Adjusting to Life in the U.S.

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Adjusting to Life in the U.S.

Ever since she was a young child, Elizabeth Swastiwari of Indonesia dreamed of living abroad.  She had always believed becoming acquainted with people of other cultures would enhance the way she saw the world. That dream was realized in 2005, when she joined the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship cohort at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to study Urban and Regional Planning.

Of course, living in a new culture was not without its challenges. Elizabeth said the first thing she learned in the United States was that Americans expect others to be on time:

The very first thing I [learned] during my stay [was] time punctuality. One of our hosts promised that she would pick us up at 7:30 A.M. to go to the garage sale to find furniture for our apartment. Of course, she came to our place on time while I was still doing some other things and not ready at all yet. I had to be ready in five minutes without any chance to take [a] shower. Since then, I tried to do my best to be ready before the planned schedule or to inform in advance if I have to be late for any reason whatsoever.

Elizabeth learned that living in a different culture means dealing with different expectations and different values. Spending a year in the U.S. allowed her to understand different cultures and get along with people from many backgrounds, skills that aided her once she returned home:

A year after returning from New Brunswick, my company assigned me to be involved in the corporate project to implement a new customer service system. Our consultants came from Indonesia and the Philippines with an auditor from Australia. The experience to get along with people from countries with different cultures during the Humphrey program made me easily develop the team work and the communication with the whole team and finally put me in the position as one of the key persons in the project. The good relationship rests not only in a client relationship but also as friends.

Hubert Humphrey Fellows no doubt face challenges adjusting to life in the United States, but, as Elizabeth found, they emerge from the program armed with a set of multicultural tools that prepare them to be leaders in their home countries.

Note: The United States is a monochronic culture, while Indonesia is polychromic. To learn more about time orientation, click here: http://www.celt.iastate.edu/international/CulturalDifferences3.html