Regardless of the whether you’re relocating to Puerto Rico or moving from any other country, you’re bound to experience some level of disorientation also known as culture shock. This new experience may bring on feelings of anxiety and insecurity owing to the fact that you now have to get accustomed to new surroundings, behaviors, languages and values. There are different ways to overcome culture shock, but the best technique is to adapt to the culture and build meaningful relationships with those around you rather than being confused and anxious.
Although experiencing culture shock is a normal part of the adjustment process, it may be uncomfortable for some individuals so it is important to deal with it appropriately.
Culture shock is defined by Wikipedia as, “the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life.”
The Phases of Culture Shock
There are four phases of culture shock common to the experience; the Honeymoon Phase, Frustration, Adjustment and Mastery. Being aware of these phases is one way to help you move through them.
The Honeymoon Phase
This phase often starts while traveling to Puerto Rico and sometimes extends a few months into your move. During the honeymoon phase, you will see Puerto Rico in a romantic light, with everyday interactions appearing quaint and exotic. This is the phase where you feel like you are on an island paradise and you are on a great adventure. Differences between your old and new way of life are seen in a positive, exciting and curious light.
Like the name implies, the frustration phase sometimes begins as soon as you make your permanent move to Puerto Rico. Everyday interactions and trying to accomplish small tasks leads to information overload, difficulties with communicating, technology issues and cultural differences, leading to homesickness and anxiety.
You may feel disconnected from your surroundings and focus on differences in attitudes, safety, convenience and miss familiar foods, places and people. It becomes difficult meeting new people on a constant basis, learning where things are and how to get to them.
Between 6 months and a year in your new surroundings, you will experience the Adjustment Phase. This is when you (finally) fall into a routine. By this time, you have most of what you need sorted out. You know where to drive, how to accomplish your tasks and have developed basic skills to interact with people. By now, you most likely have a new group of friends and acquaintances and don’t feel like such an outsider. Living in Puerto Rico becomes your new normal and you know what to expect in different circumstances and generally deal with problems with a more positive attitude.
There are three outcomes at this phase. Some people never fully adjust and reject their new life, seeing everything in a negative light, eventually moving out of Puerto Rico. Others fully integrate, taking on Puerto Rican culture as their own. More likely, people adopt a unique mix of their new culture with the one they left behind.
In this phase, a phase many may not achieve, you are participating fully in your new life in Puerto Rico. You have become bicultural, learning how to speak Spanish, celebrating local customs and have developed a deep understanding of the Puerto Rican way of life, as well as friendships and political, business and more permanent forms of ties with your (not so) newly adopted home. You still keep your roots but also feel that Puerto Rico is a part of your identity.
Tips on Dealing with Culture Shock
Learn the Local Language – The national language of Puerto Rico is Spanish so getting acquainted with a few words will definitely make it easier for you to get by. For example, Puerto Rican motorists drive on the right side of the road just like any U.S. State and are guided by universal signs with almost the same shapes and colors except that the words are in Spanish. Some may have translations below them, but others may not and if you’re on a highway, this may prove to be inconvenient. Spanish is a widely accepted language in most countries on the globe and your willingness to learn it displays enthusiasm and appreciate for the culture.
Be Open Minded – Do not automatically assume things are wrong or negative because things are done differently than in your home town. Constantly belittling and complaining is not a good way to make new friends with local Puerto Ricans and can be further alienating for you. Refrain from discussing politics and religion with people you have just met no matter how educated you are on the subjects.
Other Guidelines to Follow – Be aware of local customs including what to wear at different events. Be respectful the first time you visit a new church as they may have different guidelines than what you are accustomed to. Avoid wearing skirts when entering a church in Puerto Rico, and do not stroll into a restaurant shirtless, barefoot or even in a swimsuit. Taking photos is great, but be kind to ask for permission first, especially inside a church or a stranger on the street.
Be aware of island time, a term used on many islands to describe a “carefree attitude” and will often keep you waiting for nearly everything. Expecting things to take a long time will save you a lot of frustration. A simple lunch, going to the grocery store and accomplishing tasks (especially when dealing with government agencies) will take much longer than what you are accustomed to.
Reverse Culture Shock
Many may experience something called reverse culture shock when returning to their homeland after living for a long time in Puerto Rico. It produces the same effects as traditional culture shock and can sometimes be worse.
Have you experienced culture shock in Puerto Rico? Please share your experience below!