Culture shock is the process of adjusting to a new country and a new
culture, which may be dramatically different from your own. You no
longer see the familiar signs and faces of home. Climate, food, and
landscapes, as well as people and their ways all seem strange to
you. Your English may not be as good as you expected. You may
suffer, to an unexpected degree, from the pressures of U.S. academic
life and the fast pace of life.
If you feel this way, do not panic. Culture shock is a normal
reaction. As you become adjusted to U.S. culture and attitudes and
begin to know your way around, you will start to adapt to and
understand your new surroundings and way of life.
International students experience culture shock in varying degrees;
some hardly notice it at all, while others find it terribly
difficult to adapt. There are usually four stages of culture shock
that you will experience.
The first few weeks in your new home will be very exciting.
Everything will be new and interesting, and you will likely be so
busy getting settled and starting classes that you may hardly notice
that you miss home.
As you begin to realize that you are not on vacation and that this
is where you live, you might experience anger and hostility.
Sometimes you may feel hostile toward Americans and their way of
doing things, and even trivial irritations may cause hostility to
In time you will come to better understand your new environment and
will find, maybe even unconsciously, that you are adjusting to your
new home. You will experience less frequent feelings of hostility
Finally, you will find that you have come to feel that, at least on
some level, you consider your university or college and your new
town, your home. You will have made friends and will feel that your
community accepts you just as you have accepted it.
The length and intensity of each stage depends upon the individual,
but no one escapes it completely. The important thing to remember is
that you are not the only one experiencing these feelings. Many
others before you have gone through it, and there are others all
around you who are dealing with culture shock. Below are some of the
common symptoms of culture shock and some suggestions to help you
get over these hurdles.
You miss your homeland, your family, and your friends. You
frequently think of home, call or write letters to your family and
friends often, and maybe even cry a lot.
It is good to keep in contact with home, but do not let this get in
the way of meeting new friends and enjoying your new home. Make an
effort to meet new people, in your residence hall, in class, and
through the international student center. You might also want to
join a committee, interest group, or sports team on campus or in
your city. Find one thing with which you are comfortable — for
example, music, food, or an activity — and make this the starting
point toward making yourself feel at home in America.
Minor irritations make you unusually angry, and you feel life in the
United States is the cause of your problem. You feel your
expectations have not been met.
It takes time to get used to life in a foreign country and many
things need to be relearned. Be patient and ask questions when you
feel you do not understand. Maybe your expectations were too high or
too low, and you need to readjust your perception of what it means
to live and study in the United States. Talk to your international
student adviser and try to find ways around the problems that are
You become dependent on fellow nationals, friends, or your
international student adviser and feel you cannot achieve anything
by yourself. You are scared of doing things by yourself without
somebody else's help or approval.
It is good to have people you can depend on for the first few days.
However, at the same time, you should gradually take on the
challenges and "do it yourself." It is all right to make mistakes
and to learn from them. You should also try to make various types of
friends, not just your fellow nationals, to fully take advantage of
your American educational experience.
You feel everything you do is wrong, that nobody understands you,
that you have trouble making friends. You start to question the way
you dress and think because you are afraid not to fit in.
If you feel everything you do is wrong, ask for feedback from
someone you can trust, such as a friend or your international
student adviser. What may be wrong is not how others perceive you,
but how you perceive yourself. You should not be worried about the
way you look, act, or think. The United States is a very diverse
country and Americans are used to people with different looks or
ways of behaving. Most important, do not lose your sense of humor.
You might find yourself facing situations that are not accepted in
your culture and have trouble getting accustomed to them. For
example, relationships between men and women, the informality of
American life, political or religious attitudes, or the social
behavior of Americans may seem amoral or unacceptable to you.
Look for information on the things that surprise you or make you
feel uncomfortable, and try to remain flexible, respectful, and
open-minded. This can be a great occasion to learn more about topics
that might be less popular or taboo in your country. Try to enjoy
the new cultural diversity and the various cultural points of view.
It might be helpful to talk to someone from the same culture or
religion who has been living in the United States for a while to
discuss how this person has dealt with values shock.
Other strategies to cope with the stress of culture shock include:
"I had a lot of trouble at first getting adapted to living in the
USA. What frustrated me most was that I did not know how even the
simplest things worked! For example, I had never used an
American-style washing machine before and ended up ruining some of
my best clothing. It took me a long time also to get used to the
American bank system, since I had never used automated teller
machines or personal checks. Other simple things like temperatures
and measurements, for example, were difficult to understand because
Americans do not use the metric system like in my country. Sometimes
I felt like a real idiot, and that made me quite depressed. But
after a while, I could do all these things without even thinking
about it. I guess I just had to give myself a bit of time to learn."
- Make sure you know what to expect before you arrive.
Carefully read this guide and other books and magazines on the
United States to find out more about American life and customs.
It would be a good idea also to read up a bit on U.S. history to
find out more about American people, their government, their
national heroes, their holidays, and so on. This will help you
orient yourself physically and mentally when you arrive in the
- Eat well, sleep well, and take good care of yourself.
- Exercise is a great way to alleviate stress and tension.
Join a sports club or pursue some outdoor activities.
- Find some time to walk around your new neighborhood. This
might help you develop a sense of home as you find the local
stores, parks, activity centers, and so on. Try to carry a small
map of the city with you so you will not get needlessly lost
- Keep in touch with family and friends to tell them about
- Take some time to relax. Listen to music, read a book not
related to your studies, and go to bed early once in a while.
- Do not lose your sense of humor. Laugh at your mistakes
rather than getting depressed about them.
— Diana, Bulgaria