What to Do When You’re New: In School, Work, or Your City

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Reblogged from Tiny Buddha:  What to Do When You’re New: In School, Work, or Your City.

“If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.” ~Buddhist saying

Moving to a new country as a kid can be traumatizing because of the challenges of fitting into a new culture and new social customs.

When I arrived in Northern California at the age of ten with my parents and younger two brothers, we were excited about being in America (home of Disneyland) but apprehensive about our how our classmates would react to us and how we would fit into the social environment of a school in a new country.

My earliest memories of starting school in the 4th grade were not having to wear uniforms like we did in Malaysia, not having to stand up when speaking in class, and not having a regular morning assembly every morning prior to school starting.

I welcomed the slightly relaxed curriculum, reading fun fiction titles in class and not having semester finals in elementary school.

The challenges I found were as expected—not understanding the cultural context of what was happening in the classroom or references to American sports, entertainment, history and even holidays.

It was also difficult fitting in and making friends initially in a close-knit school, where kids had grown up together since pre-school.

Most of my classmates ignored me in the beginning. I found it difficult to engage in team sports activities or find lunchtime friends to visit with. Yes, there was some bullying, as well, about my mismatched, out-of-fashion clothes, my military-ready haircut, and even my accent, but I tried to take that all with good humor!

While I recall eating lunch in solitude for several weeks and attending English as a Second Language classes trying to get accustomed to my new life in America, I did manage to make friends over the course of the school year and fit in.  I even started getting invitations to birthday parties by the end of the year.

Here are some ways I was able to fit into my new school. These are ways that you too can fit in at your new university, job, or city.

1. Get to know your surroundings.

In order to assimilate into a new environment, I had to understand my surroundings. My brothers and I spent countless hours watching American classics like The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, and The Cosby Show to get a better understanding of the cultural and social differences here, and even people’s sense of humor.

Whether you’re in a new city, a new school, or a new job, take the time to explore your surroundings. Try to find out where things are located, who to go to for help, and what the current policies and procedure are.

Talk to people in authority positions or with more experience so they can tell you what you should and shouldn’t do, and what the acceptable social and cultural practices are.

2. Find others who are similar to you or who share your background.

Since it felt like I was alone by myself at my first school in America, I decided to reach out to others who I did have something in common with.

In addition to the one other Asian-American kid at that school who I instantly became friends with, I was also able to reach out to kids who had just moved into the area, other immigrant kids and others who I shared classes with and had gotten to know better.

If you find yourself in a new city or university, search out people from your hometown because you will have many common interests and shared experiences.

At a new job, find colleagues who went to the same university as you or who share a similar professional background. If you’re in a new city, find others in the community that share your interest in running, cycling, playing music, or whatever your passion might be.  

3. Be able to laugh at yourself.  

In order to avert the negative and culturally insensitive comments by some of the kids, I was able to laugh at myself. I didn’t take the bullies or myself too seriously which helped me feel more comfortable while at school, as I was trying to fit in.

Similarly, in a new work or school environment, give your new classmates and colleagues the benefit of the doubt. If they make comments or remarks that are sensitive to you or hurtful, credit it to ignorance and them not knowing you well enough.

Try if you can to find the humor in what they said and if there’s even a slight hint of truth in it, use it to laugh at yourself. This will help you break the ice and fit in.

4. Embrace new activities and experiences.

New activities and shared experiences have a way of solidifying relationships with others. Participating in the school skit, a poetry contest, and a country-dance competition were activities that I participated in which introduced me to more friends and helped me understand the American culture better.

I doubt I did these activities initially with open arms, but I challenged myself to do something that I had never previously done before.

If you’re starting a new university or school, take yourself out of your comfort zone to try clubs, sports, or activities you might not have tried before. Go to plays, concerts, and lectures that you wouldn’t have attended.

At a new job, reach out and collaborate with others, attend social events with colleagues you don’t know well, and go to the company picnic or holiday party even if you have an aversion to such events.

5. Find mentors and teachers who can help you adjust better.

In my case, I was fortunate enough to have found the English as a Second Language teacher to be from the country I had just arrived from. My English teacher became a mentor, guide, and later, friend.

She helped me navigate through the first year of school, encouraged me when I was uncertain of myself, and helped me get acclimated with the cultural and social differences in the U.S.

A graduating student, teacher, supervisor or local community leader can become your mentor. All you have to do is approach them and ask.

At work, seek out someone with more experience, and ask them to help mentor you with projects during your initial days on the job. In a new city, seek advice from a community leader or even neighbor on how to avoid rush hour, where to do your grocery shopping, and what parts of town to avoid.

Being the “new kid” can be filled with much apprehension, fear, and uncertainty.

Of course, once you’re in the “in,” don’t forget where you came from! Every former “new kid” has an obligation—to help other new kids at school or colleagues on the job fit in to the new environment.

There’s no better way for you to continue to build new friendships and relationships than to welcome others. Just remember, the new kids will forever be grateful for your friendship and kindness.

Photo by Eaglebrook School

16 People On Things They Couldn’t Believe About America Until They Moved Here

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For me, the variety or types of products within a product category (shampoos or lotions for every type of little personal problem for example)…..cultural differences between states is also a current fascination…..

Thought Catalog

A lot of people around the world have ideas of what America is like, possibly thanks to Hollywood, or their local news channels, and maybe from what they’ve heard from families and friends. But then, they came here, to the grand old United States and their minds exploded. Taken from Quora.

1. Rakib Islam

I am originally from Bangladesh and here are a few things that I find hard to explain to peeps back home.

  • Fruits and vegetables are way more expensive than meat and poultry.
  • That, generally speaking, the poor is more obese than the rich.
  • A lot of couples adopt children, sometimes in spite of having their own, and treat them exactly like their own. (To me, this alone is a marker of a great people)
  • By and large, people do not carry cash.
  • That you address your boss (and some of your professors) by some abbreviated…

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The Anatomy of Friendship | Aly Walansky

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From The Huffington Post:

The Anatomy of Friendship | Aly Walansky.

When you are young, making friends feels effortless.

You fall into deeply intimate friendships with the girl who sits next to you in math class, your shift mate at the Dairy Queen. You don’t really have to work at it, because there seems to always be people with common interests right there, eager to hang out and become your new confidant.

But when was the last time you made a new friend? A real, true friend who withstood the test of time and life complications? Someone who you really, truly love — not just someone to bitch and moan with at the office Keurig, but who will be there for you in a snap, who you can call at anytime, and who can call you at 3 a.m.? That person who, no matter what, will always be there for you?

I’m touching upon a pretty difficult birthday in a few weeks, and it’s heading up a year that has been the hardest one of my life. (And that’s saying a lot, because I spent the birthday prior in the ICU.) This has been a year that’s seen a lot of changing relationships, and lost ones. And I discovered, as I pick up the pieces and try to move on, that as you reach your thirties, it gets increasingly difficult to make true and lasting friends. Why is that? And what can we do about it?

We just don’t have the time anymore

Sure, we thought we had it rough in high school and college — but in retrospect, that was all youthful naiveté. Many of us now work ceaseless hours and while we may have many people we love spending time with, we all too often just don’t have the time to spend. It’s hard enough to maintain ties with our dearest friends. Do we have time to add new ones to the mix?

We’ve solidified our identities

If you think about it, as we grow up, the friends we have are a crucial part of the person we develop into. Our friendships determine who we are in a lot of ways we don’t even realize. But as we get older, we sort of already know who are and it gets harder. We now need to cultivate relationships that compatible with our own inherent self. They don’t need to be just like us, but they do need to be someone that doesn’t leave us wanting to rip our hair out, either. Because, as said above, who has time for that? We didn’t have this criteria as kids because we simply didn’t know what our criteria was. It hadn’t been created yet.

Friendships are a lot like dating

A friend of mine recently moved across the country on a whim. She’s happier than she’s ever been, and I noted when I saw her recently that it’s amazing she made friends so quickly. She shared a mutual friend had been setting her up on “friendship blind dates” — lady dates where she’d meet a new potential friend for drinks or a show. For her, it’d been working really well.

For me, I was unsure how I’d personally fare at something like that. If dating itself so often feels like a job interview, imagine having to interview for an entirely new social circle?

People show you who they really are (and you may not like it)

When we were kids, the worst thing that ever happened in friendships would be that my fifth grade BFF would start sitting with someone else at lunch. It felt tragic at the time, but by the next day, I had a new BFF. It was easy then. Now, when we make and lose friends, the parameters feel a lot larger — it’s very much like a breakup, possibly even a death. There are so many different types of friendship breakups. The people who say they will be there for you, and then ultimately aren’t. The people who put you on an impossibly high pedestal — and then one day tear the chair out from under you. The people who get married or have babies and suddenly just aren’t as available as they once were. And, there’s the most common type of friendship end in your 30s — the ones that drift apart. You simply have different interests now, and nothing left to talk about. As I said, it’s kind of like a divorce, and just as hard to come back from.

Even with tons of friends, life can be lonely. Especially if these friends are long distance, or people you predominantly chat with on the Internet. No tweet can hug you when you are sad. No email can give you someone to meet for an impromptu happy hour when you’ve had a bad day.

This has been an incredibly hard year for me, one where a lot of friendships have simply disappeared. And I’ve discovered that maybe, as you get older, it’s not the same anymore. You don’t need to have loads of friends. You need to have a few really good ones. And when you manage to have that — and, praise the lord, I do — treat them like the gold they are. You’ll never have a more precious asset. And, as you may have noticed, they aren’t so easy to replace.

Chutney for every dish

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This vegan topping surprises the most skeptical due to its unexpected sweet but sour, spicy yet mild flavor layers. Cloves, ginger, cinnamon and raisins cloak the tomato taste. Made me a believer.

My new favorite condiment.

My new favorite condiment.

Politics is personality.

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Time to move?

Time to move?

America’s Mood Map.  You have probably seen this map make its circuit around the web:  When Mother Jones blogged about the map on October 30, 2013, Mother Jones reported that the map had 873,000 likes on Time’s Science and Space blog (link to Mother Jones map here). According to reporter Chris Mooney, the maps are

“based on a just-published paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Peter J. Rentfrow and his colleagues. After administering a battery of personality tests to more than a million and a half Americans across the country, the study divides us up into three psychological regions: The “friendly and conventional” South and Great Plains; the “relaxed and creative” mountain states and West Coast; and the “temperamental and uninhibited” East Coast and New England states.”

The data was collected through a survey that measures the Big Five Personality Inventory: one acronym for the personality traits is OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism), however, other acronyms exist for the traits (see Wikipedia entry about the Big Five here).

Since I frequently think about societal trends, sociology, geography, politics and culture, and I relocated and experienced serious culture shock, this so-called “mood map” intrigued me.  I took the survey found at the Science and Space blog (survey link here).  I took this survey THREE times on different days when I was in different moods.  The result was the same each time:

Birth place.

Home?

Although a little disappointed, I was astonished to see that every single time I completed the survey, Tennessee was the result. THIS IS WHERE I WAS BORN.  My parents are from Tennessee, and my mother flew home for the birth of her first child so that she could be near family.  Tennessee is not where I grew up however.  I spent my early childhood in rural eastern Montana, and my high school years were spent in rural western Oregon.

So this got me thinking.  Is it possible that in my case, nurture was a stronger influence that nature?  Did my parents exert more power over my values and personality than my surroundings during my formative years?  I cannot say.  I don’t consider myself very conservative nor conventional: I like eating ethnic foods other than Mexican, and I have skinny dipped. I am not religious, and I ride my bike more than I drive. I’m an organic gardener. Yet, to my horror, my survey results would indicate that I’m more conservative than liberal.

Chris Mooney, the Mother Jones reporter, suggested that the study results indicate that in America at least “politics is personality.”  He notes that, in general, people gravitate towards other people with similar personality and values, personality is heritable, and the resultant political climate in a region is a reflection of these aggregate personality traits. His comments resonated with my earlier blog post about how local culture traced to the immigrants that settled in an area.

I’m sure some readers will take issue with the credibility or validity of the maps or survey.  Regardless, I think that the survey and the maps are a great snapshot and tool to gaining a better understanding of the cultural polarization in the United States and why some policies or even simply governance of the country is under such attack at this time. Mooney quotes social psychologist Jonathon Haidt,

” ‘For the first time in our history, the parties are not agglomerations of financial or material interest groups, they’re agglomerations of personality styles and lifestyles. [… ]If it’s now that ‘You people on the other side, you’re really different from me, you live in a different way, you pray in a different way, you eat different foods than I do.’ “

I don’t know about you, but I finally feel at peace knowing that there was a real reason for my difficulties when we moved here. It wasn’t so much as moving from a blue state to a red state.  No, it was way more personal.