7 biggest challenges faced by an immigrant in a foreign country

Moving to a foreign country in search of better opportunities is a big step. Exciting, but can be extremely daunting at the beginning. Especially, when you leave behind your family and friends behind and have to figure out everything in a new land by yourself. Every country has its own unique culture and customs, getting used to it takes some time but once you get past it, it turns out to be a worthwhile experience. I’ll share some of my perspective here on what some of those initial challenges can be and how to navigate them:

  1. Food:

Obviously, the first biggest obstacle that comes to mind is food! Finding authentic home-cooked food in a foreign country is hard (plus expensive). On top of that, you typically won’t get all the ingredients of your native cuisine at a regular grocery store. Another challenge can be getting used to the local cuisine of the area you are in, especially if you are a vegetarian. In my experience, I’ve typically seen very few options for vegans/vegetarians at restaurants outside. With time though, one does get to figure out the places that they feel comfortable with based on individual preferences.

Sometimes understanding the different nomenclatures is a challenge too. For example, “chili cheese fries” might have completely different meaning in US vs India. Another good example being “Cheeseburger”. With time though, once you start getting more exposure, you learn about these jargons and know exactly where to go, what to get, etc. Make an effort to learn more about different cuisines, try new things, meet new people to learn/share experiences which now leads me to my next point.


  1. Social Life:

Moving to a new country without family and friends means one has to start developing a new social circle from scratch. Unless you know someone prior to moving, making new friends is hard! Especially when you are in a place where people’s interests and/or way of communication might be different than yours. And that’s why typically our tendency is to find people from our own culture who we can relate with and make us feel “at home”. I believe that is good for the transition period when one is still settling down and learning about the new place they are in. However, I highly recommend going out of your comfort zone and meeting other people (local or otherwise) as it helps you navigate the change easily. As you meet more people, you get more exposure to different perspectives, different cultural norms, and maybe you end up finding new interests/hobbies which you might not have been aware of. You learn more about yourself and that is always rewarding!


  1. Homesickness:

Well, as I said, the transition of leaving your family and moving hundreds and thousands of miles away can be really challenging at first. Adjusting to a new culture anywhere takes time. Plus, the pressure of academics or a job from day one that you land there or managing your expenses since you are trying to convert everything you purchase. Then, depending on where you live, it is not as common for people to be walking outside or have street-shopping which creates a livelier atmosphere etc. It is totally normal to miss your close ones from back one, the festivals you celebrated together, the trips you made together, and the list goes on. This is all part of the trade-offs you make to move to a new country. Once you have your new social circle, that homesickness starts to fade away and your new friends become your family 😊


  1. Cultural etiquettes & customs:

Every country has its unique etiquettes and customs that one should research and learn about prior to moving. These can be things like respecting privacy, not sharing grades/salary with others, saying “please” and “thank you”, etc. In a lot of countries, talking about your religion and political inclination is frowned upon too. Here in US, the concept of leaving gratuity aka “tip” is extremely common. In fact, the common courtesy is to leave 20% of your overall bill as a tip. That is a huge amount especially if you have moved to US recently, because a) it is not a common practice we follow outside b) the tendency to convert and think of the expense in your native currency. There can be similar customs in other countries too, hence it’s always good to inquire and learn about these things either before moving or by talking to local people once you move to a new place.

Sports is a huge part of every country’s culture too. Just like how cricket is almost considered a “religion” in India, there are different sports that are as widely followed in each and every country. For example, baseball and football (not soccer) here in the US, ice-hockey in Canada, soccer in Europe etc. Knowing about these sports depending on where you go helps a lot in driving conversations with people and also, assimilating yourself in a new culture. I never imagined I would become a huge college basketball fan before I came to Duke! Go Blue Devils!


  1. Understanding the local language:

Even though English is mostly used/understood in majority of the countries, each and every country might have their own unique way of saying words or have a native language which is more widely adopted. For e.g. in Europe, to get a job in let’s say Germany or Sweden, one must know German and Swedish respectively. Here in US, there are certain words that are pronounced and/or written differently. And certain words that have different connotation when used in a sentence. E.g. the word “even” typically has a negative connotation – “even I did not know about this”. Exchanging pleasantries is a common courtesy, so make a habit of saying “please” when asking for a favor and “thank you” when someone helps you with even the smallest of things!


  1. Being independent:

I know, I know. A lot of you might get defensive and say “oh well, I am independent that’s why I decided to move”. Well, at least when moving from India, one is mostly not used to running all their errands themselves aka cleaning their own bathrooms, cleaning their own dishes, cooking each and every meal by themselves, cleaning their own cars, cleaning their home, laundry etc. And managing all of this while pursuing your coursework and finding jobs and/or working is really hard at first. Even though there are ways to manage all the above easily in a foreign country, it still takes time to get used to and requires time commitment. Everyone learns it over time, and you actually start enjoying the self-dependency.


  1. Converting currency:

I have covered aspects of this in some of my previous points. It is the single most common habit immigrants have when moving to a new country irrespective of whether we are yet earning or not. Everyone is so used to paying for amenities or groceries in their local currency that it is extremely natural to compare the prices with your new currency and see if it is “expensive” or not. Unfortunately, there is no workaround to it and is part of the transition. My only advice here would be to not hamper your experience by converting each and everything. If you have to go eat a meal outside, go do it. If you have to travel with your friends, go do it. I can’t stress enough on how important experiences are, it’s the whole point of moving to a new country. Be judicious and prudent about your spending but don’t let it occupy your mind all the time.

To conclude, moving to a new country is a daunting task and by no means easy. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into it and requires changing a lot of habits one might be used to growing up. But in the end, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences once you get past it and put in the effort to adapt and grow yourself. Before moving, always ask yourself these questions: Why am I doing this? What do I want short-term vs long-term? What are the pros and cons of this move? Do I think the pros outweigh the cons? If your answer to all those questions lead you to move, the above-mentioned challenges would be very easy to overcome. All the best!

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