Adjusting to life with another person from a different culture is HARD! I met my husband in India and we dated for a few years (with me traveling back and forth between India and the US) before getting married in India. A few months after we were married, I returned to the US and a little later my husband joined me. This was his very first trip to the US.
I’ve traveled a bit in my life (spent a semester studying in Austria and have been to Europe a few times) and have had the joy of experiencing different cultures. While this was thrilling and endearing, it was also challenging at times – adjusting to a new culture and learning new customs and trying new foods. I always had a plan to return home sometime after my trips so this made everything less daunting.
My husband, however, was making a HUGE step. He was leaving everything behind to come here and live permanently. Looking back, even though I tried hard to be supportive and help him adjust, I realize that he definitely went through some serious culture shock. This entire experience taught me a lot. Here are some suggestions for helping someone adjust to a new culture.
Find a local community
Even though someone makes the jump from his home country to live in another, this doesn’t mean he will cut off all ties (or love of) his homeland. When my husband arrived in the US, I was living in a small town about a 1.5-hour drive from a major city (and thus the opportunity to experience a more diverse population). We eventually hit the Internet to search for a Tamil (his native language) community in the city and made the long drive at least once to meet up and connect with them. About 1.5 years after he arrived here, we were able to move closer to the city and he made more local friends from India. This helped ease his loneliness.
In the meantime, I spent a lot of time introducing him to all of my friends and family members and everyone welcomed him graciously. I also helped him find local opportunities to meet other people with similar interests (church, job networking, etc.).
Before my husband arrived here, I didn’t realize how much I take for granted having grown up in the US. Normal, everyday things like: where can I buy a particular item, which brand is the best, how to drive a stick-shift (seriously!). I had to patiently explain and teach all these things to him. I also had to explain (and still do sometimes) idioms and common phrases that are second nature to me.
Once, during his first year here, he went into an office to get an application and came out looking confused. He told me he had asked the person inside if he could turn the filled-in application tomorrow and received the response, “You bet!” My husband didn’t understand what he was “betting” on.
One time we were washing dishes and I told him he needed more “elbow grease” and he asked me where to get it.
I’m glad that my husband was already fluent in English, but if he wasn’t I would have done everything I could to help him learn – (teach him, watch movies, go with him to classes).
Share! (And keep sharing favorites!)
My husband loves a good bargain. He loves to save money and repurpose items. In India, there is no concept of “garage sales,” so he found this very curious at first, but now really enjoys hunting down a good bargain during the summer sales.
He had never been tent camping before coming here – now we go every year (usually multiple times in the summer) and everyone in our little family loves it. (Check out my post here about how to make camping with little children easy and fun.)
My husband had never seen snow in person – only in books or on TV. During his first week in the US, I took him up to the mountains and he saw (and touched and ate) snow for the first time.
I have enjoyed sharing my favorite things to do with him (tent camping, musicals, local food specialties, road trips, superhero movies) and discovering which of these new things he enjoys too.
The possibilities are endless. One of the best things about visiting a different country is to experience the fun things that you can’t find anywhere else. And I love watching his face when he tries something for the first time (like riding a horse!).
Learn about his culture
It’s important to make an effort to understand the other person’s culture and background. Not only will this help him feel appreciated, but also will help you understand where he is coming from and his approach to life. Ask questions about his culture, why he does things, or what he thinks and why. Ask how things are different in his home country – what he likes better, what he misses. Be genuinely interested. Even after 9 years of marriage, I learn new things about his culture and background all the time.
Adjusting to an entirely new culture will take time. Be patient, loving and supportive.
Culture shock is real, but there are things you can do to help someone adjust to a new culture. Help him find a community and make local friends, share some fun favorite things that you enjoy about your culture and learn about his, and be very patient and supportive. I’d love to hear any other tips (or experiences you have had) in the comment box below.