As you get the notice that you’ve have been accepted in this amazing fellowship that you’ve desired for so long with all your heart and were selected from thousands of great applications, you immediately feel thankful, excited and ready to make the world yours!

Then going through the visa process can be quiet stressful, having to do a lot of research, filing papers and even if it could be challenging, being positive and having always a smile in your face is the key to a successful interview! The day you go to the Embassy & get your American visa approved, it feels like the best day of your life. Later getting your travel itinerary sent makes you believe that the sky is really the limit!

When you first arrive in the United States, you may feel scared, even more, if you have never traveled before, you take with you so many expectations; but the joy and excitement surpass any negative emotion. Then you are here, in this new country with so many goals and questions for what will happen in your life. Maybe you have heard really nice things or bad from the states, but at this point, all you are looking forward is to start this journey as an Atlas Corps Fellow.

I have been immersed after my first month in the states with 3 stages in adjusting to life in America, while also experiencing a cultural shock at the same time, I am going to go through them and describe what others fellows could expect.

1. The Honeymoon Stage 

Initially, we feel completely fascinated by the new surroundings, people, diversity, languages, and everything is just exciting.

2. “Culture Shock”  

As foreigners and first-time visitors, we become immersed in some difficulties regarding housing, transportation, shopping, and language. Mental fatigue results from continuing new learning and trying to comprehend every new detail of our new life in a new city. I would consider this to be the most difficult stage, as it is accompanied by frustration and homesickness. At this stage, the fatigue of not understanding American “unwritten rules” or social laws can be quiet overwhelming, irritating and could give many a lot of anxiety.

The euphoria could wear away quickly. You could become agitated at simple things being so different, let alone jet lag for fellows coming from very far places.

This is the reason why the first orientation week received in the Atlas Corps Headquarters in Washington DC is extremely important to survive and navigate the United States properly.  We get taught American cultures, values, laws, transportation systems, and some of the most unexpected things to us foreigners,

I will share some classic examples from my experience:

  • When riding the escalator, stand on the right and leave the left open for passers.
  • Don’t stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk.
  • Always let people out before you enter transportation systems. Especially if it’s an elevator you’re entering.
  • Give everyone around their own personal space. Americans like their personal space. Physical touching when in a conversation usually makes Americans uncomfortable.
  • Throw toilet paper in the toilet, without looking around for a garbage can.
  • Do a strong and confident handshake when meeting new people.
  • Don’t cross the street wherever you want. There are traffic symbols designed to help pedestrians cross safely. First, locate the black and white lines marked on the road, and then wait until the outline of a person lights up before crossing.
  • When shopping, don’t assume the price you see is the total amount… add tax to the product.
  • When dining out, it is customary to tip your waiter/waitress, as their earnings rely heavily on this. In some cases, gratuity will be automatically added to the bill.
  • If using the metro or BART, don’t eat or drink while in it, also loud music is not allowed, wear headphones.
  • Buses and other transportation systems usually have a schedule that you can check online or using mobile apps.
  • If you get lost or need directions, it is acceptable to walk into any business establishment to ask for directions. Individuals you come across are also often happy to help.
  • Google maps can be your best friend!
  • Time is money in America. Punctuality is important, and being late can be considered rude.
  • In general, be open and respectful of others’ culture, language, race, sexual orientation, etc.

3. The Adjustment Stage

After meeting with other fellows in the area, your local ambassador and getting the chance to explore around with coworkers or new friends, navigation becomes easier. Everyday activities are no longer major problems. After a month or so, you will know very well how to get to your host organization by metro, bus or even renting a car. Also, having the time to do fun activities like going to the most famous landmarks in your city will make you feel lucky and happy; serving with your profession to address social issues in the area will also make you feel part of the change & the community.

Eventually, everything will start to fall into place. Things that at the beginning used to be strange and confusing will become routine and your life will have balance once again. You might even come to enjoy that something is different. The feeling of grieving your home will slowly pass, if your family is supportive of the experience it can really help into a more mature and independent you. Also, adapting into your host organization will feel less scary, but focusing on doing a good role and thriving.

If you become isolated, depressed or extremely anxious, up to the point where there could be a serious mental or health concern, it is best to communicate it quickly to your program manager and they will be happy to help you get the needed support.

“I learned early on that missing your home culture is okay. I find that talking to friends and family, and having my favorite movie and/or snack in the house helps in those moments when I do miss home.” — Lisa Lundegard.

Finally, more stages will come in our way, 4. the acceptance of the new city, & 5. the re-entry shock to our home countries. But, until then, we need to learn to enjoy every minute of this wonderful learning journey. Be happy now, think how amazing it is to serve in the United States, being a part of an international network of social sector leaders, who have a passion in making a better world for everyone. by addressing critical social issues & strengthening organizations. The best gift we receive from this whole experience is learning best practices, building organizational capacity as leaders and returning home with a big experience to create a network of global changemakers!

Learn, shine & thrive, because being part of a class in this fellowship is definitely one in a lifetime opportunity!