Moving to America

A personal reflection on adapting to a new culture and society

24 February 2020
By : Celia del Castillo

I’ve been passionate about learning new things my entire life.

From this innate desire, I’ve developed a mentality that allows me to visualize everything with an open mind. While lending yourself to new things usually sparks feelings of insecurity and fear, these moments are essential for learning and growing. Having the initiative to get out of your comfort zone helps you discover the world around you. As you can imagine, this process isn’t easy, but it has provided me with a vision that I wouldn’t have been able to acquire otherwise. Luckily, I have always been curious, which has supplemented my growth and helped me surpass my personal expectations thus far. So, if you’re wondering how to adapt to a new culture or feeling apprehensive about starting a new job, I’m positive my story will show you how to face adversity and flourish everywhere you go.

Some of the biggest opportunities I’ve been given go hand in hand with sports. You see, I had always wanted to study abroad, perhaps in a different European country, or on the opposite side of the world. The excitement of learning and knowing more always outweighed any initial concerns or fears. Because of tennis, I was able to turn my travel dreams into a reality. While I was in high school, I was offered an athletic scholarship to pursue my studies in the US. This was a true win-win situation, because now I could combine studying with competing in my favorite sport. After several months, I was informed that I would be starting my new life in a small town in South Georgia. It was the first month of 2016 and little did I know, the greatest adventure of my life was about to begin.

My unforgettable first day in the U.S.

I left my hometown in Spain, as well as, everything else behind to start a new life at the mere age of 18. In all honesty, I didn’t really know where I was going; my fluency in English was sparse; and I had zero friends in the country. In fact, the only person I had talked to was my tennis coach—and that was through email. Once I landed in the Atlanta airport, it dawned on me how alone I felt and that everything from that moment on would depend on me. I’m glad I had come to that realization, because my arrival in the states was anything but relaxed.

I landed in the states after several hours of delays and my luggage was still in transit. This small incident forced me to live without my stuff for my first three days in the US. All in all, these “shortcomings” made my first U.S. experience very unique to say the least.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of the cultural shock I was going to experience. It also didn’t help that my idea and expectations of America accounted for everything—except the Deep South. So, here’s a girl who’s lived her entire life in a European city, barely spoke English, and independently moved to a small Southern town isolated from everything. Despite the rough start to my trip, I decided not to panic, and instead, used my situation as a chance to quickly learn English. That’s no easy task, because I was still attempting to acclimate into a culture that was far different than mine.

The way of socializing, the food, the schedules, the customs, and even the transportation system contrasted what I had previously known as normal. In Spain, I was very independent, because their public transportation allowed me to travel, commute, and do things without having to depend on anybody else. Here, I realized I would need to depend on other people for everything, because having a car was a must.

Amidst all of my internal chaos, I still managed to stay calm and use this difficult situation as an opportunity to integrate.

hispanic woman playing tennis as a hobbie

With an open mind and a positive outlook, I was able to see through the adversity and identify multiple benefits.

fresh fruits and vegetables at retail store

My first semester was far more eventful than I expected…

I began as an Art major and ended up switching to Marketing; I met some people that are still my best friends today; I learned how to solve problems by myself, and in English. Of course, there were moments of anguish and despair. However, there were so many good things happening all around me, I always managed to find myself thinking, how did I get so lucky? I was experiencing what I always wanted.

Throughout that first semester, everything became an adventure, from going to class or practice, to going to the supermarket. I remember the first time I was taken to buy groceries and feeling totally lost, because there were so many products and brands I had never seen. In addition, I was very surprised to see all the variations of each brand and product offered.

For example, I remember trying to buy some cereal and wound up spending 30 minutes trying to decide which to go with. I guess you could say food was one of my biggest culture shocks, because the gastronomy I was used to had zero semblance to America’s. I was living in a land of fast food and had a hard time finding many of the ingredients that I was raised with.

Embracing anentirely different culture

Aside from the gastronomy culture shock, the thing that surprised me most was the way people socialized and their customs. In Spanish culture, anything that involves bringing family and friends together for a good time was always welcomed. If we want to meet with people to eat, we like to take our timeand enjoy every single bite and conversation. We love our festivitiesand traditions, which we celebrate through the entire year; and if we go out,we don’t come home until the next morning.

In general, we have a stress-free mindset and most of the people can’t make it through the day without a “siesta.” To my surprise, I discovered a much more individualized culture in which everything seemed to be accelerated. However, I also found a culture where the kindness and politeness of people stood out.

Even though I found myself to be very different from everyone I met, I was still able to feel at home from all the warm and encouragement I received frommy peers. I was extremely fortunate that I could meet three friends that were from Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia. It was the first time that I had the chance to meet somebody Hispanic, and it truly was a discovery. I realized that even if we were separated by an immense ocean and belonged to two different continents, our cultures were very similar as we shared so many things.This multicultural perspective helped me learn so much, not just personally,but also in the academic realm.

tennis athletes friends from different nationality on their backs with white shirts and the name of their country written on them

Overcoming challenges and gaining momentum

Along with the language, customs, and food, i had to face the challenge of getting a bachelor’s degree in English while being able to compete at my highest level in tennis. This was probably the hardest thing, but it also taught me discipline and set me up for my professional future. After my first semester, I started to develop a passion for studying that I never had before, and I fell in love with my major. My English was also much better, which allowed me to cultivate better relationships while working my first job in the U.S. By maintaining my multicultural perspective in all these progressions, I was able to see both sides of the coin. It helped me develop an open mindset, become more empathetic, and adapt to my surroundings better. It also helped me discover that there is more than one way to see and do things, and how important it is to put yourself in someone else’s position.

I especially believe that it helped me make better decisions. Multiculturalism allows you to know yourself better and gives you the benefitof understanding how other people might behave, and why. Nowadays we live in a world where multiculturalism has becomethe infrastructure of our society. Every day, more people are deciding to engage with new cultures and get out of their comfort zones; either because they want to or because of necessity.

women playing tennis doubles blog post pm3 agency

 

Regardless, we are starting to learn how to live together and realizingall the advantages that come with acquiring influences from different backgrounds. The experience I’ve had, thus far, has taught me a lotand has helped me become the person I am today.

However, it’s true that by having known some things, the processes could have been a bit easier; although I believe I wouldn´t have been able to learnas much. Below, you’ll find some tips I consider very helpful for somebodythat might be starting a journey just like mine or integrating into a new culture:

Be prepared and acquire as much information about whatever new country you’re moving to… before you leave!

Befriend local people to fully adapt and get important info quicker.

Be open-minded and avoid having prejudices towards things or people.

Listen and observe, as much as possible, to acquire knowledge from the experiences of others. 

Don’t be scared to ask questions.

Know that integrating into a new culture takes time, so don’t try to rush it.

Challenge and push yourself to achieve everything that you want.

Even if there is a big, time difference, never loose contact with home.

¡Gracias!

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