No matter where you’re from, adjusting to life in America is a huge learning curve. It’s been five years, and I still haven’t got the hang of Fahrenheit (smh!) Adapting has been one heck of a journey, but hey, thousands of people do it every day, and the internet has made it so much easier.
There are so many ways and reasons that internationals move to the states but here’s my backstory to give you a little bit of context.
I moved to Atlanta from Nairobi, Kenya in 2014 for college on a student visa. (4 years) The visa allowed me to work for an extra two years (given that I was able to get a job)- so that’s a total of 6 years in the US. In between those few years, I ended up getting married in Jan 2020, and now I’m looking at being a soon-to -be-resident in a couple of months.
The journey to the US is different for everybody, but no matter how you ended up getting to live in the US there are a few things that may make settling a little easier.
1. Make close friends with a local American.
There’s only so much Google can tell you and the best way to learn and adapt to American life is by learning from a native’s experience. You’ll be able to learn shortcuts, different ways of life and inside information that can help make you settle quicker.
Having an American friend that you can rely on for advice can help you navigate all sorts of certain situations. Heck, they might be the ones to help pull you out of some sticky situations because they have extra resources that you don’t. They can give you a tonne of insight into the ways of life that you can’t find anywhere else.
2. Make a plan to get a social security card.
A social security number is one of the most vital pieces of information to living in the US. Way more vital than getting a driving license.
It’s the only way that the US government can audit and track citizens to track their earnings and benefits. A SSN (social security number) is needed for pretty much everything. It makes it easier to rent an apartment, buy a car, build credit, etc.
As a foreigner, it can take you a couple of hoops to get a social security card right off the bat – It’s something you sort of have to “earn”. In my case, the fastest way to get one was by getting hired on campus because I wasn’t allowed to get hired outside. Though, getting any sort of employment guarantees that you get one. That was a couple of years ago, and I’m not sure how much stuff has changed but you can find more info about social security cards here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/obtaining-a-social-security-number
3. Build your credit ASAP.
If you plan on staying in the States for a while, you need to start building your credit. Being from Kenya, a credit system is not a part of our culture, so learning all of it was gibberish to me. Credit is one of those things that is so crucial yet isn’t talked about often – because it’s a normal part of society. I remember asking my American friends how I can start building my credit, and they had no clue cause their parents started building theirs from the go!
Avoiding to build credit can put you years behind. Without a credit score, you’re basically telling the system that you can’t be trusted to purchase a car or apartment, receive loans or pay for anything in installments because you have no history of what your spendings look like. There’s so much on this topic, but I’d credit karma is a great resource for up to date information on how to build credit.
4. Let your work/talent speak for itself.
As a foreigner (black AFRICAN woman to be exact), I’ve had more than enough instances where my gender and race has put me behind. It started in college, and eventually ended up showing up in my workplace.
I’ve come across dozens of people that refuse to get my name right no matter how many times I correct them. I mean c’mon, it’s Ba – ha – tee! If it’s this hard to get past the spelling of my name, imagine the hurdles it took to make myself look as qualified as everybody else? *eye roll*.
With that being said, as a foreigner, you have to work 10x harder in order to prove your worth. Your work or experience has to do the majority of the talking because communication barriers are real – even my accent was something that can be off-putting. Whatever you want to do, or aim to do, plan to be darn good at it because unfortunately, our foreigner status can create an unrealistic blur that can put us behind.
5. Build up your networks.
In addition to making close friends, building up your professional networks is a must. Networking is a global skill that works in whatever part of the world you live in. People like to work with people they know and trust. You don’t need to be extremely well connected to be successful in the States, because your work can easily speak for itself but, It doesn’t hurt to let people know you are right off the bat.
Back to point #4- foreigners have to work a little harder – it’s just the truth. So in addition, you have to put yourself out there and meet as many people as you can. Americans LOVE to talk, and they won’t hesitate to get your name out there if they’re clear on what you do. Americans are also huge on referral programs, which means that people can actually get paid to connect other people so take huge advantage of that. The more people you know the better.
Adapting is never-ending and there’s always so much to learn, but living in the U.S can be a great experience if you have the right mindset and drive.
If you’re a foreigner who’s moved to the States and you have any extra resources or additional tips that helped you, share away in the comments! 🙂