World Education Services (WES) believes in the power of storytelling and shared resources. In 2019, we reached out to immigrants across North America. We asked about their reasons for leaving home, their challenges along the way, and the advice they would like to share with other newcomers.
In this new blog series, we are now sharing their stories with you. Below is Xin’s.
Click here to hear from others who have contributed their voices to WES.
A Little Change
When Xin first started talking about moving abroad, her family and friends thought she was “crazy.” She had a lucrative and secure position within a state-owned enterprise, China Telecom. Therefore, it was difficult for others to understand why she would want to make such a big change.
Xin had also lived in Wuhan, China, all her life. She had earned a B.A. in International Economics and Trade. Then, for seven years, she’d held an enviable position as an engineer’s assistant. But, eventually, she said, she simply felt the need to “change my life a little.”
Xin says that she was originally influenced by two acquaintances who had lived in New York. One was a family friend, named Lily, who connected her to the same study abroad agency that she had used to make the journey some years before. The other was her cousin. Xin vividly remembers a dinner where her cousin drew a map of the New York City subway system and gifted her $1,000 USD to help her begin the next chapter of her life.
Finally, she moved to NYC in 2012. This was the first time Xin gained concrete impressions of the United States beyond her memories of Hollywood movies such as Home Alone and Sleepless in Seattle. First, she studied English at Queen’s College. Then she attained an M.A. in Sociology from St. John’s University. She now works as a purchasing agent for Jasmine Trading.
Moving to NYC
When the study abroad agency called Xin to inform her that she had been accepted to her program in the United States, Xin remembers being very calm. She was similarly composed when she said goodbye to her parents, as it “didn’t feel real.”
However, once she arrived in New York, she got very excited. On her second day, she took the 7 train to Times Square. She was thrilled to see the neon lights and billboards, recounting, “It felt like a dream come true. The feeling of starting a different life was coming true.”
She started taking advantage of free workshops available through the New York Public Library, a source of information for newcomers that she strongly recommends. She also found valuable information—and a roommate—through NYU BBS, an online forum for Chinese students in NYC. She located other useful workshops about Western culture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As she acclimated to life in New York City, she had to also adjust to starting over again as a student.
A Return to Student Life
At first, Xin found it more difficult to make friends than expected—especially since she did not share the same class schedule with all of the students in her graduating class, which is what she had experienced in China. However, she was encouraged by the inclusiveness of American culture (pointing to examples such as wheelchair-accessible theaters and buses). She believed that New York would welcome her, over time.
Now, Xin thinks of NYC as her second home, and she believes it is warmer and more welcoming than its reputation might lead other newcomers to believe. She says, “Random people would stop you on the street just to say something kind about your outfit. Once a woman complimented my umbrella, and it made my rainy day!”
There are a lot of differences between American and Chinese culture that Xin notices day in and day out. But Xin maintains a positive mentality to strive integrating into her new society in many aspects.
Challenges and Strategies
Xin says that her first challenge was to improve her English, which she tackled right away though her studies at Queen’s College.
Meanwhile, while she focused on networking and making friends. Xin easily made friends from Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam; however, she found it difficult to make friends with people who were native English-speakers and Americans. This was frustrating, because she wanted to continue working on her language skills and better understand her local culture.
Her strategy to make American friends was to take up Aikido, a martial art that she now passionately practices for three hours a week. This strategy has been largely successful, though she occasionally struggles with pop culture references she doesn’t understand. She is also trying to embrace certain cultural and social practices, such as “small talk” and “happy hour”—since these interactions center on drinking alcohol and exchanging inside jokes. Says Xin: “Americans like [to] talk a lot about things that don’t really matter when they are having small talk.”
However, Xin’s workplace culture is not typically American. In fact, her employer is a Chinese firm—and while she is interested in eventually working somewhere that will allow her to learn more about common workplace practices in her new country, she is happy that this company is sponsoring her work visa.
From Individual Achievement to Teamwork
Xin did not only pick up better language skills and a new hobby. She also learned the importance of teamwork.
American workplace culture places a much higher value on collaborative work than they did in Wuhan. Back home, she says that people often worked on their own projects individually. Therefore, she was unfamiliar with the need to constantly communicate with other team members.
Plus, Xin says that there is more of a sense in America that the work you do impacts everyone, it is not simply a reflection of you. Now, she says, it’s more like: “You need to do your job well. And if you don’t do it well, the whole team will get very upset!”
Xin feels like her integration will advance as she improves her communication skills. In particular, she wishes to increase her aptitude for public speaking and to be able to assertively sell herself to others.
She would also like to advance her career once she has her green card in two or three years. She looks forward to taking advantage of resources and programs for new residents, like those available through WES’ Global Talent Bridge.
She is also thinking about continuing her education. She would consider a doctoral program that combines sociology with data analytics.
Xin is happy with her new life in NYC. She feels like this is where she can be herself and flourish. And while her parents struggle at times to understand her choices, they are ultimately happy for her, too.
Planning Your Journey to the United States?