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eGuide for International Students

 
 
 

How you adjust to living in a foreign country, or in a culture that is different from your own can be a process of self-discovery. It is a time that is never quite the same for any two personalities. However, the ability to learn the language appears to be equally as important to the ease of the life adjustment process.

Culture Shock

You may encounter new, different and often confusing situations in the beginning. The term "culture shock" has been applied to the stress that may be created by immersion into an alien culture system. You may or may not experience your reaction as stressful. It will depend to some degree upon what part of the world you are from. The term "culture shock" applies to cases of the more extreme stress reactions. Even if you do experience an extreme period of stress, it is unlikely that you will intellectualize what you are feeling as culture shock. Your feelings are more likely to be feelings of loneliness, anxiety, uncertainty, depression, or sadness. You may just feel unhappy or alienated. If you have these feelings you need to talk them over with someone, preferably your International Student Advisor who can help you understand what is going on with you. Once you understand, you will be better able to cope with your emotions.

Value System

Here in the United States the language, climate, food, religion, dress, family life, sexual and social values, the way of living, and the educational system may differ significantly from what you have been used to all of your life. This may give you a real sense of loss of what you have come to know in your life. The grief you may feel stems from a sense of separation from all the things in your life that you have valued. You may even encounter differences you never imagined could or even should exist from what you have always known. The differences you notice between American ways and your ways at home may seem delightful; or you may experience some American ways that seem distasteful, undesirable or even disgusting to you. It is probable that you will have mixed emotions about a lot of things and this may leave you feeling uncomfortable about your ambivalent emotions.

Physical Adjustment

Your adjustment to life here may even encompass a physical adjustment. The pace of life here in America is sometimes considered to be too fast. A great emphasis on punctuality exists in American culture and this may not fit well with your own sense of time if you came from a culture where enjoying life in the moment or a sense of daily peace is strongly valued. You should remember that there are good and bad aspects of every society. In time, you will make up your own mind which aspects of American culture you can accept and which aspects you cannot find acceptable for yourself.

Individualism

American society is highly individualistic with strong values on freedom and democracy. It is socially informal for the most part. In many ways America is a political, economic, and social society, which permits a great deal more social mobility than do many other societies. There is a rather northern European range of personal distance such as Latin and Middle Eastern cultures; and of more personal distance as in Asian cultures. Americans often control their emotions, especially feelings of passion, affection and sentimentality. Anger is a socially acceptable emotion in many instances. It is perhaps because of this acceptance of anger that violent expressions of anger often occur.

Integrity

Americans are basically honest people for the most part.  Personal honesty is considered a sign of integrity. Therefore, an American may appear to be quite rude at times to people from certain cultures, when in fact they do not see themselves in the least as being rude.  Saying "NO" is considered an acceptable answer if it is the sincere response. It is perceived by Americans to be a straightforward and honest response.  Therefore, Americans may sometimes not appear to be polite people. However, Americans see themselves as polite people in an honest sort of way.

Ethnocentric

Many Americans are highly ethnocentric. That means they strongly value their own culture and do not highly value other cultures. They may be insensitive or indifferent toward other cultures with values that differ from their own. Every society has such individuals. You must remember that this cannot and will not limit you as much as it limits their world view and their vision of the human universe. It is very important not to stereotype Americans based on the Americans you may have encountered in the past. We are a diverse society. Maintain openness toward all Americans if you should have a bad experience with one person so that you will remain receptive to this diversity. Our behavior towards others says much about ourselves. You may never encounter the prejudice of "ethnocentrism".If you do, it is hoped that you will determine to derive from it a learning experience and not a painful memory. Generally, you may find life in America more stressful than other places you have lived before. This seems to be a result of a highly productive society and characterizes life in the postindustrial period.

Your adjustment process will continue as long as you live in the United States. It will encompass many phases. Feelings of acceptance or rejection of the American culture, comfort and discomfort about your life here may come and go, then return again. All of this is normal. When eventually you return home again you will still experience adjustment periods or what may be called "reverse culture shock" or "reentry syndrome".This is all part of what has been called the process of enculturation.

Enrichment

Recognize the advantage of having lived in different cultures. You will be enriched by your experiences, and by the people you will meet and come to know. You will become a bicultural individual, a citizen of the world, and in the process you will find yourself striking a balance between the aspects of those cultures that express your own personal value system and world vision. This will be an illuminating process of self-discovery for you. Ultimately, you will find that many strong ties exist for you to your native culture and to your family back home. Once you are able to recognize your progress in the adjustment process of acclimating to a new culture, you will find that you are indeed making progress toward a successful adjustment to living in the United States.

Perhaps the following statement by Sir Francis Bacon from his "Essays of Goodness and Goodness of Nature" will be of some help to you.

"If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers,

it shows he is a citizen of the world,

and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands,

but a continent that joins them."