Good morning beautiful angels! The Universe woke me up at 4 a.m this morning. I have no idea why, but after rolling around in bed until 6 a.m, I simply got up, put on my track pants and took a brisk 3 km walk with my dog.
It is now 8 a.m, 19 January, 2019. Nineteen days into the year and already we have so much to be thankful for, so much to look forward to and so many blessings amidst us all. Birthdays have already been celebrated, some of us are entering our 20’s,30’s,40’s etc. and I can tell you as women we really do get better like fine ass wines in the cellars of life.
Let’s get our lesson innn! CULTURE SHOCK : Two words that carry an array of connotations.
I have experienced this a total of four times so far. The first time was obviously when I did my first stint in Saudi Arabia for almost two years. During that time I was fortunate enough to visit Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Bahrain. I would have loved to experience Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Yemen during that period as well. But all in due time.
The second time I had experienced culture shock was in China, where I had spent almost three years living, working and grinding. I had lived in the north, then in the south, then in the north again. Although I did not travel through South East Asia, I fully enjoyed myself there. There were many lessons to be learned, but that is for another day’s telling.
The third time, is most recent, here in Colombia. Latin America as a whole is so vibrant, diverse and colorful that it took me a while to get accustomed to my surroundings.
After being in China for such a long time and not remembering how powerful something as insignificant as a hug or a loving pat on the back was. This type of affection is usually received through my family members and close friends. I was so used to actually avoiding physical contact with the general public as the streets were always overcrowded (foot traffic 24/7/365) and everyone including myself was always in a hurry or on their way somewhere. This is very evident in the bigger cities. Most people are just in their own little worlds on their way to university or work or home.
As I came directly from Asia to Latin America, it is the other side of the world. Literally. It is also the other side of the cultural spectrum. The Chinese would never just go up to a stranger and greet them with a hug and a peck on the cheek. That is just not their way. And there is nothing wrong with that. But it is the Latin way. And I love it!
Here in Colombia, the vibe is so chilled and relaxed. You can end up having a 15 minute convo with a street vendor over a freshly squeezed glass of fruit juice. Side note: Fresh, tropical fruit is life! People here love to talk. They talk about the weather, what they are going to cook for dinner, the news, anything and everything. I think that it is a way of embracing their sense of community. I experience Ubuntu ( an isiXhosa term that means togetherness or having compassion for humanity) daily. Everyone here is close- knit and supportive. A collectivist society. I have observed that inclusiveness is key.
The first thing that I noticed that was similar to my culture, is that people greet you on the street with a smile. Not knowing you from Adam, but treating you like you’re family. My neighbours greet me at least 10 times a day, and every time feels like the first time and they do it without fail. They know my whereabouts without me even knowing that they know and when they see other people walking with my dog, they know to ask if that person had permission to take my dog for a walk. And when they see me in the lift without my dog, it’s like there is a missing piece to this puzzle.
When my friends and now family greet me, their send /sign off is always ” Dios te bendiga y te cuida “. Meaning May God bless you and keep ( take care of ) you. Or “Que te vaya bien” Meaning Go well. People say please and thank you for everything, no matter how trivial the favour or how big the task. They say thank you. Us South Africans tend to practice the same sentiment.
The fourth time, I will discuss in another post as well.
So lets take a look at our micro steps of STEP 5; how to deal with, process and embrace Culture Shock. I will use some of my examples and you can apply these to your current experience in which ever nation you are right now. Use it. Lose it. Adapt. Readjust. Remember that is how we glow up. Rigidity will not serve us. Trust me I am as stubborn as can be but this expat life has taught me to glow with the flow instead of fighting it.
- The cuisine is the first thing that you will be introduced to. If the only reason you went abroad was to go to a Starbucks or a KFC, I am afraid this life aint for you. In the Middle East, they eat camel meat and drink camel milk amongst many other seemingly weird things. I can only speak on what I have tried myself. I used to do all my grocery shopping myself. I would always go shopping with one of my roommates or co- workers to the various malls near our compound. There was one instance where I thought I was buying beef stew meat,but when I got home, we looked at the label again,written in Arabic and English. It was camel meat. Yip. Kameel. So, I don’t believe in wasting food and I was not going to throw it out nor turn my nose up to food. I cooked it like I would have cooked my beef stew with some veggies and it was delicious. Lesson? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. If certain food items come as a shock to you, just remember that you are not obligated to buy it or try it. Politely decline it if it is the case where you have been invited to someone’s house and they have cooked chicken feet or pork trotters. If you are the adventurous type. Yolo!
- The way things are done won’t make sense to you and this will shock you too, but again, respect your host country. Do not try and change things. It will just frustrate you. Don’t constantly complain about it to the locals. I am guilty of this. So I know how frustrating it is for them to hear how bad their country is. If you can’t tolerate the public transport, healthcare system, work week or service industry, learn to look for the benefits.
- Every country has its ups and downs, but you can evaluate your situation and see how you can make it more pleasant for yourself. Prime example, if you have to commute because of your job and it takes an hour and a half to and fro, take that time to read. If you don’t like reading, you can listen to self- development podcasts. You can jot down your bucket list of things you would like to do while you are where you are or places you would like to see once you have the opportunity and the means. If you are learning their language, eavesdrop on your fellow- passengers to build up your vocabulary. You will be amazed at how much you can learn by just observing people. Don’t do it in a creepy way, just immerse yourself and keep your ears and eyes open. So you can do as the Romans or in my case the Colombianos do.
- Be patient. With yourself and others. Let that marinade. Life WILL teach you how to be patient if you are like me, someone who used to be so impatient that I would throw a hissy fit when things did not happen in the assigned time. ” Tranquila.” Be PATIENT.
- Culture shock has its benefits. Major benefits actually. Back home, things such as brushing your teeth, clipping your nails, shaving your beard or hair, or putting on make- up is more of a private, behind closed doors ritual. Here, people openly brush their teeth in the public bathrooms. Everyone carries their toothbrush, toothpaste and floss with them in a little carrier. Men and women brush their teeth during breaks or after meals. I think this is an excellent ritual. I say ritual and not habit because this is more than just an act of personal hygiene. It represents your personal presence. If your are taking care of your overall hygiene that shows you have a good sense of dignity and pride and love putting your best foot forward to the world. Where we would say and ask ‘Hey, my mouth feels a little oniony, do you have a mint or stick of gum for me please’, they sometimes ask each other for some toothpaste if they forgot theirs at home so that they can at least rinse their mouths and have nice fresh breath. I have adopted this to my routine. When I was younger I used to rely on gum. Now, not so much. I got a free toothbrush and tube of toothpaste with its little carrier and I usually throw it in my bag if I know I will have a long day and might need to freshen up after drinking coffee or having a heavy meal.
- Your host country will see you as foreign. Because, you are foreign. And that is not a negative. It’s a two way plus. Why? On the one hand they are eager to share their culture with you, as best as they know how. Be it with dancing, their most popular fruits, their favourite alcoholic beverage, taking you to a night club or just telling you about their history, it will make them feel proud to spend time with you and they are hyper curious about your culture too. Of course you won’t be able to offer them your local treats too, but you can show them photos,videos and more. Interchange with the world. It is one of the best ways to connect with others. You will discover many commonalities. Trust me. This is a beautiful thing.
- APPRECIATE. APPRECIATE. APPRECIATE. APPRECIATE your hosts. This includes your co- workers, landlords, neighbours, strangers on the street, friends, taxi drivers, public services etc. These people will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and will translate things for you, make phone calls on your behalf, treat you to free or home – cooked meals, take you to hidden gems, book your air tickets, buy your groceries, order delivery for you when you are sick and can not take care of yourself, take you to the hospital and sit there for hours on end until you get helped, buy things for your apartment without you asking, help you to move house, pay or cover your rent, lend things to you that you might need, invite you to their hometowns to spend Christmas and New Years with them, celebrate your birthday like you area celeb, introduce you to new things and show you the ropes so that you can thrive on your own. Take note of this gigantic blessing and pay it forward by showing gratitude and respect.
- If there are things from whichever nation it is, that you can not accept on a moral level. Leave. It is as simple as that. Many of us know and understand that the world works in different ways and some ways of life might not be for us. We simply leave and wish that environment well. Brutal but necessary. I mention this because this is something that will pop up one way or another along your journey of living abroad.
With Love and Light
I hope this was helpful and I want to thank ALL my Colombianos and Colombianas for dishing out daily hugs, kisses, smiles and shoulders to cry on and being my Latin brothers and sisters. Not forgetting my Venezualanos and Venezualanas and my Brazilians too! And my one Ecuadorian! I am so blessed. We have so much love amongst us and it just keeps growing and glowing. Amor y Luz, mis amores.