By Gloria Martinez at WomenLed.org
How Immigrants to the U.S. Can Adapt to a New Culture While Maintaining Ties with Their Home Country
Immigrants to the United States have helped transform our culture, customs, and economy in countless meaningful ways. The food we eat, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear, and even our slang — all of this has been shaped and enriched by immigrant cultures. And those same immigrants who are now part of the fabric of society in the United States once asked the same questions recent immigrants may be asking: How do I fit in? How do I make friends? Can I really feel at home here? Am I too old to adjust to a new culture? If you are a recent immigrant to this country, here are some of the challenges immigrants before you have encountered and how they have dealt with them.
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The language barrier
In many regions of the United States, it is difficult to find anyone who speaks anything other than English, so depending on where you are from and where you are settling, the language barrier can pose a serious problem. It’s not simply that it is inconvenient — not knowing the language can be isolating and even lead to issues with healthcare and housing.
In a perfect world, every immigrant would have an opportunity to start learning English before immigrating. If you haven’t had that chance, however, one option is to access free or affordable learning resources online. Or, you could look into local programs offering English language classes — this could also be a chance to make new connections and seek support in other areas.
Establishing a career
When you seek employment in your new home, you are not only looking for income, but also for your place in a community. If you have immigrated to the United States with career skills and work experience, find out whether there is a demand for your skills in your area — or if your career in your country of origin could be the basis for a new career here.
If you have minimal training, seek support through programs that assist with education and employment. For older or senior immigrants, finding work can be especially challenging, if there isn’t a clear niche for you to fill. It may be easier for older immigrants to find gainful work in urban areas, but if that isn’t an option for you, look into the resources that help older immigrants find education and partnership programs.
Making new connections
Immigrants who are missing their loved ones may feel isolated and adrift without these meaningful contacts. This is an issue for older immigrants who have fewer options for social mobility. Social media is a great way to make new acquaintances and find a niche in your new community. For real-life contacts, find out whether there are any local activities or arts clubs that would be of interest. It helps to be aware of societal norms on U.S. discourse so you can easily break the ice.
Staying connected with loved ones
While it’s wonderful to start making new bonds in a new society, you don’t want to lose the unique ties to friends and family in your home country. Encourage them to use tech to stay in touch more easily, especially with social media apps like Facebook Messenger, which allows for immediate messaging and face-to-face communication.
If you are supporting loved ones back home by sending them money, make sure you use a safe and reliable transfer service with minimal fees, and be aware of exchange rates. If you plan to send funds to the Philippines, for example, gauge the exchange rate through a site like Remitly for converting U.S. dollars to Philippine pesos and plan ahead for any service fees and delivery time. In addition to sending funds back home, if you plan to send items to family, a balikbayan box service could be a more cost-effective and safer alternative to the postal service.
Remember that millions of other immigrants to the United States have faced these same challenges over generations. The people you meet in the United States may even be immigrants themselves or are the children of immigrants. If you are uncertain about how best to settle in and establish connections and support, don’t hesitate to seek support from organizations that help immigrants.