Moving to Panama? Be Prepared to Experience Culture Shock 

When moving to Panama, there are lots of logistics to think about: containers, housing, bank accounts, visas, pets, telephones, transportation… the list is endless. Most people are prepared to deal with the unending to-dos, but few are ready to deal with what is universally known as Culture Shock. What Culture Shock is and How it develops Culture Shock is the cycle of feelings that occur when a person faces a new culture. Experts indicate four distinct stages of Culture Shock: Honeymoon Stage. Negotiation Stage - which is accompanied by feelings of anxiety, frustration, alienation and anger. Adjustment Stage.  Mastery.   There is no true way to prevent being affected by Culture Shock, however knowing it happens can help you adjust to a new environment with greater ease.

The Honeymoon Stage

When you first arrive in Panama, there is a feeling of excitement. You look forward to living at the beach, warm winters, fresh shrimp and tropical fruits. Panama is seen in a romantic light: the pace of life, people’s habits, the way houses are made with lots of outdoor living space. Remember the things that endure to your host country. Take pictures, scrapbook, and journal to treasure these moments. You will need these reminders as time inevitably tempers the romance with reality. The honeymoon stage generally lasts about three months.
Ironically, the things that you have prepared yourself to deal with – checking off the endless list of to-do’s, are the very things that place you face-to-face with cultural attitudes that are different from your own.

The Negotiation Stage

What once felt exciting and exotic can suddenly feel “weird” and “annoying”. Feelings of excitement give way to frustrations. Unfavorable events caused by cultural differences can start to seem offensive to you. For example, quality in workmanship, delays in opening a bank account, antiquated systems in government offices. Add language barriers, and break-ins to the mix, and it is easy to start thinking that your foreignness is actually an enjoyable target for Panamanians (Whether or not it is actually true).

Eventually, the compounding differences begin to create a subtle change in your attitude. This can lead to things becoming harder to accomplish as you put up a mental wall, distancing yourself from the people of your host country. Recognize these feelings as Culture Shock. Be kind to yourself and realize that patience is required for yourself and others, as you move through the frustrations ahead.
This is the junction at which a disconnection to Panama can begin. It is common,for people to get stuck in feeling isolated from the country. With growing expat communities, it is easy to stay comforted by similar experiences, stereotyping Panamanians and becoming sheltered from having to truly adapt to a new country. The danger here is becoming stuck in a negative perspective, and never truly being able to feel fulfilled in the experience of living in Panama.
The Adjustment Stage - 7 Ways to Overcome Culture Shock
Through a conscious effort, one can transition through Culture Shock to a place of genuine acceptance and eventual mastery. The more you learn about Panama with an open mind, the better you will gain an understanding of the historical, social and cultural differences between this country and your own. By making positive choices, one day you will realize that you have arrived at your own unique cosmopolitan perspective.
When you find yourself stuck, know that you are experiencing Culture Shock. Use a tip from this list to take a step forward.
1. Make a Panamanian friend. A lady I know, makes rounds of local businesses, stopping in for a short chat. Not only does this help her adapt to the Panamanian culture, but it gets her practicing Spanish and she inevitably gets inside information about the going-ons in the area.
2. Learn Spanish. Challenge yourself to learn and use a new word a day. Very often expats learn just enough Spanish to get by and then stop. Learning the language also helps deepen your understanding of the culture. Panamanian Spanish has a lot of subtleties. Take every opportunity to use the language, even if your skills are not perfect.
3. Make friends with other expats. It is also important to connect to cultures that you are familiar with. Venting helps you get through difficult times. Just be careful not to slide into a Panama bashing session, which can lead to feeling stuck and depressed.
4. Be a tourist.  Panama has bountiful and beautiful regions with vastly different vibes. Discover your host country and the wonder it has to offer.
5. Stretch out of your comfort zone each day. An expat I know, anticipates the errands she has and plans her conversations using Google Translate. It’s a great way to deepen the adjustment stage.
6. Develop new routines. A walk on the beach, Spanish lessons, exercise classes, spend more time on a hobby. New routines in your new life will help things settle back to normalcy. Once you feel more stable, you will be able to develop cultural problem-solving skills to help deal with differences.
7. Keep an open mind. There are layers of meaning behind why people do what they do. So when you think you understand something, stay open, as you are likely to learn even more.
While expats coming to Panama, go through culture shock, it is also interesting to note that, with the large influx of foreigners arriving in Panama, Panamanians over the last few years have also experienced a cultural shock of sorts, in their home country. I try to remember that and have some empathy for their experience of us and our learning curves!