Is it possible to have culture shock where you grew up? After two years in Ecuador, we took a trip back to Canada. And we were surprised to experience culture shock.
Culture Shock in Canada: Is Culture Shock Good for You?
A Surprise Trip Home
After living in Ecuador without returning to Canada for two years, we had no plans for a visit back, but there we were in Canada!
We had been living in Ecuador for two years on a temporary visa, but were in the midst of trying to get residency. Just as we began the application process, the Ecuadorian government started changing some of the laws relating to residency.
They were trying to crack down on some fraudulent practices that had been slipping under the wire. The changes would make things better in the long run, but it was just adding up to some extra headaches for us law abiding types. The trip back to Canada seemed like one very expensive headache but proved to be just the opposite.
Paperwork is very important in Ecuador. The emphasis on paperwork is very heavy, especially for anything like visa applications or getting a driver’s license.
You have to have the original of everything and then get multiple copies signed by different people, legalized, notarized, in color, in black and white, and then translated and copied and signed all over again.
Paperwork is what pushed us on the plane back to Canada. Our temporary visa was running out, so we didn’t have enough time to wait on the postal system for the police report we needed to complete our application for residency.
It would have taken a couple of months by mail, but we could get it done in a couple of weeks in person. We didn’t have months left on our visa, so we packed up and left for Canada as soon as we found out we needed the paperwork. We felt a little like we were in the TV program The Amazing Race, except we already had the jackpot and were fighting not to lose it.
A Bitter, But Sweet Reality
We were all grumbling about having to leave Ecuador, we like it so much. The expense and the time away made us feel tired before we even set out for the trip.
It’s interesting that a forced trip can feel so different than a planned one, even when the destination is the same. Needless to say it was not a planned trip, but we soon realized how much we needed it.
The trip came upon us so fast, we didn’t have much time to think about how awesome it was going to be to see all of our family and friends again. There was something very soothing and rejuvenating about seeing everyone again. Not much had changed, and after going through so many changes ourselves over the past two years, going back to “normal” was very good for us.
It’s funny how we didn’t really take note of our own culture until we had experienced extended time away from it. Because of the trip we had a new aspect to add to the list of the benefits of living abroad, realizing how good it feels to visit back home.
We feel like we now have two homes. A friend of mine said recently “when I’m in Ecuador I call the U.S.A home, and when I’m in the U.S.A, I call Ecuador home.” That’s true of us for Canada as well.
Culture Shock in Canada
Although we didn’t know it of each other at the time, when we landed in Canada and felt the normality sinking back in, Bryan and I were worried about how we would feel about returning to Ecuador.
It was so easy to communicate “English!” We were enjoying blending in (we get stared at a lot in Ecuador) and the extremely polite driving habits! It all felt so good, and so easy!
Here are a few of the things we missed from home (Canada home):
- Ice cream at the petting zoo
- Fun at the local farms
- Swimming at the lake
- Fishing at the shore
- The Halifax Waterfront
- Fish and chips (the way they do it in N.S.)
- Cows Ice Cream (said to be among the best in the world)
- Warm blueberry pie with ice cream
- Watching the tide come in and go out (Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world)
- Time with the family
- Time with forever friends
- Feeling relaxed while driving
- Feeling relaxed while crossing the street
- High bush blueberries
- Feeling relaxed while communicating
- Blending in
- Hanging out at Chapters (we love the places books take us, and everything is better with coffee)
Why We Miss the Halifax Waterfront in Nova Scotia
On a sunny day in Summer one of our favorite places to spend the day is the Halifax Waterfront. It’s a great place to get a good dose of our maritime culture.
The boardwalk is always a buzz with locals and tourists on the weekend when the weather is clear. There is lots to do there, some of our favorite things are, getting fish and chips then grabbing some Cows ice cream and checking out some artisan shops.
Imagine the smell of salt air mixed with cotton candy and seafood. A couple of weeks ago some Ecuadorian friends cooked something similar to this – fish coated in shredded green plantain and deep fried (corviche) – it was the closest thing we’ve had to fish and chips since we’ve been in Ecuador and it was amazing!
Depending on where you eat it, sometimes the batter has beer or other secret ingredients mixed in to enhance the flavor. I’ve never cooked battered fish so I don’t know much about getting it just right. From the experience I have eating it, some people have got the knack for preparing it, and some don’t.
There is a little shack (The Battered Fish – only in Canada do fish and chip stands have their own web site…) along the boardwalk on the Halifax Waterfront where we like to go for really good fish and chips. There are picnic tables out back where we sit and take in the sights while enjoying our meal.
I like to spread a coating of tarter sauce over the surface of the fish batter, and then drizzle ketchup in squiggly designs all over the tarter sauce. Believe it or not I can still taste the fish and batter under all of that, and it’s perfect. The french fries (chips) added as a side to the battered fish make for a bit of a greasy meal, which may not be the healthiest dish in the world, but so worth it!
If you ever visit Halifax in the summertime – you have to try a basket.
Canada’s Best Ice Cream: Cows Ice Cream
Cows Ice Cream is one of our favorite treats while visiting back home in Canada. It’s said to be among the best ice cream in the world. It is definitely among the best I’ve ever tasted! Reader’s Digest Magazine voted it the best ice cream in Canada!
The branding that Cows has established is rather bizarre. They have taken a dairy cow and turned it into everything from a Star Wars character to a Justin Bieber impersonator. It’s very interesting to walk around the souvenir shop and talk about all the cheeky things they’ve created with their brand. We found it surprisingly entertaining.
Whenever we stop in for some ice cream on the Halifax waterfront, there is always a line up out the door and down the boardwalk beside the building. The ice cream is more expensive than most, but that does not seem to stop people from enjoying it, it may even add to it’s popularity. We took some pictures of the branded products, and the ice cream that keeps it all going.
YouTube becomes MooTube
MarioKart becomes MoorioKart
Star Wars becomes Cow Wars: A long time ago in a pasture far, far away…
Gift store where they sell all the moochandise (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Cows Ice Cream had a pretty neat sign in their window. We had lots of time to read it – the line was so long…. They even had 4 people serving and they still couldn’t keep up – and it was a weekday.
The Sign Reads: World Best Ice Cream
Tauck World Discovery, a company that offers tours in 63 countries, asked its staff around the world for the inside scoop on the best places to eat ice cream. Its Top 10 list:
- COWS (Prince Edward Island)
- Gelateria Perche No! (Florence Italy)
- Tip Top Ice Cream (New Zealand)
- Kula Lodge (Maui, Hawaii)
- Freddo (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
- Gelateria di Piazza (San Gimignano, Italy)
- Hot Licks Homemade Ice Cream (Fairbanks, Alaska)
- Glacier Berthillion (Ile de St. Louis, Paris)
- Las Iguanas (Boca de Arenal, Costa Rica)
- Ben & Jerry’s (Waterbury, Vermont)
There is also a Buskers Festival on the Waterfront every summer. When we lived in N.S. we would make the trip to the city at least once during the busker festival to take in the sights. Buskers are basically professional circus type entertainers preforming on the street, or in this case the boardwalk.
We would see everything from amazing trampoline performances, to a contortionist who could squeeze his entire body through a toilet seat. There were also really talented face painters, a rock climbing wall and a trampoline bungee cord type ride to try out. Some of the acts are a bit off color at times, so we had to be a bit choosy which ones to take in.
All the acts are on a donation basis and admission is paid at the end, so it’s easy to pick and choose with ones to spend time at.
One year for our anniversary we took a sailboat tour of the harbor from the board walk. It was really beautiful and we’re reminded of it each time we visit the boardwalk. It’s an easy place to make nice memories.
Seeing the boats, ships, seagulls, sparkling saltwater, people and everything else that goes with that atmosphere is definitely one of our favorite things to do in Nova Scotia.
How Our Feelings Changed
Our feelings began to shift about a week and a half into our visit back. We started talking about how much we missed Ecuador! That’s when we found out the secret fears we had each been having just after arriving in Canada.
I guess the fact that we both expressed this to each other, and how we were both look forward to getting back to Ecuador, was a true reflection of how we felt about our Ecuador home. Which felt pretty good, considering we were fighting so hard to get residency 🙂
Why Culture Shock is Good for You
Are you concerned about culture shock? Some new expats think that it won’t affect them. Others make their move, prepared to handle it.
In this post, you’ll learn about common culture shock factors, the six stages of culture shock, and six ways to handle it. And, most importantly, why culture shock is good for you.
What is Culture Shock?
The term culture shock describes the effect of moving from a familiar culture to an unfamiliar one.
What can contribute to culture shock? Here are some of the common factors:
- Etiquette and behaviour
6 Stages of Culture Shock
- Trip Planning: This first stage is generally full of excitement as you plan your trip / move.
- Initial Euphoria: Sometimes called the “honeymoon stage” this begins when you first arrive in your new country and ends when the realities of life begin to sink in. At first, everything seems rosy – even perfect.
- Irritability: This is the stage that sometimes gets the better of expats. The frustration of “how they do things” can quickly take the shine off your relocation. This can be made worse by the inability to communicate in the local language. Unrealistic expectations only make this worse.
- Gradual Adjustment: With some patience, you can learn to adjust. As the local ways become familiar, you can learn how you should act and how to get things done. This usually happens in stages.
- Adaptation: As you learn how to function in the new culture, you’ll hopefully come to feel part of it.
- Re-entry Phase: Sometimes this is planned – other times a return home can be unexpected. Either way, you’ll probably realize that you have become a different person. Most expats have found that their time abroad has matured and inspired them. We were affected by reverse culture shock when we landed back in Canada earlier this year.
Below the infographic, find six suggestions for getting over a rough landing.
Why Culture Shock is Good for You [Infographic]
6 Ways to Handle Culture Shock
There is a huge set of Culture Shock country guides that will help you understand the nuances of your new home. While most of what these books say can be helpful, they can quickly go from observing the cultural differences to judging them.
- Stay Grounded: Realize that culture shock is normal. Most people deal with it, in varying degrees.
- Eat Comfort Food: Prepare some of your favorite foods from home – or maybe a variation based on what’s available locally.
- Get Active: Exercise will lift your mood, get your outside and improve your perspective. Look into joining local activity groups – sports or exercise. Consider learning a new sport.
- Stay Connected: Take the time to connect with friends and family. It will help with the transition and give you someone to share your progress with.
- Challenge Yourself: Set daily goals such as interacting with a new person each day. Or set the goal to learn a new word. Language learning is a critical step in adapting in your new home.
- Find a Guide: Find someone to help you learn the language and culture. You might find help online (forums or Facebook groups) or in person once you arrive.
More reading: 17 Best Expat Books
Why Culture Shock is Good For You
Culture shock means you’re growing. Breaking out of the familiar can be uncomfortable. But that is one of the best ways to grow as a person. When you understand what causes culture shock, and how to handle it, you’ll see that it really isn’t that bad.
Hang on and ride it out. You’ll be a stronger, more mature person on the other side.
How have you coped with culture shock? What are you dealing with right now? Please join the conversation below!
Life Lesson Learned
It’s good to be away, but it’s good to be back for awhile too.
Please comment on this post and let us know what you miss from home while you’re traveling or living abroad.