I have mentioned in previous blogs that there were certain things that were completely different and shocking to me when I immigrated to the U.S. I haven’t had the chance to share some of those and some of my readers have asked me to.
So here are five things that were cultural shocks to me or didn’t meet my expectations when I immigrated to the U.S.
1. Interactions between kids/teens and adults: I’ve always bragged about how I was raised in Ghana by my parents, family, teachers etc. because prior to moving to the U.S, I thought it was the norm, but I realize now that I was fortunate. In my intro blog, I shared some of the reasons why I believe I have an appreciation for life as an American and why hard work, a positive attitude and respect for others (especially my elders) are important to me. My appreciation for life as an American is because I grew up seeing how hard my parents worked and how those I looked up to were successful even though the opportunities available to them in Ghana could never compare to the opportunities we have in the U.S. I was also taught be respectful to my elders. I couldn’t talk to my parents any how I wanted, and I couldn’t get away with talking to my teachers or other adults in a disrespectful manner. I dare you to go to Ghana and talk back, disrespect or be rude to a teacher, parent or someone in authority and tell me how it feels to taste the wrath of the cane, belt or shoe. The phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child” was part of our culture in Ghana. As a child, you knew exactly what lines you couldn’t cross, and if you did, an adult had the right to discipline you without worrying about having to face the law or Child Protective Services (CPS), unless they went overboard. Those incidents were isolated.
I thought this was the norm till I immigrated back to the U.S. for good. I was completely in shock when I saw how kids interacted with teachers, their parents and adults in authority. My mind was blown when I heard a kid in class say something rude to a teacher or spoke to a teacher as if they were co-equals. Sometimes, the way kids interacted with adults wasn’t necessarily rude, but there was a sense to me that there was no clear distinction between the child and the adult in authority. The sad part was that it seemed like teachers couldn’t really do much to punish a students because there was a chance they were crossing a line.
I remember the first time I saw a little boy yell at his mom and curse her out because she wouldn’t buy him something from the store. I just turned around because my Ghanaian instinct was expecting that to be the last few minutes of the little boy’s life (not literally). I expected to see a spanking, but to my surprise, I heard his mom say, “Ok baby, what do you want?” WAIT… REALLY? That’s how things work around here?
I quickly learned that Americans have created a culture that frowns upon disciplining a kid. Teachers and parents have very little to no authority over kids, and some parents will even take the side of their children against a teacher or another adult if their child was reprimanded. Not a chance that would happen in Ghana. If you went home and told your parents that your teacher spanked you or gave you lashes, they would probably ask what you did, punish you some more and go to your school the next day to thank your teacher for disciplining you.
Some of you may think that I am insinuating that parents and teachers should have the right to physically discipline children. In reality, I’m not claiming that at all. Even though that form of discipline shaped me into the man I am today and is one that I believe in, I also understand that there are other ways to discipline and train a child without using a cane, switch or belt. Maybe parents just need to evaluate how they are raising their kids, because part of the reason why some kids have no respect for others and especially adults in authority is because their parents allow them to do that at home.
One of the most popular expressions in Ghana is “charity begins at home.” It was clear to me after a few months living here permanently that it wasn’t the same, and it SHOCKED the snot out of me. (This didn’t apply to all kids or parents or teachers in America. Just a general sense I had when I moved here)
2. Race relations: This topic is a sensitive one for me because of some of the incidents coming to light in our country today especially against African-American males. Prior to emigrating from Ghana, I was never aware that a group of people could be treated so differently in this day and age IN AMERICA, and that is why I don’t speak much about this topic. I'm not educated enough on the topic to eloquently express how I feel about race issues in America, but it doesn't take genius to know that we have a long way to go. I always thought everyone was treated equally until I immigrated to the U.S. In fact, during my time in Ghana, our culture had so much love and respect for other cultures and ethnicities that when people from other countries came to visit us, we made them feel like kings and queens. It was all love-- a culture of love for others. It was shocking to me when I came to the U.S. and learned about the history of race relations in this country. It was comforting to see that we were making strides, but then seeing some of incidents today tells me that maybe those strides aren’t long enough. We still have a long way to go, and I pray everyday that God protects me and looks after me. I’ve experienced racism in this country many times, and it doesn’t feel good. Sometimes, it made me wish I was back in Ghana, but I know this is where God wants me to be.
Let me also say that I’m not happy with some things I have read recently about some Americans and Europeans moving to Ghana and trying to implement racial boundaries. I also know about the dislike amongst some ethnic groups in Ghana and amongst some African countries as a whole. I’m not ignorant to ignore those facts and the race issues that plagued some African countries like South Africa in the past, but prior to moving to the U.S., I never thought this great country we call America would still have issues pertaining to equality. Come on! In this day and age, the color of my skin should not define how I am treated. I knew America was a great country because it was a place of many different cultures coming together, but I didn't think the same reason why this country was great was the same reason why I would be treated differently.
3. Technological advancement: This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but I appreciate living in the U.S. because technological advancements have made life comfortable. And when I talk about technological advancements, you might be surprised to know that I am referring to the most basic needs and inventions. I remember being just so giddy landing in the U.S. many times and walking out of the plane and through a jet bridge rather than deplaning via a staircase and boarding a bus to baggage claim. That was so cool to me. I have an appreciation for the little things because whenever I am in Ghana, I am reminded that the things we take for granted here in America are things Ghanaians wish they didn’t have to deal with. Having electricity without rolling blackouts or power shedding, having constant flowing water and even the quality of our roads are things I don’t take for granted. I know most of the things I am describing here are things that are expected in first-world countries, so it’s probably not a big deal to some of you, but it made me appreciate being here. My visits to the hospital were mind-blowing because of how easy and smooth the process was and how safe I felt compared to my experiences in Ghana. Being able to get a Big Mac via the drive-thru blew my mind, and going to a huge mall left me speechless as a little boy who just permanently moved to the U.S.
Ghana now how a lot of these things, and there are places in Ghana much nicer than the U.S., however with all the resources Ghana has, the country still struggles with corruption and the inability to provide the citizens with basic amenities like constant electricity and water. You better appreciate the basic amenities you have come to expect in America.
4. School: Going to school in the U.S. was a shock as well because of how easy it was. High school was so easy in the sense that I just needed to put in half the effort I would’ve needed in Ghana to pass a class. To me, I knew I could impress the teachers because there were many kids who were not bothered with assignments or about their grades. The teachers loved me because I paid attention, submitted assignments on time, and actually put effort into submitting work that had some thought behind it. I made their lives easy. In reality, I would’ve needed more of an effort to pass similar classes in Ghana because the educational system was not conducive to students who weren’t giving 110 percent of their time. In essence, I knew that most of my peers would completely fail all their classes if they went to school in Ghana not because they weren’t’ smart, but because the system would have worked against them. The things they were used to in America like small class-size, office-hours, extra credit, retaking tests, dropping your worst grade, etc. were not available in Ghana. The education system here allowed me to be successful just by putting a little more effort into my assignments. The opportunities to better understand something taught in class and to make a pretty high grade on a test were opportunities I didn’t have in Ghana. Part of the reason why High School was easy for me was also because I had already seen and studied most of the content during my time in Ghana at a very young age. If I could manage the system in Ghana, this American system was set up to benefit someone like me. That all changed when I went to college and was starting fresh with my peers. That was a challenge for me, but the ease with which I got through High School was shocking to me.
5. Food: This was more disappointing than shocking. When I lived in Ghana, all I heard was how burgers and pizzas were so great. I couldn’t wait to try the so-called American cuisine. Once I finally got here, It was honestly underwhelming to say the least. Really? Burgers, pizza, pasta, mac n cheese, hot dogs, cobb salads, grilled cheese, ham? That’s what we eat in America? Hey, don’t get me wrong; there are some American dishes that I will dominate, but I miss Ghanaian food so much, and it wasn’t till I moved here that I realized how great Ghanaian cuisine was. I miss it so much. These burgers aren’t cutting it for me. Apart from the food in Ghana being so good, it is clean, healthy and made with fresh ingredients. There was nothing in my food I couldn’t pronounce or describe. I never miss out on an opportunity to enjoy some international cuisine in America. I enjoy Ghanaian (African in general), Caribbean, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. but I couldn’t be bothered with American cuisine.
I love life in the U.S though, and I appreciate all the opportunities that come with being a citizen of this great land.
Have you had a chance to visit other countries? What were the biggest cultural differences you experienced?