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How to Adjust to American Culture for Immigrants

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Adjusting to American Culture - Tips for Immigrants to the United States

Adjusting to American Culture can be one of the most difficult parts about immigrating. These tips will help you prepare for, and make the adjustment.

Background

Being from Mexico, the topic of immigration can be a sensitive one. Millions of people have immigrated in the past decade and like every decision that one makes, people immigrate to find happiness. I would like for my opinion today to go beyond the normal political talking points. Instead, I want to share my experience of adjusting to American culture so that I can help anyone else in similar circumstances.

Many people in Latin American countries and beyond have a strong desire to immigrate to the United States. There are infinite reasons why a person decides to immigrate – they may be political, cultural, educational, work-related, or, like me, to be with family.

Like I shared in my post about long-distance relationships, I came to the United States 8 months after marrying my husband in Mexico, all of which were spent waiting for the government to approve my visa.

Getting married to someone from another country didn’t only mean a change in my surroundings, it was also a change in the food I would eat, the culture, and the language. I didn’t know any English at that point, which made my ability to communicate with my extended family almost non-existent, or through hand signals. Of course my husband was always there to translate for me and everyone was so patient and kind to me. That said, those experiences caused me to feel insecure, depressed, and anxious – which made adjusting to American culture a somewhat difficult process.

So how did I overcome this difficult stage and learn to adjust? It definitely wasn’t easy, but I found that the following tips helped me to improve my situation and even to enjoy it!

Accept That You Will Have To Leave Things Behind: 

This is one of the first issues that you will face when you leave your country. You will have to learn to be away from your family members, your friends, your lifestyle, and even the weather that you are used to. You have to learn how to leave many things behind. Even though it is difficult to let go, it is an important part of the process that will help you to achieve even greater things – in my case, to start my own family. The first six months for me were terrible, as I had to learn the hard way how to leave things behind. On an almost daily basis I found myself crying and saying that I wanted to go back to Mexico. That went on until I realized that this was part of starting over, and I would still be able to visit my family, even if it wasn’t going to be the same as before. I definitely recommend that you stay in contact with everyone that you love.

See Change As A Good Thing

These changes can be overwhelming – especially in the beginning when you have just moved and are learning how to adapt. Let me tell you – change is a good thing because it helps us to evolve and improve as people. There is always something to learn from good and bad situations. The important thing is to maintain your own identity. A change of in my surroundings didn’t only help me to embrace a new culture, it also provided me with the opportunity to give my children more socio-economic stability. It also gave me the opportunity to have a stable, loving marriage, which is what I always dreamed of having since I was a little girl. Change can be tough, but it is worth it.

Force Yourself to Integrate

This starts by learning the language – this is a key step towards becoming integrated in society and not becoming an eternal immigrant. Even 7 years later I am still improving – it has been crucial in allowing me to find new friends and to show respect for the culture of the country where I now live. There are so many ways to learn – I never took formal classes, but just by watching the news, other TV show, and talking with people has helped me to be able to speak almost fluently.  No make the mistake of isolating yourself. I know many people that have lived here for more than 10 years and they still haven’t been able to “adapt” to the culture and who don’t speak any English. I know that it is not easy to learn another language, but there are so many tools that can help, including free classes in many libraries and schools. The best way to look at it is that we should try to adapt to the new culture, and not wait for the new culture to adapt to us.

Be Humble

Your values are must more precious and important than any title that you can achieve or obtain going to school or than your material possessions, because they (your values) are what will really set you apart from other people in your new home. You can be royalty in your own country, but once you leave its borders many will see you as just another immigrant. That is why it is important to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities that arise. It is very important to be gracious for the welcome that your new home is giving you.

Have An Open Mind

The change of culture and surroundings will be very drastic, but try not to be negative. Choosing not to judge will allow you to be an objective observer which will help you to develop a better, multicultural understanding. In the years since arriving, I have found out that many things that I thought I “knew” about this country were completely untrue, and I have tried to adopt all of the good things about it without losing my own identity. I have tried to leave behind bad habits that I brought from my home country, because being immigrants in another country means that we are representing our home. If a country brings you in, the least we can do is bring positive change with us. So, time to leave behind bad habits – what we all want is to improve anyway, right?

Be Willing To Laugh At Yourself As  You Adjust to American Culture 

Having a sense of humor can make all the difference! Being in new surroundings means learning new things and making mistakes in the process. For example, when I first arrived I noticed that a lot of people greet you saying, “How are you?” In Mexico, if someone says that to you, it has a lot of meaning and they are expecting a true answer. Here, people say it more informally and it is just like saying, “Hi,” it doesn’t mean that they actually want to know everything that is going on in your life. Many times I found myself talking to myself when people said it to me in passing, and other times people stared at me with confusion on their face because I was telling them all about my day! So – learn to laugh at yourself. Most people will admire your tenacity and efforts to adapt to their culture.

Conclusion

Whatever your situation or your reason for leaving your country might be, it is important to be sure that it is the right decision, to have clear goals, and to learn as much about the the place that you are going as possible. The most important thing is to do it for the right reasons and to be sure that this decision will bring you the happiness that you are looking for. It will be a very difficult process, but it will change your life for good. When you look back you will see the growth that you have achieved as a person. Don’t get discouraged and I wish you luck in the coming adventures.

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Angela Waterford

Thursday 10th of October 2019

My cousin plans to become an immigrant in this country, but she's still trying to adapt to the culture here. It's true that the changes she'll need to do can be overwhelming at first, but it may help if I assist her in understanding our ways. I think I'll also hire an attorney to help her with the paperwork so she'll become a legal immigrant faster.

chris

Monday 23rd of September 2019

awsome

Maggie

Sunday 18th of February 2018

Thanks for writing this. I am a native born American who has never lived abroad (just traveled, which is very different), and I stumbled upon this post while searching around for how I can be the best support to my brother & sister in law who just immigrated to the US about 6 months ago from Belarus. There are very few resources out there that I’ve been able to find that talk about how to help someone just as a friend - but reading your perspective here was super helpful. I’m very touched by what you said about being humble and grateful for the welcome this country is giving. I’m not sure I’d be strong enough to feel that way if I moved to a new country and this is very admirable, and probably hard at times. Thanks again for this thoughtful and honest post. Now I’ll also check out some of your recipes!

Daddy Pineda

Friday 3rd of March 2017

Muy bien

me

Thursday 18th of October 2018

great comment

Kelly

Tuesday 24th of May 2016

Thanks so much for sharing this post, Charbel :) We are in the process of getting visas for my husband and two stepsons (moving from Peru to the US) so this is invaluable information for them. I was so pleased to see that you have it available in Spanish too!

Charbel Barker

Tuesday 24th of May 2016

Hi Kelly! Thanks for your comments. That is so exciting about getting their visas! It is definitely a stressful process and takes a lot of patience, but it will be worth it in the end! Good luck :)

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