Adjusting to Life in the United States

San Francisco, California… the fancy lifestyle, large food portions, the fog, weekend trips to the wine country, people working long hours, and no time for holidays. Is this the kind of America I want to be part of?” Yes, these were my first impressions of San Francisco when I moved from London, England nine years ago. What a culture shock! Agreed, the United States and England share the English language but the cultural differences were shocking, taking me almost four years to adjust to my second home, San Francisco.

For anyone who has ever moved, you will understand the excitement and difficultly when packing up, leaving your old home, and settling into a new place called “home.” For people who move to the United States from another country, the adjustment process can either be easy or difficult. Meet Joni, a 19-year old student who moved from Ireland to study in the United States. “The first few weeks, I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep and visited every cultural site possible and met the locals. A month or so after being here (the United States) I started to get home sick, missing my life and friends back home.”

Such stories highlight the experiences for many people that move to the United States – feeling joy, disconnected, culture shock, isolated, language barriers and more. Such feelings and experiences affects how a person adjusts to their life in the United States.

What does the typical person experience when moving to the United States? And how better can we support our fellow community members? Below explores what a person experiences when they moves to a new culture and home.

The Adjustment Stages

Moving to a new country typically has four adjustment phases: honeymoon, hostility, humor and home.

Honeymoon – At this stage, you are in love with the country, happy, a little confused but excited to learn and be part of your new home.

Hostility – You might be feeling angry and frustrated, or even depressed. You are getting frustrated that people cannot understand what you are trying to say, or wondering why you moved and left your friends and family. It is normal to feel this way and can feel similar to grieving. You grief the loss of your life back home and at the same time trying to creating a new life for yourself in a new environment.

Humor – Now you are feeling more settled, relaxed and are able to relax in your new home/culture.

Home – At this stage you finally feel at home but still maintain loyal to your home culture. You now have two cultural homes.

If you have moved from another country, you may be wondering what stage am I at? Give yourself permission to understand which stage you are at. If you are at the honeymoon stage, enjoy it! If you are at the hostility stage, ask yourself “why am I feeling this way”, “who can help me?” and “do I need to give myself more time to adjust?” If you do not fit into any stage, that’s ok! Many people report moving in and out from stages, such as one day being in the honeymoon stage and the next day feeling hostility.

Do I fit in?

Many people report feeling like they do not fit in due to their accent, feeling misunderstood, dress style differences and cultural customs. True, you may not fully fit in because each individual and culture/state/country is different and unique. However, it is important to find people that make you feel accepted and comfortable. Some people report connecting with their local community groups, others build a new identity and community. Over time, you will feel more connected to your environment. Yes, you will miss “home” but building roots will allow you to feel more at ease in your new home.

Where is home?

Depending on the circumstances that brought you to the United States you now have two homes – the United States and your home country. Being part of multiple worlds can be a beautiful thing! For those that cannot go back to their home country, your new home can bring sadness and despair as well as a chance to build a new life and community.

Needing Support

Many people report feeling sad, lonely and depressed when moving to a new country. Getting support through joining local art and cultural organizations and volunteering can help people to feel more connected and less isolated. If you are having language difficulties, join a conversational or writing English class to help improve your English skills and opportunities to meet new people. If language is not an issue, taking classes can help to meet new people and learn the cultural norms. If you are having difficulty finding a job, try connecting to your local employment agency, volunteering or find a job coach who can help you connect with the local job market. Personal counseling and support groups can help people to discuss their experiences and concerns with others.

Despite our cultural differences, we hope this article helps you to better understand how we can support people who have recently moved to the United States.

After nine years of living in the United States, I am content and happy to have two homes. However, San Franciscans still have difficulty understanding my British accent and there are some cultural norms like bike riding and camping are still really not my thing. And that’s fine with me, because you cannot fully embrace every cultural experience.

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