Moving even short distances is an inherently disruptive and challenging process. Moving halfway across the world to an unfamiliar place with a distinct culture is doubly daunting.

It is often said, correctly, that the United States is a nation of immigrants. The early colonists, beginning with the Pilgrims who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s, were the very first immigrants. From there, successive waves of immigration — primarily from the Old World of Western Europe — populated the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Today, immigrants reach America’s shores from all over the world, with flows of immigrants from the Middle East and majority-Muslim countries increasing in recent years. While the immigrant experience in the United States is unique to each individual, particularly shaped by an immigrant’s country of origin and where in the country they settle, some common themes affect every immigrant as they adjust to America and settle into their new home.

Navigating cultural barriers

The biggest change for many immigrants is the dramatic cultural differences between the United States and their home country. The United States is a highly individualistic society with its own set of social mores that are sometimes jarring to people from conservative cultures, like those in the Middle East.

New immigrants may be exposed to these major differences from their first day in the country. Cultural differences can range from such serious issues as harassment on the street to more minor distinctions like a focus on beautiful teeth and the overuse of paper towels. In many cases, these differences are exacerbated by linguistic differences; American English is highly idiomatic, making it challenging for new immigrants to understand the full nuance of conversations.
Finding work

While immigrants bring many impressive skills to the American economy, they can frequently struggle with translating those talents to the American job market. The United States has a very flexible labor market, without the robust protections that underpin job security in Europe and the Middle East. This can lead to higher wages, but new immigrants often feel that they are at the mercy of an unfamiliar system with little to no ability to take charge of their own fate.

As USA Today has reported, it can be difficult for both high and low-skill immigrants to find work. In many cases, qualifications obtained abroad do not translate for American jobs. It can also be hard for immigrants to understand how to present themselves in a way that is attractive to American employers. Fortunately, there are many resources available that help immigrants prepare themselves for success in the American job market.

Locating affordable housing

Affordable housing can be hard to find for all Americans, but it can be an especially serious challenge for immigrants. Exploitation is rife, apartments can be scarce or overpriced in major urban centers, and discrimination – while illegal – still exists. It can be difficult to navigate decisions to buy or rent houses, condos, and apartments.

Homeowners’ and renters’ insurance is another culture shock; this staple of the American housing market is unheard of in some other countries. Fortunately, finding cheap insurance quotes has become easier since the advent of the Internet – as has home buying generally.

Hard work brings success

These three barriers, and many more, make it hard for immigrants to come to America and hit the ground running. But they don’t make it impossible. For generations, new immigrants have come to the United States, found their best stride, and become success stories.

Today, there are many resources that help new immigrants succeed. The most important ingredient, however, remains hard work and a devotion to making a new life in America. After all, that’s why most immigrants come to the United States in the first place.


by:  Vincent Stokes