Many people outside the U.S., especially those from developing countries, long to live the American dream. As such, they strive to be issued a U.S. visa and endure separation from their families afterward. When they finally arrive in the U.S., they will deal with culture shock, which takes tremendous adjustments to overcome.
Some might think that once you step foot in the U.S., your life will be easier. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Immigrants or foreign exchange students from rich families may have it loads easier, but it’s never the same for ordinary immigrants looking for ordinary jobs. A lot of them aren’t even fluent in English, which causes them to struggle right off the bat.
Thankfully, experienced immigration attorneys help foreign skilled workers acquire everything they need to start a career. However, once they’re exposed to the workplace, several things could happen that might make or break their lives in the land of the free.
Culture shock may be inevitable, but not racial discrimination, which is, unfortunately, the thing that is normalized in some workplaces. Below are the challenges related to both that immigrant workers in the U.S. commonly face:
It’s completely normal to experience an initial shock in the early stages of your new life in the U.S. You’d miss your home country’s cuisine, familiarity, language, and everyday life.
Research suggests that there are five stages of culture shock:
- Fascinating a.k.a. the honeymoon phase. This is when you’re excited about your new environment and find everything interesting and enjoyable.
- Frustrating. This is when you’ll start realizing the differences between your home country and your new one. You’ll get frustrated over grocery items, interacting with locals, coping with a different government, or not having the same holidays. The language barrier will also start to take a toll on you.
- Doable. This is when you’ll start to adjust. You’ll become more comfortable with the language, customs, and other things you found frustrating before.
- Enjoyable. After adjusting, your new place will feel more like home. You’d have real friends, and perhaps even a romantic relationship.
- Longing. You’ll likely experience this if you go back to your home country for a vacation. Once you land in the U.S. again, you’ll be overcome with homesickness and may pass through the previous stages again.
To manage culture shock, be aware of the cultural differences you have with your new environment. Since the U.S. is diverse, you may have less trouble, but not necessarily an easier time. For one thing, the new rules can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve come from a country that regards rules differently. If you value structure and order, a more laid-back workplace culture may shock you. On the contrary, if you tend to get away with disobeying rules, then a strict workplace or government may rattle you.
Time is a major cultural difference, as well. Some countries like Japan place a strong value on punctuality, so if you’re a Japanese immigrant whose local co-workers are often tardy, you may find yourself irked or even indignant of your office rules.
Watch your humor as well. You may have jokes that are offensive to a local, or vice-versa, so learn about acceptable jokes first and what’s not.
And finally, strive to communicate clearly. Perfect grammar isn’t required, but still, make time for improving it and expanding your vocabulary. Read books during your free time, or learn by experience. Make friends, and talk to them about the language and the culture to make yourself more familiar and accustomed to your new environment.
Racism doesn’t always occur blatantly. It often happens subtly, expressed by unfair work assignments, lower wages, fewer benefits, and the way your performance is judged and rewarded.
It may even begin right from the hiring process. A 2003 study found that employers prefer white candidates with criminal records over POC candidates with no history.
Sadly, despite the laws meant to protect victims of racial discrimination, the burden of proving such misconduct tends to be on the employee. Records of racial discrimination are usually accessed by employers only, making accusations come at a price. Nearly 40% of employees who filed complaints from 2010 through 2017 experienced retaliation.
According to Chicago-based lawyer Linda Friedman, who represented 700 workers in a racial discrimination lawsuit in 2013, how people discriminate and what they acknowledge have changed. But in the end, the preference for whites over POC still haven’t.
Hence, the change should come from the employers and the workplace culture. Immigrants and POC shouldn’t be the ones to yield and take the situation as normal. Therefore, if you’re an employer, acknowledge the injustices in your company, give voice to the affected employees, and instill anti-racism into your values and policies. Immigrants already have it hard enough without the discrimination, so the least you can do is give them a safe place where they can feel equal with everybody else.