International Student Advising

Adjusting to Life in the U.S.

You will experience some level of culture shock during your time away from home.

What triggers culture shock?

  1. Familiar customs and expectations are gone, and you don’t understand the new customs and expectations.
  2. Whether your culture is similar to US culture or very different.
  3. Ambiguity and uncertainty. You can’t easily predict what will happen next.
  4. Self doubt.
  5. A lack of common identity with the new culture.

How do people react to culture shock?

  1. Being tired, discomfort, frustration
  2. A feeling of helplessness, the inability to cope with the demands of the day.
  3. Very concerned with personal cleanliness or personal health.
  4. Excessive fear of being taken advantage of and negative feelings about the host culture.
  5. Irritability and anger over minor frustrations.
  6. Loneliness and reluctance to be social.
  7. Dependence on members of your own culture.
  8. Longing for home, being disengaged with the present.

How do people cope with culture shock?

  1. Get a good start. Be sure you embark on your journey rested and in good health. Do your research before you go.
  2. When you arrive, get a good sense of your local environment. Explore and map the neighborhood. Figure out where to shop, do laundry, get medical help or police assistance.
  3. Keep regular hours. Eat, sleep, and study at about the same time every day.
  4. Get some exercise. Maintain regular exercise habits or start new ones.
  5. Observe people closely. Try to pick up on non-verbal communications. Practice them!
  6. Go to classes everyday. Develop your language skills to increase your control over it. Keep up with your work. Falling behind will make you feel worse.
  7. Avoid grouping with friends from your country. Join a club or sports group.
  8. Keep a journal and write about your feelings and experiences. This will help create some objectivity and serve as an outlet for your emotions and frustrations.
  9. Moderate your expectations. Be proud of your “baby steps”. Take pleasure in the small tasks you can do.
  10. Have some fun. Spend some time in a place that’s comfortable for you. Do something you enjoy each week.
  11. Seek help if you need it. Friends, program leaders, host families can all offer some help.
  12. Keep an open mind and try to accept the people and culture rather than resist. Believe that time will bring change. Allow frustrations to “flow away” from you. Look for the humor in all things.

Culture Shock: Four Common Patterns of Behavior

  1. Fugitives avoid contact and spend a lot of time in the room. Hard study, lots of reading, and outpouring of letters and long hours of sleep are signs of this reaction. Blame falls on the foreign culture, but even more on oneself. Feels ashamed to be homesick and miserable after having dreamt of a great year abroad.
  2. Natives criticize their own country and want to melt into the crowd. A loner, she shuts off contact with other people from her country and feels tempted never to return home.
  3. Critics draw no comparisons and cast blame on all sides, playing no favorites. The weather is intolerable, the prices exorbitant, the people dull. The academic program is trivial, the teachers uninspiring, the students infantile and everything is going wrong.
  4. Chauvinists talk endlessly to anyone who will listen, underlining the contrast between the home and the U.S. His appreciation for his homeland is high and he puts the local people down. His sneers are sometimes public and his unhappiness mounts.