One Look at U.S. Society
Hmong author Sucheng Chan writes: "In U.S. society, old people are often pushed aside." Sound unfair?
Read about Hmong practices: "Old people are very much respected, so that individuals do not fear growing old. There are multiple ways in which deference is shown: reserving special seats for them, serving them choice foods, using honorifics to address them, bowing in front of them, and holding special celebrations in their honor."
In U.S. society, we do not bow or provide special food to older adults. Whose approach is "normal"?
1. Get to know the new culture (See Reference 6)
Before you go, investigate the host culture through reading, watching movies, listening to music, eating typical food, meeting locals, and asking endless questions. Once you have arrived, make it a priority to find a host country national to serve as a cultural guide or mentor. Having local friends is related to lower levels of stress and better adjustment by many different measures.
2. Investigate your home culture
Odd as it may sound, researching your own culture matters just as much to your ad justment as exploring the new country. Why? We don't realize how many of our ideas about what is "normal" are specific to our culture. By learning how others see us, we can begin to understand and moderate our reactions to things that just seem "wrong" in a new place. Consider taking the Training Division's course, Explaining America, or take a look at InfoUSA's U.S. Life web site.
3. Learn the language
The better you know the local language, the more successfully you will adapt and the fewer social difficulties you will experience.
Even with effort, the adaptation process will take time. Six to twelve months may pass before you function well and even longer before you feel comfortable and in control. You may get through one low point only to face a second near-crisis. Suffering from "culture shock" does NOT mean that you aren't cut out for overseas life. Some people who undergo the worst problems end up becoming the most capable of living and working successfully abroad.
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