Culture Shock

When I moved to the USA from the UK, I received training at an au pair school. One of the things they tried to prepare us for was culture shock. Culture Shock is “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes” (Oxford Languages). Yet, despite learning about culture shock, I still wasn’t prepared to experience it.

Culture shock can manifest in different ways for different people. I couldn’t imagine experiencing culture shock in a country that I thought I knew so well. After all, I was an English speaker and I watched plenty of American movies to know what living here was like, right? Wrong. And to top it off, I was living with a family of Russians, so the main language I was hearing (and unable to understand) was not my own. I found myself becoming homesick. There many things to adjust to… from the food, to the way people behaved.

If you experience culture shock, don’t be surprised if you start to feel irritable. Perhaps there are systems that are frustrating (I felt like there were always long wait times or lines, stating at the airport when you arrive in the USA and have to go through customs). Perhaps you are tired of not being able to understand the language or are having a hard time keeping up with cultural references in conversation. Sometimes you may also begin to feel lonely. For me, these things meant that I began staying in my room more and really missing my family.

Some tips on how to handle this are:

1. Keep an open mind. Things are bound to be different than you are used to. Accept this and try to embrace it. Focus on the positive differences and find things that you enjoy to do. Practice the language. Maybe watch a few movies from that country or read some books. Don’t criticize or judge… instead find things that you DO like about where you are. Differences are what makes travelling interesting.

2. Accept that you will be homesick. Ask your family to send you some treats from home. Set up a time to call with them each week. You could even plan a trip to visit home, if you are living in a new country or are struggling to adjust. But also, try to make friends where you are. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings – find places you enjoy going to. Go exploring. Take language classes and practice speaking the language that you are immersed in. See this as an opportunity to improve yourself and to make new friends. Soon, the new will become the familiar.

3. Time. It may take a while to get used to a new place. Try new things. Familiarize yourself with what is local. Before you know it, you will get used to where you are.

Don’t worry. You will start to adapt to the new culture you have entered. Sometimes it takes a few hours, and sometimes it takes a few weeks. After hiding in my room for a while, I began embracing my new home. I took Russian lessons and practiced with the family that I lived with, asking them to help me. I went for walks and mini-adventures, discovering what this new place had to offer. I made friends with other au pairs, who were going through the same thing (I was lucky to be part of a group that were all going though the adjustment – it was easy to meet people since we had au pair meetings every month). And soon, this became my home too.

However, it is possible that you will also feel strange when you go back home. Your experience away may have changed you. You may have to get used things again if you have been away for a long time. For me, it is always nice to be back home. I live in the USA still, but I visit my family in England as often as I can. I love the familiarity of home. It is like a warm embrace. But what makes me feel weird, is when some things are different than they were when I lived there – when the familiar is no longer familiar. For instance, they changed the money in the UK so that now it looks different from when I lived there.

Culture shock can be a little jarring. But when you travel or live in a new place… you may discover things that are wonderful. Perhaps you will find a new hobby or a new favourite food. You may meet amazing people or do things out of your comfort zone. You could end up with crazy adventure stories that make you more interesting. Or you may experience something life-changing. Remember, if you find yourself struggling to adjust, it will get easier with time.

Have you experienced culture shock? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

Accents

Have you ever thought about your accent before?

I grew up in the north of England. Northerners are known for having a strong accent. (Think Ser Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones). And there are so many colloquialisms that it is almost another language altogether. YouTube the Geordie accent if you have no clue what I’m talking about.

Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northern England

Now, despite growing up surrounded by this gritty, hearty accent, my own accent was always much softer. From a young age, I was always aware of the way I was speaking. I wanted to talk properly. Perhaps this is because of my love of the language, or of structure. Perhaps it was because I read a lot and was also read to often from a very early age. I’m not sure why, but I never developed a strong Northern accent.

My accent diluted further when I went to live in York for University. I spoke too fast and had to learn to slow down so that people could understand me. But it was when I moved to California that I really started to notice my accent.

York, UK 🇬🇧

The people here would comment on my accent when I met them. “I love your accent!” they would say. And sometimes I would get, “Are you from Australia?”. Have you seen ‘Love Actually’? One of the guys goes to America to meet girls because he thinks he has a “cute British accent”. Well, that’s what it felt like – I had the “cute British accent” and I kind of loved how much people loved it.

But the more time I have spent here, the more I have adapted my accent. I went from saying tom-AR-toe to saying to-MAY-toe. And I cringe inside every time it comes out of my mouth, but it does make life a little bit easier when you don’t have to repeat yourself twenty times. Adapting seemed like a small price to pay to live in this amazing place. After all, I have always been a bit of a chameleon.

Every year for our holidays (vacation), we would go to Scotland as a kid. And I LOVED the accent of the people there. I would mimic it as much as possible. I have always had a fascination with interesting accents and tried to mimic them for fun. Scottish is an example of an accent that I think stays with a person more easily. I doubt that many people from Scotland lose their accent when they move to another place. But perhaps I am wrong about that? Perhaps it depends on the person rather than the accent. I know people from the UK who have lived in other places with strong accents, South Africa for instance, and their British accent remained as strong as ever. Yet, my sister went to live in South Africa for a year and came back with the accent (although she went back to speaking in her regular Gerodie accent after a sort while when she moved home).

Scottish Highland Cow

So, despite adapting my accent to be understood more easily, there are some things that have stuck with me. I still say ban-ar-na, for example; and c-ar-n’t; and bin rather than garbage can etc. So now I have a hybrid accent and I’m not sure how much I like it. People don’t hear right away that I have a British accent when I speak now and I miss the idea of having that “cute British accent” – I felt sexy and exotic with it. But I also don’t mind my hybrid accent. I am part of both worlds. I am both British and American. And my accent reflects that.

Do you adapt to where you are? Or do you have no choice but to keep the accent you grew up with? Leave a comment 🙂

My Blog

Hi there! My name is Rachel and I am restarting this blog to tell my experience of life as a Permanent Resident in California. I will talk about Green Card application, life in California, country dancing and more.

I moved to Cali in December 2014. I came as an au pair, although my job was really to teach the children I cared for English, as they were of Russian origin. It was a great way to come to the USA for free and experience a different lifestyle than I was used to in England. I was paid very little, but I had come with a goal of gaining life experience, travel and the pursuit of happiness.

I was 24 and had lived a fairly sheltered life in a small village, with very protective parents. And, although I had moved to another city for university and had lived on my own before, I had never really experienced travel or other cultures. My focus when I was at university was studying and doing the best that I could, and on my boyfriend at the time, with whom I had a long-distance relationship. Then I went on to do teacher training, and that was so intense that I had little time for anything else.

I became a teacher and I discovered that I wasn’t happy. And so I gave up the career that I had worked so hard for and found a way to travel while being paid. Granted, my salary was nothing. But I didn’t care. I went hiking every opportunity I could; I went to beach parties; I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, since I had a network of au pairs; I continued my studies at Stanford University and Palo Alto Adult School – honing talents that inspire me and that I am passionate about, art and writing; I won a cruise to the Bahamas; I explored California on my own and with friends; and eventually, I met my husband.

My husband is from Texas, originally, and he’s a real cowboy. He is a country music radio DJ. I have always had a love for country music and I had started exploring country night clubs etc. I met Randy (my now husband) at a small concert at a club in San Jose, California.

Since then, I got more and more into the country culture. And I even have become a line dance instructor. I absolutely LOVE country dancing. It has been a completely unexpected turn of events for me, and I never would have discovered my love for dancing if I had remained a school teacher in the UK.

So here I am, still in California, living the life, just wondering what will happen next.