My first month in the USA

silver orb in city square
Photo courtesy of Chris Kantos

I remember very well our first month in the USA.

It was December 2011. There were only three days before the New Year. That arrival was really a challenge and an exciting experience at the same time. In this short story, I will try to tell what happened to me, my family and another family that was traveling with us during our first month in the USA.

We were two Iraqi Kurdish families.

My wife, myself, and a two-year-old son. The other family were like us: a two-year-old girl with her parents. We started our journey from Kurdistan in northern Iraq. We came from Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan region. After several transitions and turns, we arrived at Chicago O’Hare airport. It was my first time to see the “New World,” the United States of America. This trip showed us a lot of challenges, confusion, and yet excitements.

Our first challenge in our first month in the USA was how to find a hotel. The language was our main concern.

Testing your ability to speak English is not easy for the first time, especially if you are not very confident or if you have no prior experience. The problem was both my family and the other family were depending on me for the issues of translating and English speaking. Anyway, I used my humble abilities to speak to a police officer in the airport to show us how to get out of the airport and how to find a nearby hotel.

Not only language was a challenge at the beginning, but also the city structures, rules, policies, technologies, and even making lines were all challenges. We came from a very simple and humble life. My village was made up from mud bricks. Homes were only one level. We had never seen or walked in a city like Chicago.

Skyscrapers were so huge in Chicago that I could barely correct my head and neck. How to cross streets and even how to buy a burger was difficult. I remember we were very hungry the first day. We went to a McDonald’s in Chicago Union station. I did not know how to choose a burger. I just said number two please (choosing by seeing pictures).

In short, the first month in the USA was a real shock in every aspect of life.

Besides language and culture shock, we were also faced with finding apartments for settlement. We had never had bank accounts in our life. I had never dealt with post office, boarding a train, a bank account, and so. on I never had a visa or master card back in Iraq. How to change a dollar or pay through a bank system was a mystery!

I remember my wife was never keeping cents (change). She always threw them away. She told me I do not know how to use them.

Even using my English was hard to some degree. I remember first time in the University of Southern Illinois, I went to the English language center for finding someone to help me improve my language. When I entered the room of the instructors and employees there, I asked them please I need a Native American to help me. Everyone started to laugh at me. I did not understand what was wrong with my language. Then someone explained the difference between native speaker and native (Indian) American.

Everything was a kind of challenge in itself.

Overall all, the first month in the USA was full of challenges and difficulties. Despite all that we saw a lot of help and cooperation from the university, the local community and from several churches in the area. I never forget those moments in my life.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.