How did I handle Culture Shock

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This the third part of an ongoing Brain drain series. In the past weeks I wrote about “The Great Indian Movement” in Part I and “Struggle of Indian Immigrant students in US” in Part II.

Part III of Brain Drain Series: How to handle Culture Shock

Let me just state this upfront that I have never been outside of India in my life until now.  I was born and brought up in Kerala, a state in South India, also known as God’s own country for its enchanting beauty, pleasant climate, groves of coconut trees and paddy fields, backwaters and beaches, breathtaking waterfalls and hill stations , exotic wild life,  arts, festivals, Ayurvedic medicines and so much more that I cannot capture in just words. It also has the highest rate of literature than any other state in India.

Having worked with a huge company like Reliance Communications in India and interacted with lot of people and travelled to different states has helped me evolve into a people friendly person. And I never had the fear of addressing a group of people or speaking in public. But nothing prepared me for the shock and pleasant surprise of married life and the Cultural shock having relocated from India to US.

Most of the people from Asia, including me at first, have a myth that the US culture is entirely opposite to their culture and that the influence of Western culture can diminish their uniqueness and traditions. Well, it is just a myth and the reality is much sweeter than a sour myth. Let me take you through my experiences.

One misunderstanding that Indians have about Americans is that they don’t value family relationships. But this is not totally true. I know lot families here that are close to me and have strong family relationships. This preconceived notion may be due to watching movies in which people date and shuffle through relationships.  Or may be due to the fact that Indians have a joint family system and their kids are brought up in a family oriented environment in which they get help in every stage of their life and are taught to help others too.  Where as in American culture children are brought up to live an independent life from a young age and are encouraged to leave their homes and make their own living after their school life.  This makes them independent, gives them the freedom to take decisions and pursue what they value most in life. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t value family relationships.

It’s been a year and 8 months since I migrated to United States. I was little concerned of not knowing the culture here and the feeling of being lost made me crazy at times. Gradually the excitement of being in a new place opened me up. At every turn I gained knowledge by asking questions to my husband and friends any time I saw new things or dealt with new situations. I embraced my experience being here and treated every moment as an opportunity to know the people around me, study about them, why they do things just the way they do and what makes them unique. Besides, I created as many American friends as I can. That way I could closely learn about their culture and help them to understand mine too.

US is the land of many cultures and home to people of several different nationalities. Here is what my experience here has taught me – Love and peace are universal. Those are things that people want irrespective of where they belong.  Finding happiness in doing small things. And of course you should follow what your mind says and don’t just gauge what others will think. Think and do what is right for you and have the courage to try new things without a fear or failure. It is not the failure that matters but it is the journey and experience that you had throughout that really counts. My tips to those Indian immigrants who are in US for their studies or job or anybody who are dealing with the culture shock

Make friends with locals: Which ever new culture you are into, making friends will help you to get introduced to their culture. They may be just like you and would love to know about you and your culture.

Embrace the new culture: Have an open mind and use this opportunity to learn what is unknown to you. Understand their sense of humor and the frequently used one liners. Know the states and their specialties and important events related to that place.

Look for positives than negatives: I know it must be hard for you to be in a totally different environment and away from home. Rather than stressing about the negatives look out for the positives that can stay with you. If you feel home sick try speaking to someone, going out and visiting exciting places like local museums, libraries and coffee shops. Vanilla latte at Startbucks is my favorite.

Attend Get togethers or Happy Hours: Anytime a colleague or friend invites you for a get together or Happy hour after office hours, don’t skip it thinking that you might not fit in or that you might not be able to engage in conversation. People here are very open and welcoming to each other.

Join the clubs and networking events: Go for concerts, join art/dance classes, join a local Toastmasters club and be a part local networking events even if you are not searching for job. Attend some sporting events like NFL or NBA game. Sports are a big part of American culture.

Listen to Radio and Watch Television:  Whenever you drive listen to local radio stations and talk radio. Watching the news, reality shows or sports will help you to pick up the language quickly and there by culture too. When I first came here I started watching the reality TV series like ‘The Bachelor’, Food Network and lots of sitcoms. My husband and I love the Dallas talk radio station- 1310 AM ‘The Ticket’

Try to get comfortable by being uncomfortable. A lot of big cities have Indian restaurants and movie theatres but once in a while trying different cuisines and different food are also help getting to know a culture closer. Try to assimilate into the culture by substituting your traditional dresses with the dresses that people wear over here, celebrating local holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Well, the cultural shock can happen if you move from one state to another within a country or one organization to another too. Hope the above tips will help you. Share if you have any other ideas!

Next week we will talk about Cultural diversity at workplace and potential controversies around Indians in particular.

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