Those who choose to relocate to Massachusetts for its diverse population, strong education system and high-tech job opportunities often face cultural and family challenges while adjusting to the New England way of life.

While so many of us will stay in the country where we were born for school, work and to raise a family, for millions of people worldwide, moving to experience life in another country holds appeal. Every year, families pull up roots from their native land and decide to give life a go in a country with a completely different lifestyle and culture than the one in which they were raised.

According to statistics from the United Nations, there were 232 million people, or 3.2% of the world's population, living abroad in 2013 — and the United States is the most popular destination for those choosing life in another country. But deciding to live, work or raise children here can often come with some adjustments and culture shock for the families seeking a change.

Known as expatriates, or expats, these international immigrants include Roser Rovira (pictured above), a 43-year-old mother of two boys, ages 6 and 7, who currently lives in Newton. Rovira and her family relocated to the U.S. last year due to her husband’s work. Originally from Spain, the family first moved to Poland for work opportunities when the boys were 3 and 4 years old, and they found many like-minded expats living abroad in Poland, too.

“In Poland, all of the families we met were expat and were in the same situation. We made really good friends,” she said.

But unlike Poland, here in the U.S. she and her family are finding it more difficult to adjust. It can be challenging to make friends quickly with New Englanders who are often reserved at first meeting, Rovira said.

“Here in Newton there are many families who have been living in Newton all of their lives,” she noted. “It is difficult to get to know them.”

Rovira, who is chronicling her U.S. adventures in a blog at baystateparent.com, said another challenge is curtailing her boisterous and expressive European nature, which is not as well-received in the States.

 

“We are like teddy bears,” she explained. “We like to hug and kiss when we see each other. No one here does that. I was used to giving someone two kisses, one to each cheek, as a greeting. But here no one does any of this.”

Rebecca Bell, a mother of two living in Berlin, has been in the U.S. for almost 15 years. Rebecca and her husband are both from Britain and came to New England on vacation in 1998. They promptly fell in love with the area and decided to return for a longer stay. After securing an H1B Visa, a specialty visa created by the U.S. government to allow companies to employ foreign workers in specific occupations, Bell’s husband quickly found work in Massachusetts. They soon decided this was the place they wanted to call home.

“We rented out our house in London and figured we’d try it out for six months. Fifteen years later, here we are!” she said.

Bell’s children, now 10 and 7, were born here and are thoroughly American, according to Bell.

“We became citizens in 2010 and made it official. Our kids were born here and are very much Americans. They don’t identify as British and they don’t belong anywhere but here,” she said, chuckling.

Bell said as a veteran expat, some of her biggest culture shocks now come when she returns to her native land for a visit.

“When I go back to Britain, people now tell me I am very loud. I’ve become more American and more assertive in conversations,” she noted.

From a parenting perspective, Bell said eating is a lot more casual in the U.S., which sometimes leads to uncomfortable expectations when visiting relatives in the UK.

“My family is fully expecting my children to sit at the table and eat everything that is served to the adults and to engage in proper conversation,” she explained. “And this can last an hour to an hour and a half. My children are not used to this from living here. They are used to more casual dining time and often eating on the go.”

While Bell feels fully at home in New England, she does say there are some things she misses about the UK, including what she says is a much lower emphasis on children’s sports and activities.

“Frankly, I find the obsession with kids’ sports here a bit baffling,” she said.

Kathy Burmeister, a mother of three in Northborough, has also come to feel at home here in New England. Burmeister is from South Africa and her husband is from Zimbabwe. They moved to the United States in 1998 and like Bell’s family, were also drawn here due to high-tech work opportunities. But there are notable differences from their home countries that they have had to adjust to over time, Burmeister said.

“It’s different here in that there is more of a consumer mentality," she said. “And there is poverty, but you don’t see it as much. It’s not in your face everyday the way it is in Africa.”

Burmeister’s biggest adjustment was to the climate, which was much milder in her native South Africa.

“When I was in first grade, I remember we got an inch of snow — and that was really unusual,” she laughed. “Now this winter we are dealing with ice dams.”

Bell agrees. While she usually enjoys the New England winters, this year, she misses the fog and rain of London: “After the winter we’ve had, the mild rains in London actually sound quite nice!"

"Our kids were born here and are very much Americans. They don’t identify as British and they don’t belong anywhere but here.”

Tips For New Arrivals up next

Tips For New Arrivals

Moving to a completely new country with a different culture holds challenges for even the most well-traveled families. Here are some tips for easing culture shock and getting to know people quicker from veteran expat Rebecca Bell:

1) Get out of your house. “You won’t meet anyone new hiding at home! I made it a goal to leave my house and talk to someone every day, even if it was just the clerk at the grocery store. I read the local paper, joined a church, looked for events on the library bulletin board, and attended evening classes to get connected in my new community.”

2) Look for online support. “Join your town’s Facebook page and any expat groups for your country of origin. Our Metrowest Brits group has frequent coffee mornings and other get-togethers.”

3) Find a friend to “translate” for you. “I have a good friend who will help me figure out American customs, traditions or phrases that I find confusing. No question is too stupid for her.”

4) Get a secured credit card. “When you move from abroad, you can’t bring your credit history with you, so getting a loan or mortgage can be tough. Get a secured credit card through a credit union to help build your credit score quickly. DCU (Digital Federal Credit Union) has been great with us.”