Stories of cultural exploration in the U.S.

Various first impressions from current IVEP participants about living in the U.S.

Group of IVEPers

Header photo: IVEP 2023-2024 participants during orientation in Akron, Pennsylvania, in August. MCC photo/Brenda Burkholder

Dorcus Sibanda
Photo/Rachel Protentis

It’s been a little over a month since I arrived in the U.S., and so far, I have not been disappointed! I’ve enjoyed the seasonal change from a very hot and humid summer to a cool fall, which comes with beautiful colors to the plants. I’ve seen little squirrels and other small, cute animals running around the backyards and it’s such a beautiful sight to see. I’m mostly thankful for the warm welcome I received from the people I am surrounded by. My host family and partner organization have made the transition into a new cultural environment much easier to adapt to. People always say things are bigger in the U.S. and in my opinion, they are right. Compared to my home country, the highway here spreads up to six lanes, which is really fascinating to see. Another interesting aspect about being here is the fact that there are different time zones in the same country depending on which state you’re in. It was pretty funny to schedule a phone call with two of my fellow IVEPers for 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.! The landscape is absolutely beautiful and has made me appreciate more of God’s creation and the power of his word; he spoke, and all this beauty came to be. What an amazing God we serve! – Dorcus Sibanda from Zimbabwe to Denver, Colorado

Photo/Dave Larson

As a Colombian leaving my country for the first time, bound for the U.S., I was very excited to learn about a new culture, but also worried about how people would treat me, what kind of food I would get, and if I would be able to communicate well in English. Contrary to what my family and friends thought, the treatment I have received since I arrived at the airport in New York, during the orientation in Akron, and now during my stay in Chicago, has been very welcoming and friendly. People make me feel welcome, included and loved, even though greetings are different and personal space can be very important for some people. As for food, I am surprised by the variety of restaurants from different parts of the world, especially Asia and Latin America, which is perfect because I love trying new flavors, and I can also prepare typical food from my country or go to a Colombian restaurant. Not all people are interested in healthy eating; however, I am doing my best to continue a healthy diet. Of course, it is delicious to eat a hot dog, a taco, a hamburger, a pizza, etc., but I know I can't do it every day. English was very difficult at the beginning because people use different accents and speaking styles. I didn't know how to express myself for fear of making mistakes, but I understood that it is normal when you are still learning. You just have to dare to speak. Now I enjoy great conversations with my friends at home, at work and at church. In conclusion, living in a community house in Chicago has helped me in my personal growth, to connect with myself, to be more independent, to learn to cook, and above all, to connect with God through ways that I did not think I would or could, and in ways I had not experienced before. I can't wait to continue growing, learning and enjoying this wonderful experience. – Elias Algarin Escalante from Colombia to Chicago, Illinois 

Photo/Lois Landis

Here in the U.S., I have seen almost everyone owning a car and I was like, “Do they ever walk on the roadsides?” Then my supervisor told me that people here in the U.S. are taught to drive cars from the age of 16, which is kind of a different thing than in Tanzania, where most of the people owning cars are the elderly ones and you can learn driving at any age. So, it is rare to find people walking on the roadsides here. I was amazed at how people in the U.S. love ice cream and pizza; you may go somewhere and find the majority of the people having ice cream, which is not a common thing in my country because most of the age group that eats ice cream regularly is kids. I look forward to the winter season starting from December to see the snow because I have never seen it before. – Maswe Nyihongo from Tanzania to Sterling, Illinois

Photo/Allison Weaver

Life in the U.S. is totally different from my country: the colors, smells and taste. In my country, mountains are green; here in Arizona they are brown. Vegetables in my country are fresh; here they are frozen. In my country we have local markets and here there are supermarkets. All these changes are very exciting for me. I can learn new ways to see and to do things. Here there are no bakeries as in my country, but my housemates have taught me that I can make my own bread. There are not chickens in my yard that eat the vegetables that I don't use for cooking, but I have learned to compost them. Here there are no stores on every corner to shop but I have learned to plan my supermarket purchases. And finally, there is something that is here and, in my country, and it is God, demonstrated in the love and kindness of the people, in the immensity of nature and in the joy of my heart for being here. – Nely Cotuc Perez from Guatemala to Tucson, Arizona

Photo/Henry Derstine

My first time being abroad is in the U.S. It’s such an amazing country to be in. It has been seven weeks and such an incredible experience. The weather is absolutely beautiful and amazing. I never experienced this kind of weather before. The U.S. is rich in sports, which I love. I got to play a lot of sports that I did not know existed. People have different perspectives of the U.S. Some people think that it’s all about tall buildings, big cities, variety of food. It’s true, but it isn’t just about those things. The people here are very nice. I admire how friendly people are. When I go to the store, if I see 10 people, they’re all smiling at you and say, “Hi.” We do not find that often in Cambodia. Moreover, what impresses me the most is that there are believers who have dedicated their whole lives to living in a conservative and simple way. It’s very peaceful and encouraging. – Sreynith Hong from Cambodia to Harleysville, Pennsylvania