Culture Shock When Living Abroad

Culture shock defines itself as a feeling of disorientation when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life, often when travelling or living in a foreign country, and it can be an inevitable part of living abroad. Its effects are limited for short-term travelers who are simply passing through, however if you decide to stay and live in a foreign country, it can be a small challenge that you face on a daily basis. Lima, the main arrival point for most expats and probably the most popular destination for expats to live in, can be overwhelming to say the least. The moment you step off the plane you are confronted by the noise, traffic, pollution and the generally chaotic nature that defines most South American cities. Here are some simple tips to help you adapt and orientate yourself in order to reduce the effect of culture shock on your wonderful new life in Peru:

  • Learn Spanish and practice it every opportunity you get. Not only are Peruvians very receptive to you attempting to communicate in their language, it is also the key to connecting to and becoming a part of the local community. Even though struggling to navigate your way through a new language can be daunting, it is a vital step in the process of learning to not only survive but really enjoy life here. It will make daily life much less stressful and easier to navigate and allow you to develop new relationships with everyone from your neighbours to the cute guy on the bus.
  • Become a part of your local community and make an effort to make friends with the locals. Go to local restaurants and bars and discover the culture that Peruvians enjoy; give your Spanish a work out and ask new friends and acquaintances for their personal recommendations, as a local’s tip is worth its weight in gold. It’s great to take pleasure in the familiarity and ease of company of fellow expats, but if they are the only people in your social circle you are limiting the possibilities of your experience abroad, not to mention not doing your Spanish any favours.
  • Get street smart and avoid running into problems. Crime is a problem in Peru so it’s best to accept the reality of the situation, be aware of the risks and practice caution. When travelling to any country with higher rates of poverty than your home country, it’s always wise to avoid calling attention to yourself by using flashy jewellery, expensive clothing and accessories. Inform yourself of risks and dangers so as to avoid them; only catch taxis which are registered and be sure to agree on the price before getting in, don’t pay for taxi fares with big notes as they may be switched for fake currency and if you feel vulnerable in a taxi call a friend during the journey telling them where you are and the number of the driver. Small things like this can make a difference and knowledge is key to avoid being caught out as a naive foreigner.
  • Educate yourself about culture and politics; make an effort to keep up to date with the local and national news so that you know what’s happening in Peru. Gain some knowledge about recent history and how Peru has developed, as it’s easier to not be judgmental when you have more of an understanding of why things happen and how the country has grown and developed over time.
  • Don’t expect things to work in the same way as they do in your home country nor should you judge Peru by comparing it to where what you’re used to. These unrealistic expectations will guarantee disappointment and limit your opportunities to try something new. Patience, understanding, flexibility and a little empathy will get you a long way and help you to be open to everything being completely and delightfully different.
  • And last but certainly not least, keep an open mind and an understanding heart. Always remember that you have chosen to leave the relative comfort of your home country, and you should therefore leave all of your expectations back home so that you can truly embrace all of the new experiences that life here will bring you.   


About the author: Ellie Ryan is an Aussie expat working and living in Peru. She is the Founder of TEFL Zorritos, a TEFL training institute which trains people to become English language teachers and places them in positions in Peru and abroad. This article is published in her Expat Ellie series for Peru this Week. 


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