The continuing process of cultural adjustment.

Author:Smith, Mazika Z.

Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa, I moved to the United States of America to pursue my college education in 1998. A four-year journey filled with culture shock and adjustments to a new environment finally led to a bachelor's degree in psychology from a small liberal arts college in West Texas. My marriage in 2000 to a beautiful and amazing person led to the birth of our precious daughter in August 2003. My marriage is an interracial marriage. My husband is white and I am black.

Raising a biracial daughter and being involved in an interracial relationship provided me with tremendous opportunities for personal improvement and growth. When the motivation came to purse an advanced degree, these experiences convinced me that I knew enough about American culture to navigate the graduate school experience with ease. Surely the only adjustment I would experience would be academic. But life is never so simple. I love the classes, so why the sadness?

Classes were inspiring and practical, and I began believing in my ability to become a competent and effective counselor. Learning skills such as reflection of content and feeling appeased my fears. Studying different counseling theories was great, as was the search for a theory that best fit my personality and counseling style. But as much as I was enjoying my classes, something was missing.

My social interactions with fellow graduate students didn't feel right. Simply meeting everyone in class and exchanging phone numbers and e-mails didn't provide the sense of connectedness with my fellow students that I had expected. Why was I feeling alone, isolated and disconnected? I never expected to be immersed by such feelings of loneliness and confusion. The sense that something was missing led me on a quest to interpret and understand these feelings about my social interactions with other graduate students.

Personal exploration of my isolation and confusion resulted in four pertinent questions:

* What was causing these feelings of isolation and confusion?

* What was causing me to feel disconnected from my fellow graduate students?

* Could my classmates completely understand and accept me?

* Would I ever fit into this culture?

The fourth question in particular was the most disturbing. The possibility of never fitting into the American culture had never occurred to me. What would happen if I never fit in? Albert Ellis would strongly dispute my use of "never" reasoning so I...

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