Overcoming Language Barriers and Cultural Shock: How to Adapt to a New Life in the United States Quickly for New Immigrants?

Overcoming Language Barriers and Cultural Shock: How to Adapt to a New Life in the United States Quickly for New Immigrants?

by Vu Nguyen

Introduction

I am a Vietnamese immigrant. I came to the United States two years ago. I still remember my feelings in the first few weeks in the United States. I felt like a baby who is learning and discovering the new world. Everything is so different from my life in Vietnam. I experienced a lot of difficulties with language, culture, weather, and food in the United States. I didn’t even know how to drive a car, and I didn’t understand what people were saying around me. I really wanted to go out and familiarize myself with my new life. That is why I’ve always thought in my mind how can I adapt to my new life in the United States quickly?

When we think about adapting to a new life in the United States, we often think about studying English to communicate with other people. English is an important key in order to interact with other people, find a job, and learn the culture in the United States. English is the most important factor to adapt to a new life in the United States. That is why before I came to the United States, I had had some basic preparations, especially studying English. I spent a lot of time on studying English, learning culture, weather, and food in the United States. I also prepared psychologically for some difficulties in language barriers, cultural shock. However, the real life is so different from what we know through books or the internet. Although I have prepared carefully, I still have a lot of difficulties in order to adapt to my new environment in the United States. Until now, I am still struggling with adjusting to my new life in the United States.

I know struggling with adapting to a new life in the United States is a common problem not only for me but also for many immigrants in the United States. That is another reason why I chose this research. I hope this research will provide more information, advice, and lessons to help me and others adapt to a new life in the United States quickly.

Preliminary Research

I began my preliminary research process with Google Search. I know there are not much reliable materials on Google Search, but I think Google Search is the easiest way to start finding information about something. I started searching with question: How to adapt to an American life quickly for new immigrants? There is a lot of information and materials about adapting to American life, immigrants in America, adjusting to American culture for immigrants, culture shock, and so on. I started to feel overwhelmed with a large amount of information and documents from Google Search; however, most of materials from Google Search have the same basic information. That is why I scanned many documents in order to remove the same or similar information. In addition, most of materials and documents from Google Search are not reliable, so I also removed a lot of materials and documents from Google Search. I found out an article with title “Adapting to American Life: A Look at the United States’ Refugee Population” by Bethany Schlosser, advised by Professor Michelle Miller-Adams, Senior Thesis for the Fredrick Meijer Honor College, Grand Valley State University. In this article, Schlosser talks about the characteristics of adaptation, the impact of the “country of origin,” the impact of the “host country,” and how to ease the adaption process. To me, this is a valuable document for my research.

I also wanted to know some difficulties of immigrants in the United States because I think when I know some difficulties of immigrants, I can find out some solutions in order to help me and other people overcome our problems and adapt to our new lives in the United States quickly. According to Christina Nuñez, the author of “The 7 biggest challenges facing refugees and immigrants in the US,” I found out seven challenges for immigrants in the United States. They are studying English, raising their children, working, housing, accessing services, transportation, and cultural barriers (Nuñez). I wanted to focus on some problems about language barriers and differences in culture in order to understand more clearly about the difficulties of immigrants in the United States. I used Wikipedia page to dig deeper into some concepts of language barriers and cultural shock.

In addition, I used the Normandale Community College online library database in order to find more information about some difficulties of immigrants in the United States as well as some effective solutions to help them overcome these difficulties and how to adapt to a new life in the United States quickly. I used some general information from Google Search in order to find some key words, and I used these key words in order to find out more information from Normandale Community College online library database. I used Credo Reference, and I found out an article with title “Immigration in the United States” by Leisy J. Abrego, University of California Los Angeles USA, from the Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies. This article provides an overview about immigration in the United States and a specific definition of immigration. I also used Gale ebooks to search the information for my research. I found out an article with title “Language” by Jelena Krstovic, from Immigration and Migration: In Context. In this article, Krstovic emphasizes the importance of the new language with immigrants, and Krstovic also mentions some programs from the government in order to help immigrants improve the ability to use a new language in a new country. There are not many materials and documents related to my research on Normandale Community College online library database, but they are reliable and scholarly.

The preliminary research process gives me a basic knowledge and an overview of the immigrants in the United States. It also provides me more formal materials and accurate documents in order to answer for the question how to adapt to a new life in the United States quickly for new immigrants. It helps me realize what I need to do in the next part in order to further my research as well as find out the solutions for my research. In the next part, I will talk in more detail about some basic concepts of immigration, language barriers, and cultural shock as well as some difficulties of immigrants in the United States and some solutions to help immigrants overcome their problems. I hope I can find out some solutions to help immigrants can adapt to a new life in the United States quickly.

Further Research

As a Vietnamese immigrant, I started my further research by clarifying the basic concept of immigration. In my opinion, immigration is to move to a new country and live permanently in that country. According to Wikipedia, “Immigration is the international movement of people to a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle as permanent residents or naturalized citizens.” In other words, immigration means when people move to another country where they are not the formal citizens in order to live as permanent citizens. According to Abrego, immigration is the movement across the border of a person or a group of people in order to find a new life. Through this process, immigrants have shaped and contributed some changes to the society and the economy in the new country. Now, I think we have a basic definition of immigration.

The immigrants face many difficulties in the United States. According to Nuñez, immigrants in the United States face seven biggest challenges as I mentioned in the preliminary research section. According to my experience, language barriers and cultural shock are the two biggest difficulties for immigrants in the United States, and English is the most important factor for immigrants in order to adapt to their new lives in the United States. According to Krstovic, “Language issues are intimately connected with the social, economic, and political histories of nations.” In other words, if your language ability is not good, you will meet a lot of difficulties in society, economy, and politics. A new language is the key to help immigrants integrate into the life in a new country. According to Krstovic, “Not only do language skills affect the ability of immigrants, migrants, and refugees to earn a living and secure housing in their adopted country, but they are also key to someone being able to take advantage of educational opportunities, access health care, and utilize government and social programs. An immigrant’s mastery of the receiving country’s majority language directly affects his or her earning ability, with those who are less proficient typically working longer and for smaller wages.” In other words, Krstovic shows some specific effects of a new language with immigrants in a new country. According to Bethany Scholosser, the author of “Adapting to American Life: A Look at the United States’ Refugee Population”, “without the ability to speak English well, even seemingly simple daily task is a struggle.” Scholosser emphasizes the importance of the new language to immigrants once more. English plays an important role to immigrants in the United States; however, it is so difficult to learn English for most immigrants. Before coming to the United States, I spent a lot of time and effort on learning English; however, my English level was not good when I first came to the United States. In addition, most immigrants in the United States are adults, and we know age is a major barrier in order to learn English. According to Vamik Volkan, “Children seem able to identify with a new cultural environment relatively quickly, and are capable of letting the new language sink in. For adult immigrants, the age factor makes the task far more difficult, and they may never succeed in acquiring the “music” (accent, rhythm) of the new tongue” (qtd. in Scholosser). In other words, children will learn a new language faster than adults (Volkan). Moreover, there are many factors that prevent an immigrant from learning English in the United States. According to Schlosser, “refugees are required to find work as soon as possible, and once they find work, they generally do not have time to attend English classes regularly, even when English learning classes are available.” In other words, the immigrants often don’t have enough time in order to learn English because of working. We know the importance of English for immigrants in the United States, but learning English effectively for immigrants is not a simple matter.

When I just came to the United States, people talked so much about cultural shock with new immigrants, so I knew the importance of American culture to immigrants in the United States. According to “Culture Shock”, an article from World of Sociology, Gale, “Culture shock is a psychological and/or physical state of distress that sometimes occurs when a person enters a different culture. Culture shock takes place when the change is great and sudden. This state of “shock” occurs when surroundings are unfamiliar, the language is foreign, and customs are different perhaps alien.” In other words, cultural shock affects the health of immigrants both physically and mentally (“Culture Shock”). According to Mei Kung, “the biggest problem many of her clients face is culture shock” (qtd. in Harris). In other words, cultural shock is the biggest problem with many immigrants in the United States. According to “Culture Shock”, “Symptoms of culture shock range from homesickness to actual physical illness. Culture shock has several different stages. The first stage is the “honeymoon” stage where the individual may be excited about the prospects of being in a new culture. The second stage begins with feelings of anger and dissatisfaction stemming from inabilities to communicate effectively or difficulty in completing tasks. In the next stage, the individual becomes accustomed to the customs and language differences. At this point, the individual becomes more adapted to the environment. The final stage, sometimes referred to as “reentry shock,” occurs when the person reenters the home culture.” Cultural shock is a complex process with many stages. Understanding more about cultural shock will help immigrants overcome cultural shock more easily. Cultural shock has a big impact on the health of immigrants, especially mental health. That is why overcoming cultural shock will help immigrants adapt to their new lives in the United States quickly. In short, if you want to adapt to your new life in the United States quickly, you need to overcome language problems and cultural barriers.

Findings

After my research, we can see English ability and adapting to American culture are two important keys for immigrants in order to adapt to their new lives in the United States quickly. During my research section, we know the importance of English and American culture with immigrants in the United States.

We know English is very important for immigrants in the United States; however, it is difficult for immigrants to improve their English ability. In this section, I will talk more about some solutions in order to help new immigrants improve their English level. According to my experience, before coming to the United States, we should learn English, especially grammar and vocabulary. Maybe you can’t communicate with people in English when you first come to the United States, but you will have some basic English knowledge in order to help you develop your English level quickly. According to Schlosser, “refugees’ process of adaptation is drastically improved if they enter the United States with prior English knowledge. It is much easier for refugees to adapt to a new society when they already know the language, and it makes everyday tasks, socializing, and employment, among other things, infinitely easier.” In other words, learning English before coming to the United States is a good solution in order to adapt to a new life in the United States quickly. In an interview with An Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant in the United States about the topic “How to Adapt to a New Life in the United States Quickly for New Immigrants?” I asked him some advice about improving English for new immigrants quickly. He says that “learning English is a long process with a lot of effort. Besides learning from books, we should go out in order to interact with native English speakers.” I totally agree with Nguyen. Interacting with native speakers is one of the best ways to improve our English level.

Cultural shock is also a big problem for new immigrants in the United States. In my interview with Nguyen, when I asked him some advice about overcoming cultural shock for new immigrants, he says that “studying of American culture, participating in local community activities, and seeking help are three tips help me overcome cultural shock in the United States.” I think this is a good advice for new immigrants in the United States in order to overcome cultural shock and adapt to the new life in the United States quickly.

Reflection

As a Vietnamese immigrant, I know the importance of learning English and cultural integration with immigrants who are living in the United States. This research helps me realize the specific effects of language barriers and cultural shock on the lives of immigrants in the United States. Through this research project, I have learned many lessons and advice in order to apply to my life. As a new immigrant, I will try my best to improve my English level first. Looking back on my life after two years in the United States, I see that my preparation about English before coming to the United States is very helpful, and my decision to study at Normandale Community College is a right decision. Normandale Community College not only helps me improve my English skills but also helps me know more about American culture. In the future, I will focus on improving my English skills and learning more about American culture because I know English and American culture are two important keys in order to help me open the door to my new life in the United States. Finally, I hope that my research can provide useful information for immigrants who are struggling with adapting to their new lives in the United States.

Works Cited

Abrego, Leisy J., and Cecilia Menjívar. “Immigration in the United States.” The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies, edited by Constance L. Shehan, Wiley, 1st edition, 2016. Credo Reference, http://ndcproxy.mnpals.net/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/wileyfamily/immigration_in_the_united_states/0?institutionId=2786. Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.

“Culture Shock.” World of Sociology, Gale, edited by Joseph M. Palmisano, Gale, 1st edition, 2001. Credo Reference, http://ndcproxy.mnpals.net/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/worldsocs/culture_shock/0?institutionId=2786. Accessed 24 Apr. 2020.

Harris, Cindy. “Immigrants Face Language, Other Barriers to Business.” New Orleans CityBusiness, vol. 19, no. 21, 1998, pp. 27. ProQuest, http://ndcproxy.mnpals.net/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ndcproxy.mnpals.net/docview/209563369?accountid=4885.

Krstovic, Jelena. “Language.” Immigration and Migration: In Context, edited by Thomas Riggs and Kathleen J. Edgar, vol. 2, Gale, 2018, pp. 507-511. In Context Series. Gale eBooks, https://link-gale-com.ndcproxy.mnpals.net/apps/doc/CX3662200103/GVRL?u=mnanorman&sid=GVRL&xid=ca4f2069. Accessed 24 Apr. 2020.

Nguyen, An. “How to adapt to a new life in the United States quickly for new immigrants?” Personal Interview. 24 April. 2020.

Schlosser, Bethany. “Adapting to American Life: A Look at the United States’ Refugee Population”. Advised by Professor Michelle Miller-Adams, Senior Thesis for the Fredrick Meijer Honor College. Grand Valley State University. https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1688&context=honorsprojects.

Wikipedia, Immigration, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration