Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

How to Avoid Going Insane During Your First Month in the USA

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Jun 17, 2013 @ 08:15 AM

first few months in the USAMoving to a new country is never easy, especially the first month.

I know that this is true because I have experienced it!

Even though it's hard, there are a few things you can do to make this time easier.

Keep reading to learn about what happened to me in Tokyo and get a few tips for your first month in the USA.



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My first month in Tokyo:


I remember when I tried to set up an internet connection for my apartment during my first week in Tokyo.

I sat in the tiny little shop on a rainy Monday in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. I was alone. I did not have any Japanese friends with me that day to help me. I had walked into the shop excited and expecting the process to go smoothly.


Lindsay confused in TokyoI wanted internet in my place so that I could easily check email and call my family back in the USA!

Three hours later I was still sitting on the same stool behind the customer service counter.

The two Japanese guys helping me had Google Translate open and were unsuccessfully translating my English words into Japanese.

They had no idea what I was saying and I couldn't understand them. I was handed an internet service contract entirely in Japanese characters and I had NO IDEA what I was signing, but I signed it, hoping my 3 hours in that dreary shop hadn't been a complete waste of time.

I stepped out of the shop into the rain and my face was soaked with tears. I was still not sure if I had successfully set up my internet account for my apartment or not. I thought I had scheduled an appointment for someone to come and set it up the following Wednesday, but I wasn't completely sure.

That was a low point for me in Japan.

Are you in a similar position? Have you relocated to the United States recently? If you are lucky, your company has provided relocation or cross-cultural training for you and your family.

If you aren't so lucky (unfortunately most companies haven't realized how important cultural training is yet), then you might be feeling like you need some help.

Don't worry! In today's post, I will offer some tips about what you should and shouldn't do during your first few weeks in the USA.



How to Avoid Going Insane During Your First Month in the USA



1) Don't make any big decisions


Big decisions for expats in the USAIf you can avoid signing a lease on an apartment or buying a car for at least a month, do that.


It's a good idea to get to know a city and its neighborhoods as well as your own schedule before you make any huge financial and lifestyle commitments.

Remember that during this time, you are operating in a different state of mind and you haven't had a chance to really get to know your city or the neighborhoods yet.





2) Notice that your emotions are not normal


mixed emotionsDuring your first week you run around your new apartment singing about how wonderful the United States is and the next week you are on the phone with your family back home crying and telling them how much you hate this place and that you have made a huge mistake in coming here.

Sound familiar? We all experience culture shock differently.

Expect huge emotional swings during your first month in the United States. Everything is new and strange. Some days that's really exciting. Other days it's terrifying and lonely.



3) Don't ignore your discomfort by doing "projects"


home set upWhen I moved into my dorm on my first day of college, I decided that I had to have my entire room arranged. My posters had to be perfectly arranged on the wall before I could meet anyone or doing anything else. I was anxious. Because I couldn't control anything else around me, I was looking for something that I could control and that was the design of my room.

You are probably anxious too if this is your first month in the US.

You might feel like you have to have your entire apartment arranged perfectly, right away with new furniture and paintings.

If you feel this way, this is your anxiety looking for a place to express itself.

But does the interior decoration in your apartment really matter as much as you think it does?

Sure, it's good to stay busy and there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a nice apartment, but the real reason you are anxious is not about the furniture- it is the fact that you are in a new country!

If you are ignoring the real reason that you are feeling anxious and distracting yourself with home decoration projects, what will happen when the home decoration is finished?

That's right! You will have an emotional crash!

If you don't have the right paintings for the wall yet, don't run all over town trying to find them- let things be unfinished.



4) Call home but not too often


call home expats in the USASometimes when you are a new expat in a new city, there is nothing more comforting than hearing the voice of your family and friends back home. Don't be afraid to admit that you need to talk to them.

However, don't expect them to understand how you are feeling. You probably have seen some really interesting things.

You are having ideas and thoughts and experiences that your friends and family will never have back at home. But if you expect them to understand exactly how you are feeling, you will be disappointed.

Instead of jumping to call someone back home every time something interesting happens, try going inward and keeping a journal instead. Become introspective. Learn to monitor and notice your own feelings. Develop your inner resources and become a friend to yourself during this challenging first month abroad.



5) Take care of your body and mind


yogaThe most important thing during this strange time is to take care of yourself. Here are some things you can do:

  • Get moving! Go for a run, a long walk, take a spinning class at the gym
  • Meditate, do yoga
  • Expect to sleep more, but don't let yourself sleep too much
  • Don't always look for food from your home country- try new foods from the US



6) Explore what you think you know about American people


american people, cowgirlYou probably came to the US with a set of expectations and stereotypes about Americans. That's normal!

You gathered these assumptions through Hollywood movies, stories of traveling in the US that your friends told you and just by watching the news from your home country.

During your time in the US, maybe you will find out that some of your stereotypes are true, but you will probably also see that many of your stereotypes are entirely too simple and narrow for a country as large as the US.

Your interactions with American people will be easier and more successful if you go beyond the stereotypes you learned at home and try to understand what they value, how they communicate, and what they believe about the world. You will also start to learn about your own culture and how it might be different by learning more about American culture. Get a head start by reading these posts:




7) Get connected with people!


meet new people in the United StatesThe sooner you get out into the community and start meeting people, the better you will feel.

Start building your social circles. Don't just hang out with people from your home country.

Here are some ideas:




8) Expect to be confused all of the time


moving to a new country confusedYour first month in the US will be a humbling experience! Perhaps your most important weapon in this process is your sense of humor.

You will walk into a restaurant and you will think that you are ordering a small pizza and perhaps you will get a large plate of spaghetti!

Laugh at yourself and laugh often! It doesn't have to be a serious thing!

Let yourself make mistakes. Your English will get better and you will eventually learn from these funny mistakes. Enjoy the process.




Remember, your first month in the USA will be your most exciting, exhilarating, funny and challenging time. Keep a journal, stay patient with yourself, don't be a perfectionist, and keep a sense of humor! Try to step back and see the big picture. Everything will be ok if you can get through this first month- good luck!



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Photo credit: Susan NYC, jonwick04, WordRidden, anneheathen, Brave New Film, GoToVan, C.G.P Gray, Freelancers Union, andyrusch

Topics: United States Culture, Expatriate Support, Cross Cultural Coaching

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