Culture shock is real. If you recently moved to the United States, chances are you’re still getting adjusted to your new life.
Everything you may be feeling right now—whether excitement, anxiety, or homesickness—is totally normal. In fact, the “four stages” of cultural adjustment are well documented:
- The Honeymoon Phase: Your first days and weeks in the United States will likely have you feeling energized, optimistic, and hungry for your new life. Even the small things seem fresh and exciting as you start your new adventure.
- The Frustration Phase: As the novelty wears off, you may find yourself missing your home country and possibly frustrated by certain elements of life in the United States. This is the “culture shock” that most immigrants experience at one point or another in America.
- The Perspective-Shift Phase: Once the frustration goes away, what takes its place? Oftentimes, it’s simply a fresh perspective and a welcome sense of humor. Through all the ups and downs of adjusting to a new culture, you may find yourself shifting to a more positive outlook, a more relaxed attitude, and an ability to laugh at the little things outside your control.
- The “Home” Phase: As you regain your sense of humor, adapt to the culture, and start to make local friends, you’ll find yourself feeling more at home than ever before. Eventually, the “honeymoon” phase settles into the long-term pleasure of life in the U.S.
However long it takes you to feel truly at home in the United States, the process simply requires patience. In the meantime, here are four tips to help you enjoy a smoother cultural transition:
1. Become a Student of American Culture
Whether you already speak English or are still learning the language, there are many great ways to familiarize yourself with American culture. Reading local newspapers, popular books, and watching new TV shows are fast and fun ways to adapt to a new culture.
You can also decide to become a “student” of social life in the United States. The more observant you are, the faster you’ll adjust. Go to museums, parks, and stores to watch social interactions like introductions and goodbyes.
If you moved to a major metropolitan area, you may find social interactions are less rigidly defined, but if you settled in a small town, it will be important to watch and learn how local people interact.
On another note, Americans are famous for their idioms (figures of speech that are not to be taken literally). Check out this comprehensive list of American sayings, and don’t be alarmed if someone says, “It’s raining cats and dogs!”
One more thing: Feel free to make small talk and ask questions! Generally speaking, most Americans are quite talkative and friendly. Informality is an American hallmark, and most Americans are surprisingly “down to earth” (another American phrase that means “open and honest”).
2. Find Community in the Workplace
Work breeds confidence. If you recently moved to the U.S., finding a new job and focusing on furthering your career can be a powerful tool to help you adapt to your new life.
While instilling a vital sense of structure to your week, your workplace can also connect you to a network of diverse, local people that can help you learn the ins and outs of the culture. Your coworkers will be great resources to help you build community and feel at home in the U.S.
3. Try Local Food!
No matter where you live in the United States, food always plays a big role in every local culture.
While it’s true that “American” food is rather difficult to define, that’s only because it’s so all-encompassing. If you live in the northeast, for example, you can enjoy amazing lobster and all kinds of delicious seafood. Or, if you moved down south, you’ll be surrounded by great country cooking, barbecue, and soul food.
Chances are, you’ll also probably have a restaurant with cuisine from your home country.
Wherever you choose to eat, remember that food will help you feel at home no matter where you live.
4. Embrace the Change (And Be Proud of it!)
Perspective is everything, especially when living in a new country.
As you settle into the United States, it’s important to accept the significance of the move. While nothing is permanent, you will have to embrace the major challenges, like learning how to live apart from your family and friends back home.
You’ll also have to make the small adjustments, like living in a different time zone, understanding new speed limit signs, and deciphering the Imperial system of measurement (where things are measured in feet and pounds rather than meters and grams).
Big and small, all of these changes require you to let go of your former world and move confidently into your new one. Just remember one thing: your old life didn’t go away; it’s still there. You’re just adding to it.
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