When in Rome...


This blog post is really for the many people like me that had to go through a period of assimilation or currently going through that time adaptation into a new environment. I went through it and learned a few things I think are worth sharing.  I believe that one of the ways to succeed in the U.S or a foreign land is to assimilate to an extent. Adapt to the new environment but don’t forget about the values instilled in you. I’ll give three reasons why this is necessary, but let me give you some background first.

In my first blog post, The Real Richie Mills, I shared one of the many things my mom told me when I was moving to the U.S. that stuck with me even up to today. She said that because I didn’t grow up in the United States and was moving here in my teen years, I was already at a disadvantage because most of my peers born in the U.S. have their families and support systems here, probably have grandparents who set up a college fund for them, started making life-long friendships before I got here, etc. My somewhat late arrival to the states already worked against me because I was starting fresh. I had to catch up to my peers and work twice as hard if I wanted to make the assimilation process easy. What my mom meant by this piece of advice was that I needed to motivate myself to fit into the U.S culture while still maintaining my values, beliefs and culture. What many Americans take for granted is that people like me who have to assimilate into a new culture have to work extremely hard because in addition to jumping right into school or the work force, those people are also trying to figure out how things work in this foreign environment. There’s no waiting period, you’re thrown right into the lions’ den. That process alone is a full-time job in my opinion, so remember to treat foreigners with love and kindness. It helps them through the tough assimilation process.

The reason I wrote this blog post is for those individuals that choose to immigrate to the United States and refuse to adapt to the system and how things work. I understand holding on to your values and your foundation. I understand that America is a huge melting pot with different cultures. That’s what makes our country special. I also understand that some Americans love individuals who move here from other countries because of the cultural differences, accents and all that. Believe me, I get all that and support everything I have mentioned above. However, in order to be successful in the United States (or any any other foreign country) as an individual who wasn’t born or raised here (there), you must adapt and assimilate to an extent. Some people move to the U.S. and want everyone to know that they are not originally from here because they believe their culture is better. Some have made up their minds that they have to remain exactly who they are because of some of the negative stereotypes placed on the American culture. But let me say it again: In order to be successful in the United States (or any other foreign country) as an individual who wasn’t born or raised here (there), you must adapt and assimilate to an extent. News flash: You are in a foreign land!

It’s easy for me to go through my daily activities, meet strangers, have conversations, etc and no one ever knows I was originally born in Ghana. But sometimes situations come up where my values as a Ghanaian differentiate me from others, and that is one of the reasons why I think I have had some success in this foreign land. That process of assimilating while maintaining your values is essential if you are going to succeed in the U.S.

Even though this assimilation process is necessary, I’ll also be the first to admit that not all the outcomes of assimilation are positive, but I believe the positives outweigh the negatives so I’ll focus on three basic positive reasons to assimilate.

Here are three reasons why it’s important to assimilate:

  1. It’s important to adapt to an extent because it helps you understand how things work in your new environment. There are a lot of things here in the U.S that are different in every other country on the planet. Refusing to adapt could mean you might never understand the system completely and how to take advantage of some of the things this great country offers. You can read all you want, but experience is the best
  2. You can actually improve your communication skills and daily interactions with others. One thing I noticed when I moved to the U.S was that I kept my conversations short because I didn’t want say anything that sounded different or create an awkward situation where someone said something that should’ve made sense to me but didn’t. I also consider myself to be a pretty funny guy, but trust me, being funny in Ghana does not translate to funny in the U.S. My sense of humor is much different than a lot of people who grew up here, so it was important not to make a fool of myself. It’s great when your accent and your cultural differences can help start up a conversation and break the ice with a stranger. But you can’t always peak someone’s interest just because you are from a different country. At some point, you have to be able to relate to them on a different level, and usually that means connecting with that stranger on things that they know, like, and are comfortable with. It can’t always be about your life and your experiences. You must be able to relate with others on their level as well. Without assimilating and adapting, that relationship with those who grew up in your new environment could be a struggle.
  3. Adapting to your new environment could be the reason you receive a job offer over someone else. Crazy, I know. Even though I can’t claim my next statement as fact, I’ll still say it’s more fact than fiction. I believe that individuals like myself that grew up in a foreign country have a slight advantage in areas like education and work ethic over those who grew up in the U.S. Even though the U.S can boast of an unrivaled education system, (duh, that’s one of the reasons why I’m here) I know that the education system in other countries is tougher and usually much more advanced (and free. Let’s not forget about these loans). I was studying U.S 12th grade level material in sixth grade in Ghana. When I moved here, I never studied in high school. I still graduated with a 3.5 GPA without ever studying for one test. Of course, that changed when I got to college. When it comes to work ethic, I believe that because other countries might not be as blessed as the U.S is, those that emigrate from less fortunate countries are already accustomed to working a little harder for everything they have. Those people naturally tend to appreciate the opportunities of this country over those born here.  Of course, this doesn’t apply to every foreigner. I know many foreigners who don’t have the drive and passion I just described. With that said, I’ll go back to my initial point which was that adapting to your new environment could be the reason you receive a job offer over someone else. As an immigrant, you probably already have the drive, work ethic and desire for success, but those things are sometimes not enough. Refusing to adapt to your new environment could mean you miss out on an opportunity to someone who doesn’t have as much experience or someone who doesn’t have the same educational background because the employer could relate better to them. Most jobs nowadays are filled because the hiring manager knew the person or knew someone who referred the new employee. Managers are shifting more towards hiring their others with similar personalities. I’ve been on a team like that before and in my opinion, I believe a manager that hires this way is setting his/her team up for failure. A diverse team (different cultures, ethnicities and personalities) fosters a creative environment… but I digress. What I’m saying here is that because finding a job these days has become a “who do you know” process, it helps if you can relate to others. One way to do that is to adapt and assimilate into your new culture.  

I only shared three reasons, but I will share more in a future blog.

The fact of the matter is that you don’t have to lose your beliefs, values or your heritage. That’s not what I am saying. In fact, I encourage you to hold on to those values if they truly have meaning to you. I know that without some of the values instilled in my while growing up in Ghana, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There are so many temptations and traps that immigrants easily fall victim to once they become Americanized. But you cannot also refuse to adapt and assimilate into your new environment. Learn the culture, appreciate the differences, see what positives you can take and add to your culture. Learn to understand those who grew up in your new environment. Don’t try to fit in by force, but at least make a conscious effort and remind yourself that in order to succeed in this new place, you must be able to understand the ways of the people and interact with them.

For the individuals that have assimilated into this new land and have forgotten the values instilled in them by their parents, it’s really unfortunate. The one advantage immigrants have is a sense of a different culture and values that some of your peers don’t have. Why waste the only advantage you have?

When in Rome, do as the Romans, but don’t forget the values mama instilled in you.