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DH having a hard time adjusting in the US

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
My DH is from Kenya, I'm a white American. When we met, I had been living in Kenya for a while. We dated for 2 years in Kenya, got married, moved to Tanzania for 8 months, and then moved to the US in Aug for DH to begin grad school.
DH is having a hard time adjusting to the US culture, and doesn't feel comfortable around white Americans in general. I understand it's a difficult adjustment and I'm trying to be supportive, but I'm really starting to feel lonely and isolated as a result.
For example, we were both really active in our church in Kenya. Here, DH practically runs out as soon as the service finishes. I would like to get involved in an adult Sunday school class or small group, and serve in a ministry in the church, but DH is not comfortable so we don't participate in anything at church other than the main service.
DH doesn't feel comfortable around my white American coworkers (I only work 10 hours a week because I'm 9 months pregnant) so he never attends any events, and I feel like I can't invite any couples to our home because he's not comfortable with them.
In general, Kenyan culture is so warm and hospitable, and I think it's a very easy country to live in as a foreigner because people are so welcoming. I didn't have many problems making friends there and the majority of my friends were Kenyans. I always felt embraced and included.
I realize that American culture (especially white American culture) is not very warm and can be very condescending and exclusionary. I think the US is a much harder place to live as a foreigner. But I get frustrated when my DH does not even try. I realize things will be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but that phase is necessary to get to a place of comfort. If a person makes one comment that my DH perceives to be ignorant or condescending, he writes them off and doesn't want anything to do with them anymore.
This is making it really difficult for me to build relationships here. I'm 9 months pregnant and I only work 10 hours a week. I feel like I spend most of my time in my apartment alone, on the computer, reading a book, or watching TV. DH spends most of his time doing schoolwork so I don't even have many opportunities to socialize with him. I'm bored and lonely and I think it's just going to get worse when the baby comes.
At this point, if my DH doesn't want to do something, i don't push the issue. Should I try to encourage him to be more social? (he is generally a social person and in Kenya is the kind of person who is friends with everyone, cracking jokes at parties, etc) Should I just pursue my own social circles and go to events alone? Should I just invite female friends over to the house instead of couples so he doesn't have to be involved? I would love to find a more diverse social circle so DH is not always the only person who is not a white American, but we live in a city that is about 90% white and DH's school is also about 90-95% white. Unfortunately, there are very few Kenyans or other Africans in our city.

Has anyone else gone through this with your DH? Does it get better with time? How did you handle it?
post #2 of 17
Oh, I think a lot of people have gone through this or are going through this....My dh has been here almost three years and still for the most part hates American culture, refuses to learn English, won't try to make friends, etc. It can be very frustrating at times. I think it has gotten a little better since when he first got here--his angry outbursts are decreasing in frequency, but still happen from time to time.

I think the best thing you can do in this case is to gently encourage him, but back off after a point. And take care of yourself. His isolation does not need to be your isolation. You offer to help, and if he doesn't take you up on your offer, there's really not much you can do. You can't force him to make friends, to adjust, to embrace, or anything else. If he doesn't want to get involved in church activities, then do it without him. When the baby comes, look for some local mommy groups and get out and socialize. If he doesn't go along, that is his decision. Give him time and support, but don't sacrifice your own wellbeing in the process or you'll BOTH end up miserable.

Just my two cents.
post #3 of 17
My two cents, for what it's worth. It's been THREE months. He's being subjected to an insane amount of culture shock, and depending on where you live, the racism alone can be overwhelming. Not to mention that he's doing a grad program, which can be pretty intense, depending on his field. I'm American, been living abroad for the last three years and *loving* it, and still have so many moments of culture shock that I just want to run and hide--and this is my native culture! My hometown, even! I've been back in the US for five months now and still don't have a social life, not active in my faith community, barely able to function some days and cry with "homesickness." I spend hours every week on the phone with my one friend who is in the same boat, but living in the midwest.

I say cut him some slack, be his friend, and if you find other Kenyans that you can socialize with the more the better. Get involved yourself at a level that is comfortable for your family, but realize that American culture does *not* make it easy for a non-American to adjust. He may never adjust. But then again he might surprise you and decide to start getting out a bit once he's more comfortable with his surroundings.
post #4 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your responses...EVC I think you're right that I need to get out on my own...my DH and I are still newlyweds (we've been married just over a year) and worked together in the same organization after we got married (we even shared an office) - we had the same social circle in Kenya while we were dating, so I guess maybe I'm expecting too much in expecting us to always do things together and share the same circle of friends. What things have been helpful for you in dealing with your DH's difficulty with the US culture? I'm glad to hear that at least things have gotten a little better with time.

Turkish Kate - thanks for adding some perspective I know we've only been here a short time, and I know this culture can be very very difficult and very exclusionary - I feel really embarrassed for my culture sometimes in the way that people have treated him. I'm also having issues with readjusting to the US culture...I lived abroad for four years and loved living in East Africa. I really miss all our friends, the culture, the lifestyle, etc and I also find american culture to be very cold and isolating. I know it's hard for him and maybe I'm just taking out my frustrations and loneliness on him. I guess the thing that set me off today was that we went to church and I asked him again if we could stay for adult Sunday school today (we've been invited to stay by someone every week since we started attending.) he said he didn't think he'd ever be comfortable staying for Sunday School. then he pretty much ran out right after the service and on the way home complained that nobody talks to us at church. But of course nobody talks to us because we never give them an opportunity. so i guess it's those things that frustrate me - I feel like he doesn't even want to try to make friends and he always interprets people's behavior as rude and condescending even when it's not - it's like he's already decided he will never fit in here and never make friends here, so he's given up even trying, and it's only been 3 months.
post #5 of 17
Habari. My DP is from Kenya too. I'm surprised you haven't met other Kenyans. It seems that DP runs into Kenyans where ever he goes. We are also in a very white area, but even here he's met a few. I would bet there are also Kenyans in your city too. My DP keeps in touch with several of his Kenyan friends he's made since being in the US. Unfortunately he doesn't have any close Kenyan friends locally, but he's still close to several of his friends that we moved away from.

I agree with what has already been said. It has been a really short time for your DH, my DP has been in the US for 9 years. It will take him some time for sure, and it sounds like his plate is pretty full between a new culture/home, school and a baby coming (congratulations btw). I would engage yourself in activities, some just for you, and some that he could come along on if he chooses. At some point he will be ready to reach out to the community, even if it is to white people instead of Kenyans. I also suggest posting a notice of some sort looking for other Kenyans in your town and at DH's school, or checking your local Facebook area. DP 'knows' lots via FB. I also asked my DP about your situation, his view is that America is generally more accepting or interested in other cultures, maybe DH just needs to open up a little so that ppl can see what a neat guy he is. Also he says not to worry, that you will meet ppl, meaning Kenyans. He says it was easy for him to adjust here, but he was 18 and in a university with several other Kenyans.

I hope this helps. My DP is leaving tomorrow for 3 months in Kenya, and I'm staying back here with DD. It'll be rough, we've never been apart for that long. My DP was born in Nakuru. His parents now live in Nairobi, and DP is researching a business op in Mombasa. DP is muhindi, but all his Kenyan friends are Kenyans. Maybe you can give me some tips about Kenya sometime. I've not been there and sometimes DP talks about moving us to Mombasa if this business things goes well. I've travelled overseas lots, but changing homes, well, I have a better understanding of how your DH feels.
post #6 of 17
Definitely went through the same exact thing when DH and I moved back here from Spain, I second the suggestion to find him some Kenyan friends and get him more involved in church.

It will get better.
post #7 of 17
I agree with Turkish Kate--it's going to take a lot longer than 3 months. My dh is Ethiopian. We've been here 6 years and he's still quite uncomfortable in American culture and society. Even though we live in a racially diverse urban area, that just means he's gotten condesencion from both blacks and whites.

I also agree with the suggestion that you try to find the Kenyan community in your area, get your dh connected with some people who have been through it all and can help him adjust as fellow Kenyan expats. Even if it means travelling to a city nearby with a higher population of Africans. Driving an hour or so once a month so he can attend an African church, or eat with some Kenyans might be worth the money for gas.

For yourself, make some mom friends. People to take your baby to the park with, have a coffee with, etc. You don't have to have your dh involved in all your friendships.
post #8 of 17
I think you've gotten some great advice so far.

I just wanted to throw in my perspective "from the other side." I'm American and came to live in Holland with my Dutch DH. Should be easy, right? I don't look different from the majority Dutch culture (well . .. I'm short and plump and Dutch women tend to be tall and skinny, but anyway . . . . I'm caucasian and, majority Dutch culture is too), most Dutch people speak excellent English, culturally it is relatively close to North America . ... WRONG!!!

I suffered *major* culture shock. Now . .. .after *nine* years in Holland, I finally feel at home and have made a great life for myself. However, I *still* have days when everything drives me crazy, I'm super-homesick, and I think Holland is just a dismal, water-logged little nation full of rude, small-minded people! (my DH is Dutch, as I said and my DS is half-Dutch . .. really . .. I love them . . .. .)

My point, OP, is not to discourage you! It's just to say that even when cultures are relatively similar like Holland and North America, it can take a long time to adjust to things. You probably know that from having lived in Kenya yourself. But I do think there is a difference between moving somewhere for work/school/adventure with the knowledge that it's an adventure and you can and will leave whenever you want (not sure if that was your situation or not in Kenya?) and moving somewhere to be with your partner semi-permanently.

Before I met DH, I had traveled all over the world and had lived for extended periods of time in both Brazil and Israel. I never suffered the culture shock I did in Holland, an arguably far more comparable culture to North America. Why? Not sure, but I think it was because when I moved to Holland, I was there *for* DH and to build a whole life there and that was overwhelming and discouraging, at times. In Brazil and Israel, I was there to work and for the adventure and experience and knew I could pull up stakes and leave whenever I wanted.

OP, I would just keep encouraging your DH to make friends but not push him. It can take a while. Also, please try not to take "attacks" on American culture personally. When I'm having a bad day, in general, everything in Holland is awful (see above) and everything in America is perfect. Of course, I know rationally that isn't true. I know it isn't true when I'm saying it. But sometimes it is so frustrating to be "the outsider" and just not be completely in control by knowing all the social "rules" and it can be overwhelming. Keep on building your life and, hopefully, your DH will eventually follow.

Hang in there!
post #9 of 17
Yes. I've been in Canada 5 years and still have real homesickness for my culture, similar as it is, at times. I can only imagine what kind of culture shock your DH is going through. When I first moved here, I spent a year complaining about BC and all the things that were different/therefore bad that I didn't like. it's hard.
post #10 of 17
bluedaisy my xfil came from india as a college student studying sociology and never felt at home here. even after 60 years. studying sociology didnt help as his focus was race issues and he knew exactly what was going on. he preffered to be by himself with just one or two friends.

my xstepmil was a vivacious social caucasian. she led her own life - had her own circle of friends, went out and did her things and their marriage stayed intact.

they would go to india for 6 months every year after he retired. and he was a totally different man while there. he became a whole different person.

but that doesnt mean he didnt enjoy both cultures.

what i want to reiterate here what the others have said. go out and seek your social life. others have done it and successfully. and so can you. along with taking your husbands view on this.
post #11 of 17
Is there an International center at the university where your DH is going to grad school? Or a grad student housing area that has a community center? At FSU, those are two places where the international students often find folks from their home countries or at least fellowship with others who are in the same boat.

It does take a huge amount of time. My DH has lived most of his adult life in the West and it was only after he had a job and friends of his own that he had made with no connection to me (i.e. he got tired of being "Ginger's Husband"), that he started feeling at home.

Good luck to you both.
post #12 of 17
I too, can see it from your dh's perspective, I'm from a very small village in scotland where everyone knows everyone else and we all would socialise together, then dh and I moved to the subs of Paris, it takes a long time, I still don't really belong after 6 years here and am the only english speaker around here, it's really hard but I did manage to 'find' my community within LLL which of course he's not going to do but maybe could find something that suits his needs, at the other scale dh didn't fit in when we lived in scotland either - so I guess it's hard for everyone. I must admit at three months here I was still fairly reclusive and not really willing to go out at all
post #13 of 17
I agree with all what has been said.Dh is british, and I am american. I lived in the UK for 4 years and we moved back here to the US about 2 1/2 years ago. MY DH still is very uncomfortable here(it doesnt help that we live in the deep south, ga) and though he loves our monetary lifestyle compared to the way we lived in the UK, he hates all other aspects. I have to agree with him on some level and this is my hometown, but when I moved back here from the UK, I was so homesick and still even get homesick. I still download all british shows and rarely even watch american tv. I still order food/products from the UK. So if I feel that way, imagine what my DH must feel!

And I am an army brat and used to living in different places/adjusting to new cultures. DH lived in britain for 36 years!

I dont really have any other advice. DH has met a few british people, but they all seem so "americanized" already...lol so he doesnt really bond with them.
post #14 of 17
Originally Posted by moocowma View Post
Is there an International center at the university where your DH is going to grad school? Or a grad student housing area that has a community center? At FSU, those are two places where the international students often find folks from their home countries or at least fellowship with others who are in the same boat.
I would second that suggestion. I know when we moved to Norway it helped me a ton to have a group of fellow foreigners to talk with. We were all different ages and nationalities and it didn't matter. It just helped to be able to talk to people that related to the experience of being foreign in Norway. We could complain as much as we wanted without feeling judged for it.
post #15 of 17
Thread Starter 
Wow - thank you all for all of the insights and advice...I haven't been able to check this page for a few days and I was really encouraged to come here today and read all the responses.
I'm trying hard to see it from DH's perspective and to be patient, I know it's been a very short time. It is hard sometimes not to take things personally though...which is ironic since there are many aspects of US culture that I don't like and I sometimes criticize it more than DH. I guess there's a fear that since DH hates being here, he might regret marrying an American...or that he will impose his dislike for America/American culture onto me since I am an American. He hasn't said or done anything yet to imply that, I guess it's just my own insecurities. We will most likely move back to East Africa after his program, so our stay in the US will likely be temporary.
Our school is very small (about 800 students) but we have been able to find a few other African students who DH seems to connect with. We also tried out another church this past Sunday - I asked around about multicultural churches in the area (it's really sad that churches in the US are SO divided on racial lines) and we found a small church that was started in the early 90s as an intentionally multicultural congregation.
post #16 of 17
Oh, we're there. I don't think I can add anything new except to say... we've been here just 4 months and it is really hard. DH still doesn't have his driver's license! I wish he would but he failed the test once and he doesn't want to fail again. It's so hard.

Maybe a book on culture shock? Is your DH fluent in English enough to read a book on culture shock quickly? Mine finds reading English laborious so he can't, but if he could, that's one thing I'd have tried.
post #17 of 17
On culture shock--I was just thinking it might actually help you to read some books about Americans experiencing culture shock in other cultures. I have read some over the years and while they're often laugh-out-loud funny, it's also helped me to realize how strange it must be for someone like my husband to experience American culture from the outside. I can totally relate to Americans finding other cultures difficult to comprehend, and then I can flip that around and understand a little better what dh is going through.
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