Everyday as a kid Sasha Sorokina trained in gymnastics with her coach who was a Soviet gymnast.
Split between two worlds, one of her past and the other her present, she often wondered during gymnastics workouts if she was American or Russian mostly because her mother, the Soviet coach, treated her differently from the other girls.
Today Sorokina plays the role of gymnastics coach in Memphis, and her English is better than her Russian.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 12.9 percent of the U.S. population was foreign born. For Sorokina and others, the challenges that come with adapting to a new country go beyond just language and citizenship.
“In elementary school, I always felt singled out when the kids never wanted to trade food with me because my mom always packed me things like liver spread,” Sorokina said.
The cultural differences reach beyond language and food, but also include non-verbal language and the way people relate to each other.
According to Sorokina, Russian people are generally more direct and less affectionate which often comes across as rude and hardened to Americans.
“We just don’t put up the fake facade that everyone in America likes to put up,” Sorokina said. “Its confusing for me because Americans are so nice up front, and whether they are after you get to know them is a different story.”
Even after living in the U.S. for the majority of her life, Sorokina still prefers other cultures and loves to travel.
There are however, some native born Americans with a curiosity and willingness to learn from other cultures.
Joshua Jenkins was born in America, to American parents. He studies Spanish at the University of Memphis and works as the middle school coordinator for Su Casa family Ministries.
He spends every day after classes with middle school students at Su Casa mentoring and tutoring them.
“I know that international students struggle with the stress that comes from living in two or more different cultures,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins works with students who grew up in a completely different culture than him. He learns about their cultures while helping them adjust to his own.
“I believe that we as Americans could do a better job at celebrating the cultures and heritages that make us different,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said these students and their families teach him more about life and culture than he could ever teach them.
Learning from other cultures, according to Jenkins, could broaden people’s experience and teach them things they would never learn elsewhere.
“In a country where financial gain has taken priority over loving our families, my Hispanic friends have taught me the importance of centering life around family,” Jenkins said.
Juan Mayen, however, didn’t get the opportunity to move to a new country until he was older, making the adjustment process more difficult.
Mayen was born in Honduras and is in the small percentage of Hondurans who make it to another country to study.
“The American degree is seen with a lot of prestige, so hopefully if I apply for a job with a Honduran company, that will move me to the top,” Mayen said
Mayen went to a bilingual school, so he already spoke English, but he quickly learned there is a lot more to culture than language.
One of the biggest shocks for Mayen was the level of safety in America.
According to Mayen, one of the daily fears of people living in Honduras is whether or not they may be the victim of extortion or of being mugged.
“Here in the U.S. I can walk around freely knowing that being mugged or receiving a call asking for money [and that if I do not comply with the request someone in my family is going to get hurt] is an exception rather than the norm,” Mayen said.
Mayen encourages Americans to travel, read native books, and befriend people from different cultures to learn about their different needs and challenges.
“Sure, they could travel to a resort or beach, but I would encourage the American traveler to get to know the local people they interact with while they are there, Mayen said. “I can guarantee you would come back being a lot more thankful for what you have,” he said.
“I believe that America is a combination of cultures, and without the presence of other cultures, America would not exist,” Joshua Jenkins said.