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Coming to America for the First Time

Updated on March 20, 2024

The culture shock can be huge. And while it is all expected, when you seeing and being in it for the first time, excitement turns to apprehensiveness. Did I make the right choice? One feels overwhelmed.

For example, when I have been to foreign countries in Europe or Asia, for the first time, it is a bit scary and I am on edge about everything. You notice and compare things all the time and create a pro and con list mentally. You are always concerned something will go wrong and how locals will interact with you. My first trip to the Philippines it was like that. For me, learning their way of life was easy and hard. The language was not a real barrier since it is English. The poverty and how many live in it struck me. The chaotic traffic was another culture shock as I drove around where few followed rules. Everything was much more compact and smaller. Walking around in their malls, I could feel many staring at me as I walked past. I found myself always doing currency exchange rates in my head whenever I saw a price. I felt safer whenever I was with a local and could not understand why most do not drink water out of the faucet.

I have known many who have come to the USA from Europe and Philippines. There is less of a culture shock for those coming from Europe or Australia than from any Asian country. Excluding language issues, those from EU countries tend to have the same impressions. The most notable is space and size. Americans going to the EU will instantly think that "everything" seems smaller and there is less space and less variety in many things. Some things are the same like urban life and all its problems and traffic. The currency exchange rates are usually not that great.

Foreigners coming to the USA for the first time also have the same impressions but in an opposite way. They notice that America is vast and distances between places within a city can be far and that public transportation is unreliable. Everything they encounter seems to be bigger - huge grocery stores, huge department stores, and everywhere they look there are cars- there are no Jeepneys, Trikes (Habal-Habal), to just go a short distance. They see few fast trains or buses and soon understand why the culture is about having a car. They notice how everything seems to be more orderly in the culture and traffic laws are followed. They notice that unlike from where they are from, where vendors along a road sell "street food", they do not exist in America. If you want to eat, eat at restaurant or fast food.

Unlike the population in their country, they see all types of races and ethnicity in Americans and understand why it is called a "melting pot". They quickly realize that in order for them to survive, their English must be at a basic level to function because sooner or later they will want to work, learn to drive a car, school. Like most, they seek to find others from their home country to converse with and not feel isolated using their native language.

It's the language barrier that presents the biggest hurdle for many, especially, if they know little English. Many can understand and speak, but not write it. It is a difficult thing to overcome and yet many do and become fluent.

As they travel within the US, they are amazed in the diversity of climate, vegetation, and land types. They will also conclude that while America is not free of many societal problems, some worse than their own country, overall, it is a better life with more opportunities. Other will think that America is a great place to make money and then send it to loved ones back home or to their bank accounts. This is because of the currency exchange rates which is usually high compared to other currency. For example, you can more with $10 in Asian countries than in the US, which is not much.

Food is a usually a big culture shock. America does not have many large outdoor farmer markets like in the foreign countries. If you want food, you go to a grocery store. The cost of food is much higher in the US and Americans buy fresh and frozen foods. The use of a freezer is frequent. In foreign countries, you go to a market and buy food to prepare for the meal. Is the US, there is little of that. Usually, meats and other things are taken out of the freezer and defrosted, so you do not have run to a market every day for food.

Like any type of culture shock, one learns how to live in it the longer they are in it.


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