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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."