An Unschooled Mom's Guide to Family Travel & Expat Life
My First Email About Being Shocked by Culture Shock
The following is an excerpt of the first email I sent to a friend, when I was really struggling with all the newness of living in Mexico. I didn’t realize it, but I was culture shocked. At the time, we hadn’t been here for two weeks yet. I’ve added some updates to the text to highlight the changes that have happened in half a year.
How long did it take you to adjust to life in Mexico?
Today, I wanted to go home. I haven’t driven yet here. The mall is very close. The other place I could go is Walmart, but I have to be on guard about getting scammed and I’m the perfect target since the kids always distract me.
I drove here for the first time shortly after I wrote this email. I’m pretty comfortable driving now, at least in my main areas. However, I always have to watch for stopped traffic, mopeds, bicycles, pedestrians, food carts, and stray dogs.
I’ve sort of made peace with the Walmart situation, as it isn’t the worst thing that has happened to an expat here.
Guadalajara. Here, we were enjoying visiting a new city and looking forward to a beach vacation. I wasn’t feeling at all culture shocked at this time.
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Check Yourself First
The kids’ behavior has been awful (though no worse than home and not really any different from before the move) and I can’t really take them anywhere, except to the playgrounds in our neighborhood. Being with them right now is hard – we have very little to do in our empty house.
I neglected to mention that MY BEHAVIOR was also awful. I was constantly judging myself and assuming others were judging us, while adjusting to all kinds of new and different things that Mexico was throwing our way. None of it was huge, but when one is already feeling off-kilter, any little bit sends one toppling over. My children fed off my energy, adding in their big emotions about moving, and we had a really horrible time for awhile. Once I controlled myself and my emotions, peace reigned over our household. It was as if a switch flipped. I’m still not perfect, however, it still remains true that when I am acting peacefully and patiently, that my children feel (and act) better, too.
Our old house.
Also, the food is weird. I bought some gluten free bread from a brand I’ve had in the states and it has this weird almost perfume like taste. Even the pre-formed hamburgers from Walmart were a little odd. It could just be me. Cooking is difficult because our stuff hasn’t arrived and probably won’t for another 2 or so weeks.
I ended up buying a few things and borrowing a few things to get through until our stuff arrived (which felt like it took forever). It turned out that the bread I was buying was sourdough. I could accept the “weird taste” as sourdough, once I realized it (however, after purchasing a loaf that had gone bad, I know now that “weird taste” was actually because it was on the cusp of turning bad). I purchased the sourdough bread for awhile, until I found a Mexican brand that is slightly cheaper and tastes better (win-win). However, I no longer purchase meat from Walmart. Ever. There are much better options around, including a butcher who delivers!
I did neglect to mention how much I love the restaurant food here. Even from the beginning. Maybe I just needed more tacos.
Actually, there is a big adjustment period to the different food bacteria. There was quite a bit of time where my stomach bothered me and I couldn’t eat very much. Some of this was normal, according to other expats, but I feel having an autoimmune disease contributed.
Bringing our dogs here helped us adjust a little easier. This letter about being culture shocked was written before they joined us in Mexico.
Oh, how I miss my bed
And the bed we bought is horrible. It’s too hard for my taste, so I haven’t been sleeping well. The rooster [just outside the neighborhood] isn’t helping! When our stuff comes, I’ll have a fan for white noise.
We purchased a fan before our stuff arrived for three reasons. First, since we arrived during the hot season, it was extremely hot at night. For a week or two, there was enough outside breeze and the night air was cooler. Then, it was too still and too hot at night. We were miserable. Second, it helped keep the mosquitoes away from us at night. Apparently, we’d never heard of mosquito killing sprays, which we now use regularly. Third, the white noise did amazing things for our sleep.
The bed we bought is typical of beds here. Initially, I missed my soft, comfy mattress from home. Even while tossing and turning, I told myself I’m lucky to have a brand new bed. It eventually sunk in, I’m used to it, and sleep as well as I did at home nowadays.
One of the favorite aspects of my house in Mexico. We have an atrium!
Am I Culture Shocked?
Right now, I want to go home, repaint my house to a color I like, and live with regret
My house is sold and I can’t go back. And I’d have been really angry with myself if I’d given up 10 days into this adventure. I was being brutally candid here, because she encouraged me to bare all. She’d been through it, the pain of glorietas, the major change of living where you don’t know anyone, etc. It was such a relief to have a friend who had been through this exact thing and could offer advice while understanding the enormity of the changes I’d just made in my life.
Though, I ended up getting a pedicure at my house today and that lifted my spirits quite a bit. She was SO nice, even though I can’t speak Spanish.
There is a massive amount of luxury involved when you have someone who will come to your house to give you a pedicure. This fact is not lost on me. It was a huge boost to my spirits at that time.
Not even thinking about feeling culture shocked in this moment.
This is definitely what being culture shocked looks like
I knew I’d go through emotions, but I feel a little different than I expected. Every single expat has commented that I should send my kids to school, since I’m planning to homeschool. That’s a lot more negativity than I expected. I’m entering into a high school like community where everyone knows everything about everyone else. And I’m not used to that at all.
Now that I have cemented friendships with people in the expat community, I feel less of a burden and not at all like I’m the subject of gossip.
As far as the school thing goes, I decided at nearly the last possible minute to send them to school. I still feel shame with this decision and some days are really difficult. Some days are pretty good, too. The kids have made friends and I’ve joined a gym to work out with other moms. One thing I’ve kept in my mind is that this decision isn’t and doesn’t have to be permanent (like how most people approach homeschooling). It’s the best decision I can make with the information I have right now.
Thank you for not judging me
So, it seems to be many things [that are bothering me]. The kids are doing pretty well, as is my husband. He is working 12 hour days – I’m glad we opted to live fairly close to his work. Adjusting to him not getting home until late is also taking time.
Adjusting to this was really difficult. I kept the kids up until 10-11 pm at night. They started sleeping in, which was great, but it wasn’t the best timing when I sent them to day camp (which actually wasn’t that good of an experience for them) or now for school. We’ve adjusted to less time with my husband and the time seems like it’s better quality.
Other than being tired from his long work day, he did adjust easily and well. He’s also done this before twice, so maybe practice makes perfect.
Thanks for letting me say everything without judgement. It’s an amazing opportunity to live here and I don’t want to be ungrateful.
PS – There have only been four cockroaches in the house thankfully. They are kind of big lol
This is now a big, fat lie. There are like a zillion cockroaches in the house of various sizes and they all need to die. The big ones are so rarely in the house, I forgot they existed. I’m dealing with the tiny and medium ones.
Seriously. The cockroaches need to die.
How have you dealt with feeling culture shocked? How have you helped your kids deal with it?