with the motorcycles.

Integration should be your goal. Having expat friends is important and helpful for you to gain a foothold in your new home but we are not going to change the locals so adaptation is your best line of defense.

As in any relationship, there is a ”Honeymoon” stage.  New food, new people, new ”everything” can be rather exciting but just like our personal relationships, that phase ends and reality sets in. This may happen in the 3rd or 4th month of your new adventure.

Now you may face an adaptation period. This is the ”dirty laundry on the floor stage”.  You may have feelings of anger, frustration and anxiety as the real differences between your new and old culture become obvious. You may have trouble sleeping, your stomach may be constantly upset (remember your body has to adapt to the ”normal floral” in the food and water) and you may become homesick. It might take you six months to one year to reach the point where you have finally adjusted  to your new life style.

No matter where you are from and where you are planning to move to, there will always be these periods of adjustment to a new lifestyle and culture. Embrace your new country. Don’t expect it to adapt to you. Seek out new friends that are Colombian. ”Cast a wider net”.  It will be well worth the effort.



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