By Ashily Benders, Erricka Brown, Aleka Daley, Belisa Rodrigues, Michelle Rotbart
Did you know that in 2008, more than 1.1 million immigrants became legal permanent residents of the United States? There is a great deal of media coverage surrounding immigration, but oftentimes the stories behind immigration are left untold.
From leaving loved ones behind to adapting to a completely different culture, immigrating can be difficult. Read for a firsthand story, as well as information about adjusting to a new country.
Red, white and Russian
In second grade, Megan, a girl from my class, came over to play. At dinner, my “Bubbie” served authentic Russian food. I dug into the familiar favorite dish; Megan only nibbled and made a face.
“Mishella, don’t eat so faszt,” my mother said.
After dinner, the cold truth came from Megan’s mouth. “Your mom talks funny and you eat weird food.” When Megan left, anger and pain crept into my head. The long, salty tears came. Megan never came over after that.
Since then, 10 years later, I still wonder why I cannot be like the American kids. Their families go out to eat every week and order pizza. They eat junk food every afternoon. Their parents like football and play golf. My family contrasts with theirs on all levels.
American girls do not eat caviar. I do. I host sit-down dinners where everyone eats a five-course meal, sips on champagne, and dances. American girls do not drink tea. I do.
Every evening I curl up to a book and drink a cup of Maisky (Russian tea). My tall, dark father carries a grim expression. Based on the stereotype of Russian men, my friends believe he is a member of the mob, not a country club.
My brain crosses the wires. My speech will become obscure and my grammar will become faulty.
I am not an American girl. I am a Russian, Jewish girl.
Shock to the system: Getting used to your new life
Having difficulty settling in a new place is called culture shock. When you move to a different place, everything may seem completely off-kilter. People may talk, act, dress, eat, or even sleep in a completely different way than you are used to. Symptoms of culture shock can include:
- Loneliness and/or depression
- Nostalgia for old culture
- Physical and mental illness and/or weakness
- Obsession with new culture
- Sleepless or sleeping too much
- Shyness, insecurity, feeling lost
- Feeling overwhelmed by little things
- Overeating or undereating
Don’t worry if you start feeling homesick or a little nostalgic for home — that’s natural. Those things only become a problem when they start keeping you from living your life.
Tips for getting more comfortable with your surroundings
Want to know how to deal? Here are some tips to become more comfortable with your new surroundings.
- Get out and explore! The more you become familiar with your environment the more quickly you will feel better.
- Make some friends! Not only are you getting used to the people around you, they are getting used to you.
- Find someone else like you! Maybe you can find someone who immigrated just like you — or even someone who came from the same country as you.
- Find something familiar! Go to the grocery store and see if any of your favorite foods are there. Play a game you remember from your home country. Sing a song you remember.
- Don’t rush yourself! Everyone adjusts at her own pace. It’s OK if adjusting takes you a relatively long or short time. Don’t base how comfortable you are on someone else’s timetable.
Editor’s note: A full version of this article appeared online at Teen Voices.