Expat Life: Do You Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture?

There’s a lot of debate about just how much an expat should integrate into the local culture. During my years in Cancun, I’ve met many expats who hang out almost exclusively with Mexicans. I’ve met even more expats who have mostly expat friends and hardly speak any Spanish. I also know lots of people who fall somewhere in the middle. Some expats criticize others for living in an expat neighborhood, not learning Spanish, not socializing with Mexicans, etc etc etc.

Here’s my personal experience:

When I first came down to Cancun, I went to a Mexican university, had all Mexican friends and lived with Mexican roommates. For 4 years, I watched only Mexican TV (didn’t have enough money for cable), listened to mostly Mexican music and only talked to Mexican friends online (Facebook wasn’t around yet.) I would often miss home and my family, but at no point did I ever really miss the American culture. Still, with nobody around to understand the culture shock I was going through, I was often in a bad mood and sometimes became a little anti-social. There were great memories and my amazing college friends were unfailingly patient with my endless questions, but I often felt kind of alone. Sundays were always especially hard for me because Mexicans spend Sunday with the family… and I had no family here.

University Me with Damayanti, one of my best amigas in college and today 🙂

Soon before I graduated, Facebook became popular and I was once again able to be in touch with my old friends from back in the States. I also discovered celebrity gossip websites. Even though they’re a horrible habit, for some reason I felt that these gossip sites connected me in some small way to my culture.

Amigos Cesar, Pamela, Jhovana and Graduation Me

After I graduated, I began to work a job with a few other native English-speaking expats. They introduced me to some online expat communities and I began blogging. Finally I got cable TV, which in Mexico means lots of American TV shows (with Spanish subtitles, of course). At this stage, I still hold on to many of my Mexican friends and of course now I have a huge Mexican family through my husband Jorge, but lately I’ve become closer to my expat friends. It’s so great to be able to speak in Spanglish, rave about how great it is to live in Cancun and yes, occasionally gripe about things in Mexico that annoy us.

The current Me, hanging out with Mexican amiga Cyndi and Brazilian amiga Nadia

I’ve seen both sides, immersing myself in the culture 100% for 4 years, which allowed me to learn everything I possibly could from the Mexican culture, open up my mind and even take on a few cultural traits that I used to hate but now love. However, after leaning more toward the expat community in the past 3 years, I’ve found friendships where I can be more open about my frustrations and reclaim a bit of my “American-ness” without leaving behind everything I’ve learned.

The new me loves trashy American reality shows, enjoys Mexican banda music, listens to Top 40, eats tortas, only reads books in English, speaks 100% Spanish at home, speaks 100% Spanish at work, speaks Spanglish with her friends and loves to explore Mexico. I’m able to take the best of what I love from both countries and make my life my own.

That’s just my experience, though.

What do you think? Should expats be closer to the Mexican culture or their home culture?

6 thoughts on “Expat Life: Do You Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture?

  1. I can officially say you are Mexican American now haha (Chicana). I was born in the states but grew up not allowed to speak English at home. I consider myself Mexican with the fortune of being born in the USA to Mexican parents who migrated(legally) to the USA because of opportunities.

  2. I know what you’re saying. My husband and I rarely talk to expats. Not because we don’t want to, but because it’s hard to form relationships in a tourist town. I love my Mexican neighbors and the interaction I have, but sometimes, I miss just talking about American things without having to explain what I mean.

  3. I also think you have the right idea!!! You’re the only expat I know that went to school here, and stayed!!! I hang out mostly with Mexicans and Argentinians, but have a couple of expat friends here too ( you being one !! We need to hang out!! LOL). I love that you have embraced things so well here. An inspiration for myself 🙂

  4. I’d imagine that would be an interesting transition. It seems you’ve dealt with it well though, you recognize the times you were at your ‘worst’ and feeling alone and I’m sure that has helped you become happier now. You obviously forced yourself to learn as much as you can, and I think that is a great thing!!

  5. I love this post. I was the same. I had some wonderful Mexican friends that I went to the movies with, shopping, clubbing, beaching etc. I always told them to only speak Spanish so I could improve. My best friend in Cancun was a fellow expat and my roomie. I agree with Raymundo. You’re a “Meximerican” now.

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