9 Fish Out Of Water Stories About Adjusting To A New Culture

Adjusting to a new culture can be a difficult and sometimes dangerous process. Not all social norms are mores are universal, so when you're far from home it can be easy to offend someone, or even break the law, without realizing it. The nine books listed here explore the joys and hardships of adjusting to an unfamiliar culture. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Books About Different Cultures: Our 9 Picks

Title Author
1. The Woman Who Fell from the Sky Jennifer Steil
2. Buddhaland Brooklyn Richard C. Morais
3. Eating Smoke Chris Thrall
4. Russian Tattoo Elena Gorokhova
5. Nomad Ayaan Hirsi Ali
6. Honeymoon in Tehran Azadeh Moaveni
7. Never Look an American in the Eye Okey Ndibe
8. Buck M.K. Asante
9. The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay Hooman Majd

Things To Bring on Your Next Vacation

If you want to explore a new culture yourself, you'll want to make sure you're prepared. Here are a few helpful items you should consider getting if you love to travel:

  • A money belt for easy access to cash & cards
  • Keep your dirty clothes separate from the clean ones with a laundry bag
  • Travel-size toiletries that won't take up too much space
  • If you're traveling with kids, you might want to bring along some games
  • Depending on your preference, either a backpack or some nice luggage
  • Cozy pillows can improve any long flight or car trip
  • If you're going to a country where you don't know the language, a translator can be a big help
  • A travel mug for your coffee or tea

Why It's Important to Learn About New Cultures

In Depth

From learning a new language to stumbling through awkward social interactions, adjusting to life in a foreign land can be confusing and sometimes a bit scary. Authors who share their experiences in unfamiliar lands provide us with a fresh perspective on places we think we know. In no particular order, here are nine tales of people trying to navigate the nuances of a new culture.

Coming in at #1 is "The Woman Who Fell from the Sky" by Jennifer Steil. Craving a new challenge, New York journalist Steil takes a teaching gig in Sana'a. Working with the staff of "The Yemen Observer," she coaches writers on free speech and responsible journalism. However, gender inequality in the newsroom is rampant, and Steil fiercely advocates for her oppressed co-workers. In a society vastly different from her own, she develops a deep appreciation for the strength of Muslim women and rediscovers her own passion for life and writing.

At #2 is "Buddhaland Brooklyn," a novel by Richard C. Morais. Seido Oda lives a serene life in a Japanese village until his parents send him to a monastery at age eleven. The lonely monk spends each day praying, painting, and writing poetry. The years pass by quietly until he reaches middle age and things take an unexpected turn once again. His superior transfers him to Brooklyn to open a new temple, a move he loathes to make. While there, he's introduced to a quirky group of people in the Buddhist community. Through misunderstandings, heartache, and a love for his culture, Seido finally learns the meaning of "home."

The lonely monk spends each day praying, painting, and writing poetry.

For #3 we find "Eating Smoke" by Chris Thrall. After leaving the Royal Marines, Thrall relocates to Hong Kong to seek fortune with his marketing business. Unfortunately, he is seduced by crystal meth, and his dreams of success crumble as the company fails. Trying to survive the throes of addiction, he jumps from one shady job to the next. The drug robs him bit by bit, and before long, he's homeless, entangled with organized crime, and in the clutches of psychosis. With brutal honesty and biting humor, this memoir shines a spotlight on the author's struggle with addiction and mental illness while living on foreign soil.

#4 is "Russian Tattoo" by Elena Gorokhova. In this follow-up to her first memoir, "A Mountain of Crumbs," the author recounts immigrating to the U.S. with her American husband. The move is a chance to escape her overly-protective mother and begin a new chapter. Gorokhova shares humbling and sometimes humiliating stories of learning how to navigate everyday life in New Jersey. Small triumphs are met with even more challenges, especially after the birth of her first child. When her mother travels from Russia to help with the baby, and subsequently stays for over two decades, Gorokhova makes peace with the past while looking forward to the future.

At #5 we have "Nomad: From Islam to America" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In this sequel to her best-selling memoir, "Infidel," Ali goes into greater depth about her childhood, exile, and immigration to the United States. Born in Somalia to a devout Muslim family, Ali is disowned by her father after she renounces her faith following the attacks on September 11th. She is so outspoken that she regularly receives death threats. Seeking refuge, she moves to the U.S. and continues to speak out. This eye-opening and controversial story explores the struggle between religion, morality, and family.

This eye-opening and controversial story explores the struggle between religion, morality, and family.

Coming in at #6, we have "Honeymoon in Tehran" by Azadeh Moaveni. American-born Moaveni is living in Tehran and reporting for "Time" magazine on President Ahmadinejad's rise to power. She unexpectedly falls in love with an Iranian man, and they marry soon after. Political tensions continue to grow as the couple welcomes their first child. Women are arrested in the streets for dressing inappropriately, and journalists, like Moaveni, are regularly harassed. She gains a deep understanding of the difficulties of Iranian life, especially for women. For these reasons, she must make the difficult decision of leaving the country behind.

#7 is "Never Look an American in the Eye" by Okey Ndibe. Less than two weeks after immigrating to the United States, the police stop Ndibe and accuse him of robbing a bank. So begins his life in New York City, where he must wade through stereotypes of African and American culture. This collection of short stories highlights the influence Nigerian authors have had on Ndibe's life, the sage (and sometimes flawed) advice of his father, and the tenacious spirit of a man trying to navigate cultural differences in a new country.

At #8 we have "Buck" by M.K. Asante. Born to American parents in Zimbabwe, Asante's future is full of promise. But life doesn't always follow a straight and narrow path, and things fall apart when his family moves to America. With his mother institutionalized, his father nowhere to be found, and a brother heading for a life behind bars, Asante must rely on others to survive. He learns from a motley crew of characters on the tough city streets of Philadelphia, until a single assignment in an alternative school changes everything.

But life doesn't always follow a straight and narrow path, and things fall apart when his family moves to America.

And finally, at #9 is "The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay" by Hooman Majd. As an Iranian American, Majd is eager for his wife and their young son to learn about his heritage. They make the journey from New York and spend a year living a middle-class life in Tehran. Majd hasn't lived in Iran for several decades, so the experience is as foreign to him as it is to his family. Together, they navigate the contradictions of Iranian culture and rising political tensions with both grace and humor. This memoir of their time in the Middle East gives readers a unique perspective of this often-misunderstood culture.