Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Immigration 101

How to be a successful immigrant

1. Study up about your country. Pay attention to things like history, geography, current events, unemployment rates, average income. The more you know ahead of time, the better you will feel.

Note: When I first investigated Poland (my new home), I found some figures indicating minimum wage and average salary and all that. I assured myself that there must be an error in the data. The numbers couldn’t be that low. I learned that I was in error and discovered that my one-year public school teaching salary did not even cover my plane fare from America to Poland.

2. Learn the language…as much as you can…no matter how impossible it may seem. If you are planning to live somewhere longer than a year (or perhaps forever), you have to make an effort to learn the language to at least an intermediate level of proficiency. Believe me, the quality of your life will vastly improve when you are able to do everyday things by yourself. You should be able to do the shopping, go to the bank, visit the doctor, chat up your neighbor in the local language. Also, you will feel safer and be able to assess possible dangerous situations much quicker.

Note: My Polish brother-in-law comes from a big family with a huge age range, meaning you could have a cousin older than your father or be an uncle at age 8. When my b-i-l went to family reunions, the older relatives just said to him, “Call me uncle”. In Polish that is “Mów mi wujek” and besides “szafa” and “dupa” is one of the first phrases I learned in Polish. I was always afraid that I would have some kind of accident and all I would be able to say at the ER in Polish was “mów mi wujek, szafa, dupa”. Good motivation for learning more.

3. Make friends…even if the thought kills you. Perhaps like me you were 5 years old the last time you had to “make friends” and now you find yourself back in that uncomfortable situation. Fight the urge to bury your nose in a book or your laptop and talk to people even if your cheeks are flushing with embarrassment. I literally made homework for myself that I had to find a friend (for example in 4 weeks) that is in no way connected to my husband. Not only did I get a needed sense of independence, but also I got a new perspective on my new culture.

4. Venture outside your comfort zone regularly and you will soon see your zone expand. My first expeditions outside my comfort zone involved such (now) simple things like shopping, buying a newspaper or travelling on the tram. It seems funny now but it was a really big deal to me then. I set myself tasks for homework, prepared the vocabulary I might need and headed out. Try it. You may not always be successful but sometimes you will!

Note: One unsuccessful trip was when my friend ventured out to buy an onion (jedna cebula) and came back with Prince Polo (a chocolate bar).

5. Travel. See what your new country has to offer. Start from getting to know your neighborhood, then your city, then your state and so on. Apart from visiting interesting places, travel will make you more familiar with your surroundings and make you feel more “at home”.

6. Read. Buy the local newspaper and magazines or check them out onlind. Try to read them. If you are not able to read them, find someone who is willing to read the main stories with you and discuss the currents events of your new country with you. It is worthwhile…even if you have to pay someone to discuss with you.

7. Recognize the good and the bad in your old home and your new home. Allow yourself to openly prefer some aspects of your old home as well as your new home. And keep in mind that different doesn’t necessarily mean bad or wrong.

8. Develop a thick skin. Be prepared to hear a lot of negative things about your home country and its citizens (including YOU). The person talking with you is probably not aware that this is the thousandth time someone has made such a comment to you, so if the comments are not discriminatory or racist, cut them some slack.

Note: I did not start the war in Iraq or anywhere else nor am I responsible for the debt ceiling issues. I am certainly not responsible for the potato bug and I am so sorry to disappoint, but I am neither fat nor stupid! (Just a little venting)

9. Keep what is important from your culture and incorporate something from your new culture. It will help you feel acclimated into your new home without feeling swallowed up.

Note: In our case, we celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving and “American-style” Christmas morning. These traditions from my family are very important to me and I am proud to pass them on to my children.

10. Make your decision and stick with it. At some point you will have to decide where you are going to live. Make that decision and don’t look back. If it makes you feel more comfortable, make a decision to stay in your new home for some number of years and then re-visit the decision later. The worst thing you can do is live with no decision, visit your home country too often and try to live in two places at the same time. You’ll just drive yourself crazy and will never feel at home anywhere.

Good luck in your new home!