In a meeting yesterday I said “I’m a foreigner wherever I am – whether in the US or Israel.”. Which is how I truly feel sometimes. On the way home last night I thought a lot about that sentence.
The bay area, where I live, is full of immigrants. The vast majority of people I know are either immigrants or first-generation born in the US. With those who were born outside of the US and have moved here I find a common language: our minds keep comparing life here with our lives in the country where we were born. We look for what is better at each location, we discuss the process of learning new habits and assimilation into a new culture. Many try to find other immigrants of the same origin to connect with, as it seems easier to do so. US history is full of stories of where certain neighborhoods and even towns were comprised of mostly immigrants coming from a certain country (Irish, German, Mexican, etc.), for this very reason.
So, what can an immigrant do to make their assimilation faster? The tips I found to work so far are:
- Wake up every morning thinking “This is my home. This is my life. Everything I do today needs to be aligned with setting up roots here.”
- Identify as many elements of the local culture as you can and force them upon yourself. For example, I look at how others in my industry dress and do the same. In Israel, I would never dress this way, but here it’s the norm.
- Work. If you haven’t moved here for work (let’s say you’re a spouse of someone who has), find work. Make sure your work is with locals and not in a company that is owned by expats of the same origin. At work, focus on learning how the locals live.
- Stop comparing to home. Resist the urge. Yes, at home X, Y and Z were better. So what? Here A, B, and C are better. There are pro’s and con’s to everything. Stop comparing.
- It’s OK for the first two or three friends to be from your home country. But don’t let your fourth, fifth and sixth be. Get out of your comfort zone.
- Live as if you’re never leaving. Maybe your visa is just for two years, or you told yourself “I’m just coming for this one job and then I’ll go back.”. Whatever it is, living in a sense that one day you’ll go back is dangerous. It puts you in the same situation a cat is in when it’s got a buttered toast attached to its back. You’re in limbo and feel out of place constantly.
Not necessarily tips that are easy to follow constantly. I know I sometimes don’t. However, while I still feel a foreigner here I do feel more and more at home as the days go by. It will take some time, but I’m seeing progress.
Happy St. Patrick’s!