New Immigrants: Coping with Culture Shock

The United States is known for its unique cultural melting pot that brings together people and cultures from across the globe. As an immigrant one will have a firsthand opportunity to experience American culture by living and working in the U.S. and meeting with many different types of people.

To a newcomer many of the customs and nuances may seem different from those of your home country. Being in a new and unfamiliar place can be taxing even for the experienced traveler. Many times one may feel frustrated and isolated and this could signal the beginning of a condition that is known as culture shock. The feeling is an absolutely normal and as a new immigrant I want to share some of the tips I have acquired across the years that have helped me as a I overcome culture shock.

How do I know I have Culture Shock;
• Feeling excessively homesick, tired, resentful or isolated with the new environment, people or way of life
• Feeling unusually anxious.
• Sleeping a lot
• Reluctance to speak English and associate with new people
• Writing or calling home very frequently
• Crying a lot

Culture shock occurs suddenly, and it makes enjoying your new situation a lot more complicated and difficult. It makes one feel sad and out of place but one needs to, try and establish what the cultural differences are making you feel this way and consider various ways to overcome these feelings.

It’s important to note that you will have these feelings for a limited period and that you play a role in how long these feelings last. When you overcome culture shock you will be able to experience the best of the American experience and it will also help you enjoy your stay as an American citizen.

What defines the American Cultural Experience
To people from other countries some American customs may seem strange, but knowing about them may help you become accustomed to the culture. Here are some general characteristics of American customs:
• Americans like privacy and personal space.
• Americans are very honest and direct, which may seem rude to people from another culture.
• Americans may ask about how your day is going or how you are without expecting an answer.
• Americans wait their turn in lines.
• Americans value being on time.
• Americans value independent thinking.
• Americans like to joke, smile, and talk.

Stages of Culture Shock
When one understands the cultural adjustment process can help in coping with the often intense feelings that one may experience as one starts life in the U.S. Every stage in the process is characterized by “symptoms” or outward signs typifying certain kinds of behavior.

  • Honeymoon period: Initially, many people are fascinated and excited by everything new. The visitor is elated to be in a new culture.
  • Culture Shock: The individual is immersed in new problems: housing, transportation, shopping, and language. Mental fatigue results from continuous straining to comprehend the new language.
  • Initial Adjustment: Everyday activities such as housing and shopping are no longer major problems. Although the visitor may not yet be fluent in the language spoken, basic ideas and feelings in the second language can be expressed.
  • Mental Isolation: Individuals have been away from their family and friends for a long period of time and may feel lonely. Many still feel they cannot express themselves as well as they can in their native language. Frustration and sometimes a loss of self-confidence result.
  • Acceptance and Integration: A routine (e.g., work, business, or school) has been established. The visitor has accepted the habits, customs, foods, and characteristics of the people in the new culture. The visitor feels comfortable with friends, associates, and the language of the country.

Coping with Culture Shock
Keep an open mind and a sense of humor: While people in the U.S. may do or say things that people in your home country would not, that doesn’t mean they’re strange or unapproachable. Americans like to talk, laugh, and make jokes. Talk with your friends and your employer. They will be understanding and supportive. Try to make friends with other Americans as well as people from other countries. Try new things and try to appreciate the cultural differences you encounter.

Stay positive: Remember why you wanted to participate in the program in the first place. You came here to learn and experience new things! This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so put yourself out there. Try to speak English as much as possible. It might be difficult at first, but with regular practice you will learn more. As you learn, you will become more confident about interacting with your surroundings. Everything will get easier with time and practice. A new world of possibilities and experiences will open up for you.

Take Care of Your Health: When you feel stressed, relax by listening to music, taking a long walk, reading a book, or enjoying a hot shower. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Take vitamins to stay healthy, and wash your hands often. Consider writing in a journal to remember the best experiences and work through the difficult ones.

Talk to Someone: When you’re feeling the stress of culture shock, it often helps to talk about these feelings. A friend, co-worker or colleague can help ease your worries just by listening.
If your symptoms persist or are more severe than the symptoms listed, ask your doctor or health care professional for advice, or contact one of the following organizations through the links to find help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Mental Health America

Once you become more comfortable, you’ll be able to enjoy your time more and really take part in all the U.S. has to offer.

Always speak English during your stay especially if you are a non English speaker. You may be uncomfortable with your skills and even feel embarrassed, but you will quickly notice that people will be patient and positive when correcting your mistakes. Your English abilities will improve by understanding your mistakes. Everyone will admire you for your willingness and desire to improve.
The worst mistake you can make is to keep silent. Keeping quiet or sticking to your native language can further isolate and alienate you from your surroundings. Because English is spoken by everyone around you, speaking English will enable you to make friends with people from many cultures. These friendships are some of the most rewarding elements of the program, and are a great way to overcome culture shock.

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