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Cultural Adjustment

Cultural adjustment is a process that many international students experience. It is a lifelong process. Living in a new culture with different social norms and attitudes can be both exciting and challenging. Understanding the adjustment process and getting support when you need it will help you succeed at MSU.



 

Culture Shock

Culture shock is a normal part of adjusting to a new culture. 

You will find similarities and differences in the values, expectations, and traditions in the U.S. compared to what you are used to in your home culture. Each culture has its own ideas of how things should be. Individuals naturally carry these ideas with them wherever they go. These ideas shape how people perceive and adjust to new environments. 

This is why adjusting to American classroom culture is easy for some people, while others may struggle to feel comfortable. Culture shock can make you feel confused, worried, and disoriented.

Common reactions to culture shock can include:

  • extreme homesickness
  • avoiding social situations
  • physical complaints and sleep difficulties
  • difficulty with coursework and inability to concentrate
  • becoming angry over minor irritations
  • significant nervousness or exhaustion

From UT Austin at Texas A Guide for International Students

Generalizations of U.S. Culture

We generalize about cultures as a way to better understand them. It is important to remember that generalizations do not apply to everyone or in every situation. 

Here are a few generalizations about U.S. Culture to help you adjust.

Time

You are expected to schedule an appointment and to be on time when meeting with teachers, advisors, professionals and friends. Also, it is considered polite to call ahead if you are going to be late or if you are going to miss an appointment.

Communication

Being assertive and direct is a common characteristic of U.S. Americans. Most U.S. Americans express their feelings and opinions in a direct way. For example, saying "no" is not considered rude because sharing your honest opinion is valued. 

Individualism

In the United States, people place a high value on the individual rather than the group or the family. U.S. Americans value self-reliance and independence and usually expect to take care of their problems by themselves instead of depending on a group or family to help them.

  • Informality - Many visitors to the United States notice how informal U.S. Americans are. Although U.S. Americans value and respect their teachers, they may call them by their given names and speak to them in a casual, informal manner.
  • Privacy - Although U.S. Americans are informal in their behavior, they still have certain rules that they follow. U.S. Americans are hardworking and busy, and they especially value their time and space. This means they need time to themselves and value spending time alone. Therefore, it is good to call ahead or schedule a time to visit with U.S. Americans. Most U.S. Americans do not show up at someone's home for a visit without calling first. This would be considered an invasion of their privacy. U.S. Americans are very careful about asking personal or intrusive questions and appreciate others doing the same. 
  • Friendship - U.S. Americans tend to be very friendly on a casual basis. This may result in many casual friendships around specific activities but not always close, lasting friendships. International students in the United States are often surprised at how friendly U.S. Americans are but how difficult it is to become a close friend with a U.S. American. For example, "How are you?" is used as a greeting, but most U.S. Americans do not expect a detailed answer to the question. 

Portions of this have been taken from Montclair State University Adjusting to U.S. Culture website

Cultural Adjustment Strategies

Things to remember:

Living in a culture that is different from your own can be both an exciting adventure and a challenging process. Understanding this adjustment process and getting support through this transition will help you to have a more fulfilling experience, both academically and personally.

  • Be open-minded and curious. Adjusting to a new culture does not mean that you have to change your own values, but it is important to respect those of other people. When you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, try to think of it as a new adventure. Allow yourself to be curious about the way things are perceived and done in this new environment.
  • Use your observation skills. Since you will encounter unfamiliar rules and norms, observing how others are acting in situations can help you understand what behavior is expected of you.
  • Ask questions. Ask for help when you need it. Asking for assistance or an explanation does not have to be considered a sign of weakness.
  • It's ok to experience anxiety. Learning to function in a new environment is not easy. It is natural to feel anxious or frustrated sometimes.
  • Give yourself (and others) permission to make mistakes. You will inevitably make mistakes as you explore a new culture. If you can find the humor in these situations and laugh at them, others will likely respond to you with friendliness and support.
  • Take care of your physical health. Be mindful about keeping a healthy diet and getting enough exercise and rest. Try to find an activity that you enjoy and make it part of your routine. Being physically active can help reduce your stress level.
  • Find a cultural ally. An American friend (or another international student who has been in the U.S. for several years) can be a great consultant on cultural expectations.
  • Be patient - don't try to understand everything immediately. The process of adjusting to a new culture requires time. It may also require a different amount of time for different areas of adjustment. Try to encourage yourself to be patient with this experience and not be overly critical of yourself.

From University of Texas at Austin Cultural Adjustment: A Guide for International Students website.

Intercultural Communication Training

The Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) provides intercultural communication workshops for campus departments, community organizations, student groups, and local businesses and business organizations.

Learn more on the OISS Intercultural Communication Training website

Where can I go for help?

International Student and Scholar Support Program

  • Free for MSU international students and scholars, faculty and staff
  • Private
  • Support in your language with someone who understands your culture
  • 24 hours, 7 days a week
  • Chat online or call on the phone
  • Make an appointment or talk to someone immediately

MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services for Students

MSU Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) is the place on campus for students seeking help for a wide range of concerns, including: depression, anxiety, stress management, homesickness, adjustment or acculturation, relationships, gender and sexual orientation (LBGTQ) issues, substance abuse, traumatic experiences, eating or body image concerns, and other personal mental health concerns.