August 31, 2008

Experiences Relocating to the USA (Pt 4) - Culture Shock

Some advice and guidance based on my relocation move to the USA in September 2003. Part 4 - Culture Shock

Culture Shock - Two Nations Separated by a Common Language!

One huge thing that you probably are not expecting when relocating to the US is the extent to which you will still experienced lots of "culture shock" with the move. Both the UK and USA seem from the outside to be very similar cultures -- both use the English language, both share much of the same history, and both have a political heritage based around democracy and equality. Of course there are some differences that are immediately apparent -- such as driving on different sides of the road, different pronunciation and / or phraseology for the same things, and the electrical systems using different voltages. However, there are also a great many more subtle and smaller differences that are just not apparent until you start living permanently in that culture.

Even if you have been traveling to the USA for several years before relocating, you will be surprised how long it takes to really acclimatize to US life. It is very different being a resident compared to being a tourist! Even simple things like using a supermarket and finding the equivalent to some UK ingredients will be quite challenging initially.

US School System

The US school system is significantly different too. In general students UK are one grade ahead of US students (primarily because of the different school starting ages) although the syllabuses are not identical in each country at each grade. You will have to make a decision about which grade your kids should move into in the US school system. If they go into the grade number they were at in the UK, they will be one year younger than the other children in their class throughout the rest of their school career. They may also find some gaps in their knowledge for some topics that they have not yet covered in the UK which have already been covered by US students. Also remember that US and British History topics are sometimes completely different -- perhaps especially when studying the American Revolution!

On the other hand, placing your child in the right US school grade for their age gives them a chance to adjust to US education at a more relaxed pace, and allows some time to catch up any missing knowledge gaps from previous grades. Only you really know what is right for your child, but it is a good idea to discuss the topic with the school and show them some examples of your child's schoolwork from the last 6 months. (Remember to pack some schoolwork samples outside your shipping container!)

DIY Skills

Another example of problems is the transfer of DIY skills -- most American houses are built using completely different materials, different construction techniques, different building code regulations and building permit requirements than British houses, so you have to re-learn a lot of your home improvement DIY (do-it-yourself) skills to adapt to your new location. You also will have to learn to say "Home Depot" and not "Home Base" too! Plan to buy a few introductory books on electrics, plumbing and landscaping to accelerate your learning process.


Another area requiring re-learning and re-education involves sport.

While soccer (note: it is not called "football" here!) is becoming increasingly popular in the US, the most popular sports by far remains baseball and American football (usually just referred to as simply "football"!).

Learning the rules of each game, the major teams and personalities can be a big task. It is really hard to watch a game of American football and understand what is happening if you do not know at least some of the rules and hand signals used by the Referee. Our kids tried both baseball and American football in the local recreation leagues, so we had to quickly learn the rules of both games to help teach them to our kids.

British children start with a distinct disadvantage in this area, as most US children are immersed in the rules of the game from a very early age -- they often start learn to baseball shortly after they can walk, and start watching American football with their family from not much older.

Once you do know the rules of the games, you will probably be surprised how many sports-related-terms and concepts are an integral part of American business vocabulary -- "punt", "moving the chains", "armchair quarterback","run with the ball", "drive" and many more phrases will suddenly start to make sense.

Culture Shock

From the above, there should be no doubt that you have a lot of learning to do as you acclimate to your new home!

The best way to ease your transition is to accept that your new home is a totally foreign culture, and make a deliberate effort to integrate and adapt to the new environment.

Overall it probably took about 1 to 2 years before we really felt settled and like this was our home. Even now after 5 years, we still occasionally find phrases that we are not familiar with, products we do not know about, or celebrities we have never heard of, but at least it feels like home now.

Next: Part 5 - Building a US Credit History

Experiences Relocating to the USA from the UK

  1. Experiences Relocating to the USA - Part 1 - A New Beginning
  2. Experiences Relocating to the USA - Part 2 - Moving All Your Worldly Goods Half Way Round the World
  3. Experiences Relocating to the USA - Part 3 - The One-Way Ticket
  4. Experiences Relocating to the USA - Part 4 - Culture Shock - Two Nations Separated by a Common Language!
  5. Experiences Relocating to the USA - Part 5 - Building a US Credit History
  6. Experiences Relocating to the USA - Part 6- Buying a House
  7. Experiences Relocating to the USA - Part 7 - Learning to Shop
  8. Experiences Relocating to the USA - Part 8 - Was The Move Worth It?
Entry categories: General
Posted by Jorgen Thelin at August 31, 2008 10:17 PM - [PermaLink]