Updated on 09.16.14

The Land Of Opportunity

Trent Hamm

Recently, I’ve had some splendid conversations with a number of people from all over the world who are thinking about coming to the United States to live or – in one case – sending their nearly-adult children to live in the United States. I was surprised and interested in the questions they asked me, and I found out that many people outside the United States think of the entire United States as being a mix of Washington D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles.

This realization, along with the questions themselves, led me to prepare a list of things that a new person to the United States should know about living freely and frugally in America. Obviously, this list is far from complete, and many of the items may already be known in other areas of the world, but knowing these things can make a huge difference in the cost and in the quality of life in America. Some of these are very much cultural in nature, but being aware of them can save you a lot of money and a lot of grief. Please, if you are an American reader and believe I have left off a vital tip, leave it in the comments.

10 Things To Know About Living Freely And Frugally In America

1. Know English, and work on it constantly

I have many friends from China and Korea and the biggest connection that they all have is that their English is often surprisingly weak when they first arrive in the United States. The best thing that you can do is to find native English speakers and converse with them as much as possible. Consider it a free education, because being able to speak fluent conversational English is valuable everywhere.

2. Most Americans are surprisingly outgoing and patient if you need help or have questions

When you arrive in the United States, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Use them as a resource – don’t waste time or money when the information you need is basic. Most Americans are quite willing to help others out in most situations. This is not a guarantee, of course, but I have witnessed countless times where individuals have went quite far to help out people who are unfamiliar with the culture. This especially goes for people of Arabian descent who are worried about potential discrimination – it’s simply not true in day to day life for most Americans. You will undoubtedly find a small minority of people who have some very narrow viewpoints – don’t let these people cloud your view of the openness of America.

3. Don’t wildly display your own culture until you are familiar with American life

When I travel abroad, I make it a point to dress in minimalist clothing until I understand what is going on, what is culturally acceptable, and what is not. There are lots of subtle things going on in any culture, and until you understand them, you will do well by minimizing the things you can control that might violate those small cultural rules that you are unaware of. This will almost always make interactions with others easier and make it much simpler to make connections with people. Once you’re familiar with American culture, by all means, dress and behave as you please, but while you are still learning and making little cultural mistakes, your cultural expressions may make the situation worse than it already is.

4. America is not a conservative looney-bin

Many outsiders view presidential politics as a reflection of the beliefs of the average American. This is foolish; it is much like believing that every Venezuelan believes the same things Hugo Chavez believes, or that every Iranian believes what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes. America has a very, very wide range of accepted political opinions and every American has the right to express those opinions. If you come to America and don’t like something, it is your right to complain about it and make your feelings known to whoever you wish, as long as you don’t make threatening actions. With great freedom comes great responsibility, and as more and more different cultures begin to interact with all the freedom we have, there needs to be some level of protection of individual safety. This is not an easy balancing act, and it’s something that we’re all trying to define for ourselves and for our nation. Sometimes, we might swing too far one way; at other times, we might not have safeguards at all and people get hurt. What’s the balance? I don’t know – no one does – but America does have the freedom to find out and it’s a process that everyone can participate in. And that’s as political as I’m probably ever going to get.

5. The cost of daily life varies wildly in different parts of the United States

Now that some basic cultural things are out of the way, we can start looking at some money issues. Generally, the East Coast and West Coast are extremely expensive places to live, while the interior of the country (especially outside of the largest cities) is much less expensive. If you are coming to the United States for schooling or for work, you can accept a much lower salary or stipend in the central part of the United States (Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Mississippi, Arkansas, etc.) than you can in coastal areas (California, New York, Washington, etc.).

6. The “average” American home is incredibly nice

This is something that is surprising to both Americans and to the rest of the world. When an American thinks of an average home, they picture something that would be a very, very upper class home in almost every other part of the world, while when a non-American thinks of an average home, they view a home that would probably be torn down immediately in America. If the price of an “average” home in America is scaring you, remember that an average home in America is really quite luxurious.

7. Americans waste a lot

Many daily items in America come in packages, which is the exception rather than the rule compared to the rest of the world. As a result, most Americans waste a lot of stuff. They also tend to get rid of objects well before they are used up because of the convenience factor – and high standard of living – of simply getting a new one to replace it. Want an example? I described methods I used for eating very cheaply when I was doing my studies, and many readers were shocked by this and actually referred to me as insane. Almost all of these things are standard practice outside of the United States. If you keep many of the household things that you already do and just continue doing them when you arrive here, your cost of living will be much lower than the average American.

8. Many common items in America are quite expensive

Our system of wide-open competition helps with this (for example, British prices on most things are far higher than in America), but compared to the non-European world, prices in the United States are quite high. You can expect to pay $3 for milk, $1 for twelve eggs, and other such prices. It’s actually a shock for me to visit other nations, like Mexico, and to examine the prices there for staple foods and such – I’m almost in shock to see how low they seem.

9. However, many common items in America are completely outside the experience of non-Americans

I once had the opportunity of going with an individual from China when he visited a grocery store for the first time. We didn’t just go to a grocery store, actually, we took him to a SuperTarget, which is a grocery store and a department store all in one building. We walked around in there for fifteen minutes and the only thing he said was “I can’t believe there are this many different things in the world” (at least, that’s how it was translated). The array of options for buying everything is actually staggering to people unfamiliar with it. For example, I counted more than 250 different varieties of bread available at my local supermarket last night – countless different kinds from dozens of different manufacturers. This is normal. If you are overwhelmed by the choices, you are probably better off buying the least expensive option, then trying other options if you wish later.

10. Cultural and entertainment opportunities in America are almost infinite – and many are free

Look at the local community centers for ideas: post offices, town halls, chambers of commerce, and so forth. Check neighboring towns as well. There’s usually some sort of free entertainments available every night.

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  1. Jim Lippard says:

    Your point #6 is vividly depicted in this fantastic Shockwave teaching tool from Gapminder, “Dollar Street.”

    Point #8 is explained by America’s system of agricultural price supports, which the Doha round of trade talks has so far been unsuccessful in negotiating down, because neither the U.S. nor the EU wants to allow free trade and fair competition from the developing world when it comes to agriculture. The result is increased costs to the American poor and a decrease of income to the third world.

  2. Jim Lippard says:

    Looks like the Flash version only works with the Shockwave vList Xtra (which costs $299); there’s a downloadable version of Dollar Street that you can see at Gapminder.org, and it’s also depicted in this excellent lecture that occurred at Google.

    Gapminder and Google have collaborated to produce new online tools for graphical depiction of data.

  3. lane says:

    Thanks for the site. I am soinspired by your work! Keep up the good work! I enjoyed this piece very much because it’s so close to my heart! Granted we came from somewhere with great similarities to NY/CA, but culturally, we are different. We’ve been here for 6 years and it is still a cultural shock to me to see how some people spend and save and live on credit!

    We are in the Bay Area, CA and are living on one income with a toddler (earning below the median income in the city we live). Granted we are renting and hope to buy one day, we are able to save more than 25% of our gross last year, with me in part-time school. Yes, we try (it’s hard) to keep ourselves out of TARGETs. We don’t carry debts now. We have only one car. We eat well and continue to tithe faithfully and be thankful each day!

    We hope to enjoy the American dream one day – to afford the outrageous house in the Bay Area.

    THANKS for the hope!

  4. Cindy says:

    In regards to your keeping chickens….I find that fascinating and would love to see an article by you on how to do that in a suburban backyard type of setting.

  5. Angela says:

    Re: #3: what does “wildly display” mean? I understand the importance of understanding the new culture when you move to another country, but I feel like the vagueness of the phrase risks coming off as offensively assimilationist. You know: don’t be one of THOSE immigrants that is always found chattering in their own language, dressing “funny,” cooking their native foods that smell “funny,” etc. The way you phrase it, I feel like it implies that something about an immigrant’s native culture could inherently be offensive–but this would be okay when you’re sufficiently familiar w/American culture, but not before… which doesn’t make sense to me.

  6. F1Student says:

    Nice post, Trent! Most of your advice is spot on – but there are a lot of crazy laws and loopholes that apply to nonresidents in the US. I’ve written a post in response detailing some of those, because it’s far too long for a comment!

    Here it is.

  7. chris says:

    Just some comments to add –

    We have a strong car culture throughout most of the country partially because public transportation is limited.

    So if an immigrant is considering a move anywhere other than a large city, they need to consider the cost of a car.

    Another observaton regarding supermarkets is that it isn’t just the number of options that can be shocking to recent immigrants, it’s also the high cost and low quality of foods that have been imported from around the world – I highly recommend seeking out local farmers markets for lower cost and higher quality foods.

  8. i have a lot of issues with what you are saying.

    #8: are you thinking about average living costs and currencies in countries? because if you are, the ratio of what eggs costs in an asian country comparing to an average person’s salaries is roughly the same here. maybe slightly less. true, a shirt in korea may cost on $5 US, but a month’s salaries is also not $3000 US. it’s significantly less.

    ESPEICALLY #9… i feel like i am watching that movie Crocodile Dundee again. remember the scene where he was shocked that there were cars? yeah, i am sorry, but asian people eat bread too, including china. i have lived and worked in different parts of china for 3 months and yes, they do eat bread. so comments like “I can’t believe there are this many different things in the world”are just another stereo typical wrongful translation. i am sorry, i don’t live like a joy luck club novel. it’s not like we are a 3rd world country that never seen western civilizations before. i have real issues that people take limited perceptions from one segment of a country and assume that it applies to the entire country or worse, entire region. i am from asia myself. we do eat bread, we just don’t eat 30 different varieties of bread like safeway provides.

    and what is up with a non-immigrant person writing about the american experience from an immigrant’s point of view? how would you know what we went through? i am quite angry by the fact that my assimilation experiences being boiled down to 12 silly points that don’t even begin to describe what a real immigrant goes through to assimilate into american society. what are you going to cover next? 12 things you need to know about american racism? about discrimination because your parents’ english accent is not perfectly american and people pretend they don’t understand them so you have to deal with everything for them because you can’t bear to watch how mean people can be to your own family?!

    know english? puh-lease! and what is “wildly display your culture?” please, stick with what you know.

  9. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Reader, please actually read the article before filling four paragraphs full of uninformed points. I’ve spent most of my adult life working, living, and associating with non-native Americans.

    For the price difference issue, people hear that they can make $50,000 in the United States, put that in the context of the prices they know, and come to America with skewed expectations.

    I know very well Asians eat bread, the point is that they can’t walk to their local supermarket and find 250 different kinds of bread. That’s a subtle but powerful cultural difference that is hard for a lot of people to overcome. You even admit this yourself, so I think you are complaining for the sake of complaining.

    As for the cultural differences, dressing in a highly ethnic fashion will get you noticed as an outsider in any society. If you wish to be seen that way, that’s your own choice, but choosing atypical clothing from the cultural norm is going to cause you problems.

    The purpose of this post was to point out a few things about America that aren’t initially obvious or clear to outsiders so that they will feel more welcome in America, something which many people do not feel right now. I am writing to people who aren’t in the United States, or have never visited here.

    You clearly did not read the article as a whole and read it with a chip on your shoulder for some reason that isn’t clear.

  10. Robin says:

    Thanks for the great post! “A very angry reader” has a chip on his shoulder, you’re points are well received and well-intentioned. I live in Korea and deal with wild misconceptions about the States often. I’ll suggest this post for those of my students who want to know more.

  11. Tim says:

    really, the purpose is assimilation Angela. Every other country in the world expects it when foreigners live in their countries, why can’t the US? However, a lot has to due with being flexible and adaptive. People survive because they are adaptive.

    Trent, a big thing to add to your nice list is culture shock and over expectation. Many foreigners get their impressions of the US from television and movies. Culture shock: the US isn’t the movies. You can get anything and everything you want 24 hours a day for the most part. Not many countries have this luxury. All the consumerism can and will be overwhelming. The pressures to buy, act, and dress a certain way will be there. Over expectation: Although the US is still a land of opportunity, it does not happen overnight. Some one with a doctorate or who is a MD from abroad may have difficulty earning ends meat in the US. Skills, licenses, etc are not fungible to the US in many cases. Have patience and work hard. I think the US still pays off for entrepeneurs.

    Realistically, people from abroad have no motivation nor need to assimilate. There are plenty of communities that foreigners gravitate toward, because of already existing ethnic populations. Chinatown, J-Town, K-town, middle easterns and southeasterns in Dearborne Michigan, Russians in San Fran, Cubans in Miami, Mexicans all over, etc. Foreigners will be surprised if it is their first trip to the US that they can live in America as they did in their home countries.

  12. Angela says:

    There’s a big big difference between acculturation & assimilation, Tim. The US is spectacular @ expecting immigrants that come here to shuck off their cultures of origin, despite the whole “melting pot” myth.

    Also, Trent:
    “choosing atypical clothing from the cultural norm is going to cause you problems”

    You could say this is true for native-born Americans as well (gothy teens post-Columbine, etc.). Why highlight this for immigrants? Again, it leads me to feel like you’re pushing for assimilation via stripping off one’s native culture.

  13. tim says:

    Having either lived and worked (I currently am), and travelled to over 100 countries, Angela, the US is probably the only country that does not force assimilation on foreigners. If you can think of one, please let me know because I’d like to visit there if I haven’t done so already. Again, why shouldn’t we expect some sort of assimilation? Absolutely ridiculous not to. However, that rather belays the point of the posting.

    The fact is, you do not have to do anything as a foreigner to live in the US. There are key points of entry for various ethnic groups and they can live their entire lives as they did in their home country. There is something rather irksome about people saying the US shouldn’t expect some sort of assimilation. What do you think a melting pot is? It is a melting of cultures, not a pot full of independent cultures. The only myth about the “melting pot” is the fact that foreigners can and do live without having melted into society.

    With that said, though, the biggest challenge to foreigners trying to live in the US are the mental maps carried by word of mouth, television and films about how it is living in the US. Second, is the freedoms that they will enjoy in the US even if they are not a citizen. However much we americans want to say the govt infringes on our liberties, the vast majority of foreigners wanting to live in the US have lived under far worse. The idea of buying in bulk, or buying a gadget for any and everything is a challenge. So, another suggestion would be let the US settle in on you, before you start rushing off and buying everything in site. Credit card debt will be very easy to rack up, especially if you are not a citizen in the US. I know many foreigners who have come to the US, racked up tons of debt and then left the country leaving the debt behind.

    BTW, I’m also an immigrant and work daily with immigrants.

  14. tim says:

    another suggestion is these great things we have in the US called all-u-can eat buffets. Nummy.

  15. Alicia says:

    The best information to prepare immigrants to come to America comes from other immigrants who have had the experience of living here. The perspective is different.

    The intolerence of ‘difference’ is a phenomena that occurs in most humans who see their fellow human beings as ‘other’. But the withering touch of western civilization has had a unique and unprecedented devastation on all cultures
    throughout the globe. And the premise of saving peoples from themselves with the bible or with democracy has been the Trojan horse used to exploit and pillage natural resources.

    The writer who you labeled ‘angry’ shouldn’t be dismissed. Her contributions have insight, and also represent a belief of many. It is a mistake to dismiss her opinion, regardless of how they are voiced.

  16. cciesquare says:

    Trent hit it on the head with people that come here with a misconception regarding high income in America. They hear wealth that is associated with America and they have a huge miss understanding.

    I am asian and I know a lot of people who come here in their 40s and older and expect that you can just get a job and be filthy rich instnatly.

    When they arrive they realize Americans work like crazy, all we do is work, and we work long hours. A few relatives I know mostly the elderly have become very depress because of this fact. Most of their family works long hours and they are at home alone.

    Or they dont realize that getting a job is not easy, not only that they dont expect to be lay off so often, and when they do they get frustrated.

    Another thing is car sickness. Depending on where you’re from and your experience with vechicles of any kind. Expect to be car sick if you’ve had no experiences with moving vechicles. I’ve had a few relatives vomit mintues after we left the aiport.

    On a funny note, many people coming to America are blown away at free refills for drinks. I’ve had friends coming here for the first time go crazy and try to drink as much as he could. You dont realize how awesome free refills are until you travel abroad. I was in france and had coffee. The waiter kept refilling my cup so I ASSUME it was free refills. When i got the bill it was not cool, I was charged for each refill =(

  17. icup says:

    A very angry reader said “it’s not like we are a 3rd world country “, referring to china. Actually, China *is* a 3rd world country. That doesn’t mean its “impoverished” or “provincial” or anything negative like that. In fact “3rd world” simply means “developing nation”.

  18. Angela says:

    Tim–again: there is a difference between assimilation & acculturation. You can be acculturated to a country while still maintaining your own native-born culture & traditions. Assimilation demands the shedding of what is deemed “foreign” or different.

    Frankly I don’t care if every country in the world demands assimilation (as opposed to acculturation–or are you still refusing to admit there’s a difference?), it’s still wrong.

  19. gmv says:

    Why is it wrong to expect assimilation? Newcomers to any country should expect to have to adapt to fit into their adopted culture. Otherwise they should just stay in their native country if they want familiarity of culture.

    That isn’t to say they can’t assimilate parts of their native culture into their new culture. But first they must be willing to adapt. Too bad if that seems unfair.

  20. yipyip says:

    Tim, Canada doesn’t force assimilation either, and contrary to the opinions of a surprising number of my American acquaintances, it’s still an independent country. (I’m serious. It’s distressing how many Americans think that Canada is basically a US state.)

    I’d just chime in on #9: when it comes to foodstuffs, picking the cheapest item is usually the wrong choice. The cheapest foodstuff tends to have the lowest nutritional value and the highest load of additives and other chemicals.

    One thing my parents observed in themselves (and others) when they came to North America was a rapid weight gain because the foods they were buying, were simply less nutritious than what they were used to. They found themselves eating a lot more, but their appetites dropped back to normal when they visited their birth countries. This all normalized as they discovered farmers’ markets and other sources of higher quality food.

  21. re: angry person says:

    I do apologize for the tone of my voice in previous comment, however, it is hurtful and infuriating to read about your own experience living and adapting in a foreign country being boiled down to some silly points that don’t even fit your own experience adequately, especially coming from someone who has no first hand experiences. Just as it would be me, a Taiwanese girl growing up in Taiwan and writing on “10 Tips on How to Grow up In North Carolina.”

    I am calmer now.

    For example, #1, “learn English.” Duh, simple enough and common sense, right? But not everything is so clear cut black and white. For kids like me who came at a young age of 15, shedding the accent is probably not as difficult. But for people well in their 50s, not so much. Can you imagine yourself being uprooted at the age of 50 where you should be thinking about retirement and learning a language that bears no resemblance of your own? Imagine yourself, at 50, trying to learn and speak Chinese, not to mention there are quite a few of different accents, just like in English where you have British accents, southern accents, etc. And then imagine yourself, a highly educated individual in your own country and able to write English fluently, being discriminated because you don’t speak that perfect American English accent while waiting in the line of buying toilet paper & ice cream in grocery store. Yeah, not so clear cut anymore.

    #2 Again, a gross generalization. People are patient when you speak fluently English. Not so much when you don’t speak much or still trying to learn some. Remember that scene in Rush Hour where Chris Tucker screams at Jackie Chen “Do You Understand A Word Coming Out of My MOUTH?” Yes, funny in films. Not so funny in real life. In high school, I got spat on by girls in my classes because I didn’t speak much English at that time and I couldn’t defend myself verbally. I also had numerous experiences while I was trying to learn English, people rolled their eyes because I didn’t speak perfectly or they stared me blankly. Yeah, not so funny in real life.

    #3 Display your own culture. When I first started high school in America, I was really ashamed of speaking Chinese with my Chinese friends in front of my American friends, because I feel awkward and very differently from them. I got in trouble with my Chinese friends because they thought I was ashamed of them. But then, my American friends thought it was really cool and asked me more questions about my own cultures. Much to my surprise, it was actually not so bad after all displaying your own culture.

    America is a country that encourages individuality. Our advertisements display that every day, same with many TV shows that encourages individuality. It’s true you may get in trouble displaying your own culture in a segregated area or an area that is uncomfortable with outside populations. But in metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco, Boston, cultural references and displays are perfectly acceptable. When I did my undergrad at Berkeley, I have had school friends who were African Americans wearing their clothing to school. No one had any problems with it.

    #4 America being a conservative loony bin. Um, have you seen the mainstream movies in America? Yes, those that are full with sex, violence and blood. Shockingly, they are the same mainstream movies abroad in Europe, Asia and many other places. Conservative loony bin? Loony bin, maybe. Conservative? Not really an image leaps to mind to many foreign people who live abroad or never been to America.

    5. Living costs wildly different in US. And that is true abroad as well. City living standards are wildly different from country sides. It’s the same in San Francisco, similarly in different parts of the world.

    6. Average American home is quite nice. Um, not really if you are in developed countries. It’s true if you live in a rural country in China. The “average American homes” in movies are QUITE nice, and that was how we used to think of America before we moved to the states. We thought that all Americans are rich because everyone has a yard. (You have to be uber rich to have a yard in Taiwan and actually the same in many small countries like Japan as well.)

    7. TOTALLY AGREE WITH THIS ONE. Americans do waste a lot. We are still quite puzzled by why we can’t buy just 1 roll of toilet paper but we have to buy 24 at the same time.

    8. Most common items in US are expensive. Not so true if you are comparing what is the ratio of living expenses vs. salaries. It’s true if you look at face values.

    9. re: your comments: I am not complaining for the sake of complaining. “I can’t believe there are this many different things in the world”? Please think about how superior sounding that is. No one lives under a rock. Bad translation? Probably.

    True, Safeway will give you 250 kinds of bread. But really, “I can’t believe there are this many different things in the world” has a completely different meaning than “I can’t believe there are so many different varieties of 1 thing.”

    Chip on my shoulder? I will admit to that. Again, live in my parents’ shoes for 1 year then come talk to me about how “jaded” I have become living in America. I have to say I have been spoiled by living on west coast. When I was working in DC 2 years ago, almost every time I took the bus, I would get comments like “China doll,” or “Yo from China?”

    Don’t get me wrong. I do like living in America. It’s truly the land of opportunity. I own my own small business and I live quite comfortably. Blatant racism like “chinks” “Orientals” I can take, but it’s words like these I cannot. I cannot stand on the sideline when people are being misled about what it is like being an immigrant here. Life is not as simple as 10 how to tips. I wish it was. There is just certainly no “how-to” guide or “10 tips.” Some of your opinions are geared toward your topic, but some are really not. Opinions like “wildly display your own culture” really have little relevancy to living freely and frugally in America.

  22. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    So, “angry person,” even though you agree with most points, you disagree with some and thus think the entire article is denigrating, even though you’re using your experience as a high school student as the basic for this statement when the article is clearly targeting adults?

    If you really think that “life is not as simple as 10 how to tips” is a good criticism of this article, you are missing the point entirely. Let me quote from the article: “Obviously, this list is far from complete, and many of the items may already be known in other areas of the world.” If you’re saying that no one anywhere can value from any of these points, you might be articulating a position, but by agreeing to many of them, you’re basically undermining your own argument.

    Instead of burning 1,000 words criticizing, why not be helpful and contribute your own points? My original article was helpful in many places (you say so yourself), so why not contribute something that might be helpful, too?

  23. Sun says:

    “My original article was helpful in many places” not so if all the people applauding here are your fellow Americans while all what you are talking about are supposed to target immigrants like me. And it doesn’t sound right to me to feel nothing but superior while giving “advices.” Unfortunately, that’s what I hear from most part of this post. BTW, I’d like to know the person who translated that “I can’t believe there are this many different things in the world” if possible.

  24. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I would expect that if I knew nothing about China and a person in China posted a similar thing for me to read, they would be “superior” to me. Also, notice the third comment to this post is actually from an immigrant who thought this would be helpful, and this piece was SUGGESTED by a person who is considering moving to the United States.

  25. re: angry person says:

    thanks, Sun & Alicia!

    i did NOT agree with most of your points. i agreed with a couple which are americans are wasteful & america is the land of opportunity. but apprently my english was not good enough and my words are twisted against my original intent.

    i went to high school 10 years ago and i am now a grown woman, as i stated in my 2nd post. and racism has become more subtle in this country, because everyone knows that if you call someone a nigger or a chink or whatever, you will be in trouble.

    even for adults, they face discriminations. my parents are very clear examples of this, which i kept talking about in both comments. they were both highly educated individuals, my mom was a doctor and my father was a lawyer then small business owner. they both accomplished a lot in their lives and they were forced to move here because of the political instability in asia. they chose to uproots from where they were born, grew up and raised their babies to come over here to start over so me and my sibling can have a better life. for that, they suffered discrimination. my mom refuses me to date a white man because she hates how white men had mistreated her in this country. and i don’t blame her. they had been very mean and disrespectful. they wouldn’t listen to her because she is a woman and she speaks with accents. while i was fortunate to shed my asian accent and assimilate well in this society, it was difficult for grown adults like my parents. they lost their friends and sense of stability when they moved here. discrimination is something that you obviously don’t know much about and i hope you will never know how it feels.

    Trent, i have to say, i am disappointed. i used to read your posts and value your opinions when you wrote about money. now your comments just prove that you don’t listen and you refuse to be more open minded. and i *didn’t* say your post was helpful.i don’t know where you read that. and i already did contribute my opinions. i expressed it over and over again — i am deeply offended and i disagree with you. and america is really not a rosy picture that you painted. people don’t necessary welcome you with open arms in this country, especially after 911 and SARS, etc. people are freaked out and they blame people that don’t look Americans for it. when SARS first broke out, a woman on the plane refused to sit next to my friend who is a chinese american because she said “he has sars” just because he looks chinese. he glanced over and said “well then you probably don’t want to sit next to that gentleman over there (a middle eastern gentleman), since he is probably a terrorist.” another instance, i was waiting in line for the post office during the SARS panic. my throat was itchy so i coughed once. people in front of me literally ran out of the line. yeah, this is 3 years ago? because apprently according some strange scientific evidence that asian people only carry sars virus and we spread if to the rest of the world. yeah. we are all highly educated here.

    for you to write this post, it’s inappropriate. you were not an immigrant yourself, you had not gone through assimilation and facing issues of being immigrants in this country, especially after 911 and SARS. it’s like k-fed or vanilla ice trying to rap and trying to earn his street cred. people laugh at vanilla ice, kevin federline because they have not established their credibility in the industry, and neither did you in the immigration front. people value your opinions because you give great advice about money. i think your intention was good obviously, but i just find your opinions on this matter offensive. these are very superficial advices and it really has not touched on the deeper issues behind immigration in this country. just take a look at southern california where civilians patroling with guns to prevent illegal immigrants coming in while california’s agricultural economic have these illegal immigrants to thank because no americans will pick fruits for 15 cents a bucket.

    look at an overall picture, it took how many years for blacks to assimilate into this country? and they are still fighting. and it took how many years for women to assimilate into the mainstearm? how many states in this country still suffer from segregations? please don’t tell me none. when was the last time a woman was a president in this country or for that matter a non-white person?

    people see asian women and they think lucy liu, and i unfortunately am a living proof to that. i look nothing like lucy liu except we both have long hair. but people some how always call me lucy even though my name is not lucy or call me ms. liu. yes, even on west coast.

    us asian americans’ “battle” just started.

    ANYWAY, but it doesn’t seem really matter, does it? you still stand behind your original post. and i stand where i stand. in my younger years in this country, i stayed nice and didn’t say anything when i feel wrong about it. but that has changed. because silence doesn’t change anything. you feel that i am just attacking you for the sake of attacking you? no. i have been your reader for 3 months now and have bookmarked many of your posts. i am simply voicing my opinions because i do not agree with you and i was deeply angered by what you wrote. it’s clear that we have had very different life experiences and different world view.

    anyway, enough has been said. this will be my last response here. it obviously is very difficult to get my points across.

  26. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    If I disagreed with your points and thought they were invalid, reader, I would just delete them. This is an open forum for discussion.

    However, I’m very disappointed in you as a reader. Rather than offering tangible advice to people who might read this post, you are instead wasting thousands of words complaining about racism. How does that better anything at all? Wouldn’t it be more useful to use your soapbox to actually help people rather than cut people down?

    It is very clear that you are assuming that your experiences with a few closed-minded people is definitive of all Americans and rather than reading this post in the light it was intended, you instead pasted your own perspectives over the top and assumed that I was racist because I didn’t exactly discuss your unique experience. You are desperately trying to find racism where there is none.

  27. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Let me see if I can explain this more clearly. I spent a lot of time trying to explain, from my lengthy experiences working with and communicating with native Chinese and Koreans, some of the more surprising things that individuals found when coming to America. Most of the individuals I know came here as graduate students or young professionals.

    The response to this basically is that I am racist. If that were true, why would I write this article at all? I wrote this article because I WANT immigrants to feel comfortable and safe in America, especially in a post-9/11 world. If that’s racism, then I’m guilty as charged.

  28. Sun says:

    It could be more credible if this piece was written by an individual who has gone through the actual immigration road, unfortunately, it isn’t. And I am not sure if you have shown your piece to your Chinese or Korean colleagues. It would be interesting if you share their reactions after they read your article. Let’s see how they find your article helpful.

    “some of the more surprising things that individuals found when coming to America.” Why is that surprising? Did you ever go to China or Korea? And what’s so proud of having “more than 250 different varieties of bread”? We cook chickens in hundreds of ways that you can never imagine. Big deal!

    Since this is an open discussion, if I may, I’d like to add a couple of points to your “should know” list from my own experience as an immigrant:

    1. Don’t walk on the street in the evening no matter where you live;
    2. Don’t argue with strangers no matter for what because you never know what they have in their pockets;
    3. Don’t answer the door when you don’t know who’s knocking;
    4. Don’t live in the neighborhood of a big city where there are full of houses that should be torn down, even the rent is cheap;
    5. Don’t be surprised when you find there are many people in this country are plain ignorant who don’t know there’s a whole world out there. They call their baseball game “world series” when they have no more than a couple of teams from Canada and they call their NBA champion “world champion.” And guess what? When their “world champions” went to the world stage, they were beaten down!

  29. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    This piece was run by several colleagues, actually. And I strongly disagree with your points, particularly #1. You are discussing life in the United States only from a metropolitan USA perspective. Perhaps you should move to a smaller city in the Midwest – it might shed a bit of a different light on American life for you. For instance, have you ever had someone you’ve never met before spend ten minutes helping you find items in a grocery store? It happens pretty regularly around here, no matter the ethnicity of the person.

    If these things reflect your American experience, then you haven’t experienced America – just some urban nightmare.

  30. Sun says:

    Trent: I agree with you that the life in a midwest town is totally different from the life near, say, NYC which is close to where I live. However, from an immigrant point of view, how many will choose to live in a midwest town instead of going to a big city where they can find not only more opportunities but also support and help from the immigration community? It won’t be difficult to find out where exactly all the immigrants go. According to the DHS report, as of 2005, the top five states where immigrants got legal status are CA, NY, FL, TX, and NJ, and this five states alone account nearly 60% of all the immigrants who received legal status in 2005. A small town life in midwest may be a true American life, but that’s not for an immigrant, at least for the initial years as an immigrant!

    I did meet total strangers who are willing to help me and people I never met before say “Hi” to me on the street, that’s one among many parts of this country that I like. However, when talking about immigrants, it could be really helpful if one can address their true concerns: safety, job, and the immigrant status (which I don’t think you can because you simply don’t have that experience), instead of showcasing how many different kinds of breads there are in the store! There are many great things every citizen of this country should be proud of, and I believe “250 different varieties of bread” is not among them.

    And what’s the point of arguing “Many common items in America are quite expensive” when giving the absolute price? If I have nothing in my pocket, a piece of paper that cost only a penny is expensive to me. But if I have a six-figure salary job which I do have, none of those things you mentioned are expensive to me. For your information, a Census report says Asian men and women have the highest income among six major race categories: White, Black, American Indian and Alaska
    Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian and
    Other Pacifi c Islander, and Some
    Other Race. Why? Because we work hard and most of us have higher degrees (master’s and doctoral). Though many of us won’t be CEOs, we are far better off than many of your fellow Americans if you want to measure it only by incomes.

    That’s all I want to say.

  31. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Sun: people come to the United States because they want to succeed. Thus, it doesn’t surprise me that immigrants from Asia are doing well: they have the intelligence and the drive to do just that. That’s the point, though; the individuals who are coming are the cream of the crop – the people America wants to be here.

  32. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    To clarify: what I’m saying is that I would expect the readers of this article to be above average and have already done some research on the United States. I was attempting to point out less obvious things that one won’t find by reading other resources.

  33. ispf says:

    Trent: Great post. I agree with some of the other readers that your perspective is different from an immingrant’s. But, that’s what I like about this post. It’s an honest effort by a local American to share information with newcomers! And provides information from a different perspective than what we normally receive from others who came before us, which is usually very heavily influenced by our own particular cultural background and perceptions!

    Sun: A quick observation about small town vs big city. The statistics you mention is about immigrants getting legal status, which happens several years after the arrival into the US (at least in case of students). Initially, students come in to whichever university that works best for them and some of these univertities are in really small towns. I still remember a friend of mine who came to a small university town. In her part time job, while she was going over some code with an elderly gentleman with whom she worked, she complimented “thats damn good!”. The person who recieved the compliment was extremely offended because he thought her usage of the word “damn” was cussing! Something like this probably would never happen in a big city, but small towns are very different. So, in a nut shell, I disagree with your statement “A small town life in midwest may be a true American life, but that’s not for an immigrant, at least for the initial years as an immigrant!”. As a matter of fact, I think its the small town life that we need to pass more information about to an newly arriving immigrant – the big city information can be gleaned from a myriad of TV shows back home :)

  34. Diamond says:

    Wow. I’m wondering if some of these people even read the whole article, and what’s the big deal with the bread example. It was an EXAMPLE one that can be applied to multiple other products, almost every other product. Of course this isn’t the end all be all, and doesn’t cover everything that would be impossible for one person to write. You hear from travelers that go to other countries all the time, one of their biggest pieces of advice is to try to “blend” in with the culture. Try to be more conservative. It does help to get used to things, and will make life easier while you’re still learning and integrating in.

    Anyways I think this would be insightful, hard to find information and tid-bits. I wish I had something to add to your list, but I can’t think of anything right now, sorry.

  35. imelda72 says:

    This uproar is outrageous, and just goes to show that people take any opportunity to get on their soapboxes about personal issues. Regardless of the circumstances.

    I will agree with the dissenters that Trent is not the most likely person to advise immigrants, as he was not one. I started the article sort of annoyed that he was writing it, for that reason. But then I READ the article!! His advice is good, and mostly not condescending. He acknowledges reality. Many immigrants ARE shocked when they see signs of America’s excessive consumerism. Despite what one reader said, MANY MANY MANY MANY people think of Americans as extremely conservative.

    I have been lucky to live in a few different countries outside of America, and thus go through the period of adjustment Trent is trying to assist. Before I went to any of the other countries, I looked for AS MUCH information as possible on the cultures. A lot of times, I had to wade through repetitive and simplistic information–which some people accuse Trent’s advice of being. But I certainly never complained. The most random information turned out to be useful to me, so I knew I couldn’t predict what would be helpful to others. The people complaining to this post are betraying some serious tunnel-vision, thinking only of their own experiences.

    I’m also amazed that people objected to #1, the suggestion that immigrants learn English. Um, hello? Maybe you were fluent when you got her, but for those who aren’t it’s the most important thing anyone in a new culture can do. If you want to complain about the fact that Trent said you can easily get a “free education” in English by talking to people, fine. That was kind of stupid (sorry Trent). But come on. I have to agree with whoever said that the readers were just “complaining for the sake of complaining.” That’s what it sounded like to me.

    Guess I’ll get down off of my soapbox, now. ;-)

    PS- I just want to add that, at least in the urban areas, America is really good about not demanding that people *assimilate* (not acculturate) to its culture. At least, relatively speaking. You go anywhere in Europe and the natives INSIST that immigrants assimilate. Walk around in burqas? Wear headscarves to class? I don’t think so. In this sense, I think America is much more open.

  36. Vicki says:

    My family immigrated to America when I was 5, from Russia. Most of the things mentioned in the article are true: we were AMAZED at how many things there were in the grocery store…it was like a dream. There is nothing condescending about that: America simply has better choices. Knowing English and assimilating IS important…while we all still speak Russian at home, watch Russian movies, and I’m dating a Russian immigrant, we still know everything going on in American politics, read American books, and are up to date on American trends. If you’re going to live here, KNOW ENGLISH. It’s not racist to assume that. If you are coming to America, you’re taking on a responsibility. You need to accomodate to the country, the country does not need to accomodate to you.

  37. Vicki says:

    * accomodate should be replaced with acclimate

  38. mapgirl says:

    Hi Trent.

    Please check your email. I sent you something offline.

  39. Jas says:

    I read the article and the WHOLE thread of comments. I will drop my 2 cents here from an Immigrant’s perspective. I found the article good for information for somebody who is coming to States. Trent , please add that bit about Cars. The first 1 year in US that I chose not to drive was the worst phase of my life. I basically had no LIFE at all.

    Yes America hasn’t had a female president, Britain has had one. But US still is a better place for any immigrant to live. Because it has a public opinion which is conscious of its own lapses in culture, politics, religion every single field.

    Some Americans idolize Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, the same girls feature on the cover of newsweek GIRLS GONE WILD …What are celebs teaching kids.

    So you see America like any other country is full of contrasts. It has good and bad people. If you chose to associate with the good ones you will be happy. I would agree with Sun and Angry Reader on some level … I found my own remedy for such bad people. Be indifferent !

  40. Aussie says:

    I am an Asian woman and my parents moved to Australia when I was 9 years old. I did not know one word of english. Not one. I didn’t even realise that there were other countries outside of Taiwan. My parents however, were more wordly educated and could speak english fluently, having been taught english in the Philippines where they were born and grew up. My parents sat us down every afternoon after school to watch sesame street to learn english because they knew it was important. I think that saying that people need to learn english if they live in an english speaking language is not offensive. And I also don’t think that Trent was being “obvious”. I know some people who don’t bother to learn the predominant language spoken but then get mad when “the natives” don’t understand them. I mean, c’mon, for real??!!

    My parents moved us to Australia because they wanted us to have a “western” education. From the first day that I started the 3rd grade, my teacher hugged me and made me feel like I was welcomed. This has never happened in the school I attended in Taiwan. I lived in mortal fear of all my teachers, especially my math teacher! My class mates were very inquisitive and asked me a lot of questions. All of which in english =) So of course I didn’t understand. I was enrolled in ESL class right away and it is the only reason that I learnt english so fast.

    My parents brought my sister and I up to value our chinese heritage. However, they also encouraged us to be open and learn about other cultures. I have encountered racism in Australia and also have made many life long friends from different cultures. It is difficult for people in general, I believe, to accept what they are not used to or know very little about. Some people deal with change better than others.

    My parents have a very skewed view of America. They totally subscribe to the vision of America as “The Promise Land”. I eventually married an American citizen and am now living in the US. To my parents, this is a dream come true for them. They think that I am now “set” for life. I don’t have such a warm and fuzzy feeling. In short, there are things in America that I do not like/agree with. However, the same goes for Australia.

    I think that this post was issued with good intentions. And I have to say – there are about 50 choices for anything in America versus about 10 in Australia. The abundance of choice in this country is overwhelming. I will forever remember the first time I went to Costco during a vacation in the US with my family. Floor to ceiling (or so it seemed!!) consumer goods! Definitely something out of my experience! So it didn’t surprise me that SOME people would come to the US and be blown away by all the abundance.

    I don’t understand why the uproar over Trent’s post. I think that it is sometimes helpful to have someone who has lived in the country for a while to clue you in to some of the cultural differences. I lived in Iowa for 3 years and when I first walked into a restaurant there with my husband, about 3 people outright stared at us walking in like we were aliens. Not a pleasant experience but it happens. Here in the US and also everywhere. So if an immigrant had some info to help give them a heads up, why not? I honestly don’t think it was meant to be assimilationist or racist.

    From another point of view – every time I go to visit relatives in the Philippines I always stand out in the crowd, even though I am asian, because the way I dress and the way I talk clearly shows that I grew up in a western country. And I know that sometimes my mum has had to explain apologetically on my behalf when I inadvertently offended someone because of a cultural difference.

    I think that when we can talk openly about our differences and about how we can live with each other, the world will be a better place. There’s no need to get angry or get offended. Let’s talk about it and have a healthy discussion and agree to disagree if relevant. But let’s not accuse each other of racism or discrimination unless we have absolute proof, which in the case of Trent’s post, there was none.

    This is a rather late response but I do feel I should say something =)

  41. Aussie says:

    I also want to say that I am sorry to read about the racism that was experienced by asian immigrants. I have gone through the same and also my parents and sister. It is truly asinine. But let’s not assume that all Americans are racist. I certainly don’t assume that all Australians are racist.

    And also – being asian also comes with its own discriminations. Let’s be real here, asian people. Try bringing home a non-asian boyfriend or girlfriend and see the response you get from the parents =) I know I am being slightly flippant here with an important cultural issue, no offence intended.

    Again, let’s talk about our differences and stop cutting each other down through biased assumptions based on very personal experiences. We all have our own stories but let’s not assume that our own experiences applies to everyone else.

    I dealt with the pain of receiving racist comments by reminding myself that racist people are to be pitied. I don’t waste my time to hate them. I get annoyed of course. And also angry. BUT I refuse to waste my energy on hating racist people. They are to be pitied because they miss out on so much life and culture because of their narrow views. Too bad for them.

  42. Shelby says:

    My main question is should everyone in the U.S be required to learn English? I disagree on this question because people who come to the U.S choose to be in the U.S. I dont think its fair to other cultures.

  43. mish says:

    “America” is a landmass. America is NOT the United States. Get it right! Geez…

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