Adjusting to America

Welcome to America: The Complete Guide for Immigrants

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The RWM editor Olga Sapp guestions the authors

Welcome to AmericaRecently the book Welcome to America: The Complete Guide for Immigrants was published. The authors represent two generations of a family that had moved to the US from Russia in 1993.  Both arrived speaking no English and have firsthand experience dealing with the many problems faced by recent immigrants. Having successfully adjusted to their new home, they want to share their experiences and observations to help make the transition less stressful for other immigrants

Vitaly Demin is the Hardware Engineering Manager for Intelligent Controls, Inc., a leading developer, manufacturer and marketer of electronic measurement devices for the petroleum and power utility industries. He has been with the company since 1994.  He holds a B.S. and an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Novosibirsk Technical University.

Olga Demin Lambert has taught college writing and English as a second language at the University of New Hampshire and the University of Southern Maine. She holds a B.A. in French and Psychology from Bates College and an M.A. in Language and Linguistics from the University of New Hampshire. Beginning in the fall of 2003, she will be working toward her doctorate in Language and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Who will benefit from this book?

First and foremost, this book is intended for those who are either seriously considering moving to the United States or have already lived in this country for some time. The book does not concern itself with the legal issues related to immigration because there is plenty of information available on this topic already. However, when it comes to adapting to everyday life in a new country, immigrants are still left to their own devices.

The second group that will find this book especially useful includes people who come to this country on business for extended periods of time and are therefore faced with many aspects of everyday life in America.

The third group includes the ever-growing numbers of foreign students who pursue their education in American colleges and universities. A more thorough understanding of the culture that surrounds them will undoubtedly reduce the negative effects of “culture shock” and will allow the students to use their time in the US more productively. The chapter devoted to education, being the most extensive, describes the US education system, college admission process, and specifics of life on campus.

People who do not speak Russian but belong to one of the three groups mentioned above will also find this book to be of value. As far as I know, books in English that discuss this subject are few and far between, and none of them cover all the issues of interest to new American residents in any detail.

Why have you decided to write this book?   

The idea for this book first came to me long before my arrival in the US. When our family realized that immigration was a possibility, we started avidly reading everything we could find about America. To my surprise, I discovered that there was almost no useful information about everyday life in the United States and the process of acculturation all immigrants must go through.

I remember the only article, published in a Soviet magazine “Science and Technology,” that gave the kind of information I was looking for. Its author talked about his first visit to the supermarket shortly after his arrival in the United States. He described in detail everything he saw and did from the moment he came through the door until the moment he left. He then described meeting an electrical engineer from the Soviet Union who had been in the United States for about ten years. In a relatively short article, the author painted a detailed picture of this man’s living conditions, income, work history over the period of his immigration, etc. At the time of his conversation with the author, Boris (I think that was his name) was in charge of the Research and Development department of an engineering firm. Our family got more out of that article than out of everything we had read up to that point, and we felt confident that we, too, could successfully adjust to life in a new country.

It was then that I decided, once in the US, to gather all the possible concrete information about the issues every newcomer is bound to encounter and to write this book.

Please, tell us what this book is about?

The contents of this book reflect practically all aspects of day-to-day life in America.
The book describes in detail such topics as rent and purchase of a car, bank services and a credit history, job search and promotion, taxes, income level for different occupations, expense structure of American family, colleges and universities admission processes and academics, social security and pension system, insurance and healthcare, help for elderly and disabled, purchase and sale of a real estate and many other things.

I know, that for many women that come to America luck of English creates a big problem not only communicating with American husbands but also delays an adjustment to new environment. Many of them take ESL classes. How can your book help them to learn English?

The book is published in a bilingual version and can be used both by people who have no knowledge of English and by those who are fluent in it. People that are not speaking English can read this book in their native language. Those readers who have some background in English can use the Russian text as a reference, and the readers who are fluent in English can read just the English version, learning the necessary information and practicing their reading skills at the same time. If they encounter an unfamiliar word, they can easily find its meaning in the Russian version of the text.

This book allows to release stress, giving newcomers the necessary information in their native language and, at the same time, helping them to learn English language, providing convenience of the translated text because they will not need to use the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words and expressions.

Let us talk about housing. Usually, women that married Americans come to America have a place to live in. Their husbands already rent apartments or own houses. Why would they be interested in chapters dedicated to housing?

Americans rather frequently change a residence and if a husband rented an apartment or had a house, which was adequate for his bachelor life, it is quite probable, that after a marriage it will be necessary to move to another place. The women should have knowledge about all sides of the housing market to participate in this process.

I think that our readers might be interested in the chapter about automobiles and roads. What, in your opinion, should woman remember when she gets behind the wheel for the first time?

The cost of traffic rule violations in the US is high. The worst penalty is a suspension of one’s driver’s license for a certain period of time, because as we already mentioned, without a license a person loses his or her freedom to move about and becomes dependent on others.

Usually, when you break a traffic rule, you will be stopped by a patrol car with flashing lights rather than by an officer on foot. This in itself is unpleasant enough for anyone, and much worse for someone who has only recently arrived in the country and does not speak the language well. It is very easy to give in to panic and start acting the way you would act in your country. Do not do that under any circumstances. You can find recommendations in the book what to do in this situation.

There are several chapters in your book about money. I think this is very important subject. Unfortunately, many people think that it is not important for house wife to have a bank account, good credit history, to know how to pay taxes, and at the end how to secure retirement income. This is wrong! I hope that your book will help Russian women and their husbands to avoid this mistake.

Americans consider it inappropriate to ask others about their income. It is a more personal matter than even age or health. In some families, members do not always know exactly how much the head of the household makes. A husband and wife may have separate bank accounts and file separate tax returns while sharing joint expenses.
The financial side of life in America is much more complex, than in many other countries. Many families live from a paycheck to a paycheck, and even having very high income, are deep in debt. Annually about 1.5 million people file for bankruptcy. It is absolutely necessary to be familiar with finance and to have a good credit history, irrespective of who is a "breadwinner" in the family. It is even more important for the woman who has very little confidence in her future.

Career is also very important in women's life. How do you think your book can help to get an education or find a job?

The labor market in the US is extensive and diverse, but it has its idiosyncrasies that may be unfamiliar to people who have recently arrived in the country. One of these distinct features is its unpredictability. People change jobs and even move to another part of the country fairly often, looking for something that better suits them. Many work and go to school at the same time in order to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Because of this, employee turnover in many common occupations is very high. No one finds this surprising or depressing; society has simply adapted to this. Every day, new technologies are developed that allow people to do many jobs without any special skills or with minimal training. This means that even with poor command of English or none at all, it is possible to find an unskilled job, but it will be difficult to replace it with something better. It is absolutely necessary to learn new skills and it can be done at any age. Chapters dedicated to employment and education are the largest and cover all their important aspects.

What can be interesting for moms in your book?

Even if your child is learning English quickly and seems to be adjusting to life in America without any problems, he or she is facing challenges that are as real and serious as the ones your are dealing with, and perhaps even more so.

Many people believe that those who move to another country between the ages of 14 and 18 make this transition at the best possible age. Because they have mastered their native language and can remember a lot about life in their home country, they do not risk “losing” their language and culture completely, but at the same time, they are young enough to learn English fully and become “real” Americans, something that may not be possible for their parents, grandparents, and even older siblings. Although there may be some truth to this belief, it is also true that in many ways, teenagers have a harder time adjusting to a new culture than people who are older or younger.

What else you would like to bring to our reader's attention?

The opportunity to come to America - the richest and most powerful country in the world - is justly considered a blessing by many people and in some cases leads to unrealistic expectations of guaranteed prosperity without the need to work too hard to achieve it. It would be a big mistake to think this way. Emigration was, is and always will be full of trials and obstacles. Very often these problems are psychological, based on cultural differences and lack of English proficiency.

Nevertheless, if you come here legally and are ready to face the difficulties that await you; if you strive to become independent as soon as possible and do not expect to get anything you did not earn; if you are able to understand and accept a new culture that may be very different from your own, then “Welcome to America!”

Welcome to America: The Complete Guide for Immigrants

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