I immigrated to the USA three years ago into a society that had more freedom and cultural diversity than my native country Nigeria. During the first months of my stay in the new country, I could hardly communicate with other people outside my family. This was because I was unable to express myself fluently in English language; moreover, I also had difficulties understanding the fast talking Americans. This also meant that I hardly got half of what I heard being spoken.
Being in a new environment can be very challenging. The difficulties begin with the new culture, customs and values. In addition, new places mean unfamiliar territory, where a simple task, such as going to retail store to buy basic products or to school means unfamiliar direction. In my country, I always knew where I was going. If not, I had ideas on the directions that should take me to place I intended to go. When I had the need to go to unfamiliar places I could always inquire the directions from anyone nearby. I knew that, as long as they were familiar with the places I was inquiring, they could always give me the direction. In the USA asking for directions to any place became difficult for me. The reason is that, it is difficult to understand my limited English and the funny accent for the USA citizens. I was also not familiar with maps. Those who offered their help, would ask for maps, so that they could point out the directions that I should take.
So, besides being overwhelmed by the tall buildings, the myriad transportation systems, and endless freeways, maps became my other inadequacy. This made me very shy, and I was ashamed of asking for directions. The expression “sorry can you repeat that” would send me into a shameful state. Eating out without my parents also was a very challenging task; the food varieties available in the USA were not familiar to me. It would take a while to make up my mind on what to eat at times ordering what I saw most people eating. My language problems often lead to embarrassing experiences. At one point, I ordered food by asking what the customer ahead of me had ordered, for so as not to hold the line. I was unaware that I could not afford the same order. So, when I gave the cashier only ten dollars, I he looked at me, as if he had seen a ghost. It also occurred that the earlier customer had placed an order enough to feed a family of five. I will never again repeat the expression “same as his order”. I was used to using such expressions to avoid difficulties with people understanding my accent and the limited English that I spoke. Travelling also became an issue, especially during the rush hours. During the rush hour period, I found out that everyone seemed to be in such a hurry that they do not have any patience with anyone holding the lines to or making enquiries. I remember a man pointing at map on the subway station wall and telling men “read the map fool”. The expression on his face and the smirks from a group of youngsters behind him were enough to stop me from asking anyone else for the direction. As a result, I ended up taking the wrong train, so I ended up in the wrong state.
I began to get lonely and homesick, despite I have moved into the USA with my family. I missed my friends in Nigeria, since I was unable to make new ones in my new country. Every time I tried to make new friends, they would end up laughing at my inability to communicate fluently with them. After taking English classes to strengthen my language skills, my life has changed, and communication became easier. In the English classes, I met new people from other countries, sharing my experiences with them helped me to ease my troubles, since we could share the similar difficulties we had undergone. The past difficulties in finding directions, ordering food or generally trying to strike conversations with new people and failing, became so humorous that I regained my confidence. My embarrassing situations were now a source of funny jokes and amusing stories that I narrated so many times to my new classmates and friends. Their laughter would begin even before I got through telling my experience. Learning to communicate fluently has given me renewed confidence.
My accent is no longer a source of embarrassment, but a source of pride, as those who hear me speaking enquire about my country of origin. Whenever I meet people from my native country, accompanied by my new friends, they are always amused to hear us having conversation in my native language. Some of my friends today even ask for my help to learn some words from my native tongue. I end up laughing as they struggle to pronounce the simple words that I learned as a little child. So, today, I am not longer laughed at, for having difficulties communicating in English. I usually end up laughing, as my friends struggle to pronounce words in my native language. I have also recognized that my experiences are not unique, as most immigrants who learn English as their second language encounter similar difficulties. Be it in communications, or the cultural shock that one encounters in a new environment.