Never in our lives have we had to make such a drastic adjustment. Everything is different here. When God called my husband to come to the United States to attend seminary, we never imagined the drastic cultural shock that was awaiting us from the moment we stepped on foreign soil.
The beginning process of acquiring our documents was hard enough. It was long and drawn out. I praise the Lord for my husband’s tenacity because I was ready to give up on the process several times. I was perfectly content to simply stay in Mexico with my family and friends while continuing to be involved in the ministry that we had. Finally, the paper work came and the day arrived when we had to cross the border. At the border we found immigration to be intimidating to say the least. The fact that we had documents did not make us immune from waiting in long lines and being asked tedious questions. There was a lot of red tape.
Once we arrived in the U.S. a blanket of complete loneliness fell over us. I cried for the entire first week. We were right on the Mexican border where most everyone spoke Spanish but we still felt completely isolated. There was not much communication with anyone. It was as though there was a huge wall between us and the rest of the population. We had nowhere to turn other than to trust in the Lord.
Because we had no transportation we did not leave the apartment that the seminary provided for the entire first week. They gave us some milk and eggs that quickly depleted. Some had told us about a great store in town called Super Wal-Mart but we did not know where it was nor did we have means to get there. I started mixing water in the milk to give to the kids to try and make our food stretch. Later we found out that the gas station right across the street sold a few groceries. We had no idea! Gas stations that also sell groceries?
When we did make it to the grocery store it was very difficult. Everything was in English. I wanted to buy flour but could not distinguish the packaging from sugar, salt or even laundry detergent (in Mexico, powdered laundry detergent comes in bags). The first several months we paid a lot more for groceries because we only bought what we recognized – the goods imported from Mexico, which were more expensive.
The food here is very different. Trust me when I say that even the Mexican food is not Mexican food. People have had us over for “Mexican” where we have tried dishes for the very first time. Even the authentic food that I make here does not taste the same since some spices and other ingredients are not available. Another notable difference is the way in which people eat here. In Mexico, meals are used to enhance relationships. For example, at home I would always take a plate of food over to the neighbors out of hospitality. People think it is strange if I do that here.
The language is different. Obviously, there is a marked difference with the English; however, it is hard to communicate even with those who know some Spanish. We are talking in Spanish but they are hearing something else other than what we are trying to say.
It did not take us long to experience the impact of the biggest cultural bombshell – the cultural difference in how people relate to each other. As Hispanics, we are relational. We share things! We always physically leave our doors open. Not here, people have their doors shut. One does not know if they should go knock. When we do it is scary because we do not know how the person on the other side is going to react. In Mexico, neighbors always come out and talk for several minutes. We have learned that it is different here. We have learned that people do not visit unless they call and make an appointment or unless they happen to see each other outside.
Speaking of relationships, it would have helped us so much if people would have made more of an effort to get close to us. Something as simple as waving and saying “hi” goes a long way. We had a Christian neighbor who we saw a lot but did not get to know for the longest time. I told my husband that the neighbor was rude because he was always straight-faced and he never said a word. It turns out that he was uncomfortable because he did not speak Spanish. We thought he was mad. Our neighbors eventually learned to say “buenos dias” and this opened up a new phase in our relationship. It goes both ways. I always try to greet people and to communicate even though I do not speak English.
Little by little we are adjusting to this completely new world and culture but it has not been easy. I am so thankful that we have the certainty that God has led my husband here to study for the ministry; otherwise, we would have returned to Mexico a long time ago. We are learning to appreciate the ways and customs of the United States. At least our shock and frustration with the culture is lessening. America is a great country, but there is no place like home.
From One Learning to adjust to life here in America