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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | Updated: 10/16/2022

Culture Shock

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

Although "shock" sounds like something that happens suddenly, culture shock is a slow, gradual process.  Noticing differences in cultures is not the same thing as culture shock.  Culture shock is when the differences start affecting your thoughts, emotions and energy.  Spending 90 minutes in the bank when you first arrive to a country is an interesting difference.  You write home and tell people about it and finish with “Funny, huh?” Spending 90 minutes in the bank during your shock period, and you write home with your blood boiling, wanting to punch someone in the face.

Costa Rican Cultural Etiquette


Let's talk about some of the myths of culture shock.  We've already discussed that many people think it's instantaneous.  It is not.  Generally culture shock starts happening around the three-month mark.  It happens gradually and after you’ve been there for a while.  Which brings me to my next point.  Many believe the shock happens while visiting.  Again, that's just noticing differences.  Culture shock happens while you are living in a different culture.  Culture shock only happens to some people, and it only happens to each person once in a life:  False! It will happen to you, and it will happen in every new place or culture you live in.

Stages of Culture Shock

As you can see from the graph, you start your experience in the honeymoon phase: everything is fun, interesting and lovely.  Everything is part of the experience.  "The rain is so refreshing, and keeps everything green!"  During the shock phase, everything, that was fun and interesting in the beginning, is now frustrating and you get angry.  "You've got to be kidding me! It’s raining again!"

Moving On

Shock is something that you just have to go through, however, you won’t stay there forever. Vent and discuss it with people that understand and that you trust, and preferably and respectfully that aren’t from that culture, but don’t get stuck there.  Move on.  Don’t blame yourself, the job, the culture….just adapt!  For instance, bumping into people on the sidewalks or drivers getting so close to people on the side of the roads is part of life here. We aren’t used to it, but WE need to adapt. It’s not something they need to change. They have no problem with these things.  A wise friend once told me the best advice when dealing with cultural differences when traveling:  “It’s my problem, not theirs.”  You aren't in that culture to change that culture.

Tico Culture

The length of the shock period depends on your attitude.  Careful with your sense of self-entitlement.  Just because you’re an English teacher, doesn’t mean you “deserve” certain things; you’re an immigrant, even if we have even gone as far as making up other words for it like “expat."  Be prepared for the reality of the job.  You will most likely be working mornings, late evenings and on Saturdays.  You will probably be taking public transportation and walking in the rain.  

Before you move, prepare by researching and when the culture shock sets in, remind yourself what you like about the culture.  Stay busy:  play soccer, go out, get coffee, go on tours, check out new restaurants.  Make plans to have things to look forward to:  your next border run, other places to see in the country etc.  Finally, careful with the expat blogs and groups on Facebook.  Some people get STUCK in the crappy attitude and can really drag you down. 

Now that you are a bit more educated on what culture shock is and how to deal with it, jump into your life abroad by signing up for your 4-week, onsite TEFL course with us in Costa Rica! 

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