Adjusting to Life in the United States
After entering a new culture or community it is normal and expected to feel overwhelmed, excited, nervous, sad, frustrated, happy, etc. all at once. Moving away from friends, family, and the familiarity of home is both positively and negatively challenging. Do not be alarmed or surprised if you find yourself feeling confused or frustrated as you make the big move and adjustment to life in the U.S. Remember that you are not alone. There are some places on campus where you can seek help and support if you are feeling overwhelmed. You are encouraged to contact OISSS with any questions or concerns you have regarding you or your dependent’s transition to life in the U.S.
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) (for students only)
Stages of Cultural Adjustment
Adapting to a new culture is a continual process that lasts throughout one’s stay. It is important to hold on to one’s basic values, while inevitably assimilating to some new cultural values as well. Understanding the adjustment process helps both international students and U.S. citizens accept cultural differences and the occasional feelings of alienation and frustration that come with it. Common adjustment stages are outlined below:
HONEYMOON: Characterized by feelings of exhilaration, anticipation, and excitement. Individuals are generally fascinated with everything that is new and are open to meeting people. However, in an enthusiasm to please, they may nod or smile to indicate understanding when in fact, they may not truly understand what is being said or done. When misunderstandings build, they are likely to experience the second stage of cultural adjustment.
HOSTILITY: Characterized by frustration, anger, anxiety, and sometimes depression. The initial excitement is replaced by frustration with bureaucracy and the weariness of speaking and listening in English. At this point, people may display hostility toward people of the new culture and minor frustrations may manifest into fear, mistrust, and lack of interest in the new culture.
HUMOR: The “Humor Stage” follows when the individual begins to relax in the new culture and to laugh at the minor mistakes and misunderstandings that previously caused frustration. This often occurs after the individual has gained friends and is able to manage the new environment.
HOME: The “Home Stage” occurs when the individual “feels at home” in the new culture yet retains allegiance to his or her home culture- gaining the ability to live successfully in two cultures.
Tips for Coping with the “Hostility Stage”
1) Talk to someone from your home country. It can be helpful to discuss concerns with someone who shares your cultural perspective.
2) Meet Americans. A sympathetic American can provide you with insight on cultural norms and standards in the U.S.
3) Join a club or organization. This is an excellent way to meet people who share similar interests.
4) Put things in perspective. It is common for people to experience culture shock when living in a new country. The vast majority of people go on to not only have a successful experience, but to truly enjoy their stay in the U.S. Try to find the positive aspects of your stay in the U.S.
5) If you are having a difficult time, discuss your concerns with an advisor at OISSS. An advisor will be able to refer you to the appropriate resources available to you.
U.S. Culture & Customs
“Informal” often describes social and even professional life in the U.S. First names are often used. However, initial introductions, and in formal or business situations, it is better to address someone as Dr., Mr., Mrs., or Ms., then by first name if invited to do so. Students in the U.S. generally use first names with peers and last names with professors. “Hello” and “How are you?” are common greetings. “How are you?” is more a social convention than a genuine desire to hear about another person’s well-being. In addition to a verbal “Hello” or “Nice to meet you,” a handshake is a standard form of greeting for both men and women.
PERSONAL SPACE & ETIQUETTE
In the U.S., people lend considerable space between themselves and others. If a person backs away during a close conversation, the person is likely trying to reestablish a comfortable personal distance. People in the U.S. are concerned with personal cleanliness, bathing frequently and using a lot of soap and deodorant, but rarely cologne. Although this might seem exaggerated by other cultural standpoints, attention to personal hygiene is important for business and social success in the U.S.
Despite an emphasis on informality, punctuality is valued. Meetings, social functions, classes, and other organized activities start within minutes of the established time. This applies to professional appointments as well as dinner with friends.
SOCIAL INTERACTION & VISITS
Casual acquaintances are easily made and easily lost. Close friendships result from repeated interactions between people and the sharing of mutual interests and activities. The key is to participate in informal conversations, without letting insecurities of language ability prevent an attempt at friendship. Informal social invitations can be easily misunderstood. People will occasionally say “Stop by sometime” or “Let’s get together” as a polite way of saying “Good-bye”. This is more a form of speech than an invitation. However, either individual may initiate a closer friendship by calling to arrange a get-together.
Host gifts, such as flowers or a memento from one’s home country, are appreciated but not necessary. The host should be informed in advance of any dietary restrictions. It is acceptable to ask if anything contains ingredients that one cannot eat.