Communicating in American Culture


2 minutes

When you first arrived in the United States, you may have felt a kind of euphoria – everything was new, exciting, and different! However, as you acclimated and settled in to life with your host family, you realized that this is real life with all its struggles and triumphs. It's undoubtedly different than any experience you've had before, because you're living and working in a new culture! One of the most difficult parts of this can be adjusting to different communication styles.

In your home country, especially in your home community, a certain type of smile or a tone of voice often means something very specific. Here in the States, however, that same smile or tone may mean something completely different. (Remember the Intercultural Communication Workshop at Orientation & Training?) It can be difficult to trust your instincts when they have been fine-tuned to help you survive and operate in YOUR home culture.

Navigating a new culture will take time and effort, but here are a few tips to help smooth out communication:

Make an effort to understand a person's intentions before making assumptions. People will often have different tones and body language when communicating with you, and it can be difficult to interpret their meaning correctly. We encourage you to keep an open mind and stay neutral before taking action or responding to someone. If your host mom talks quickly and seems to have a harsh tone, don't assume she's angry. This may just be her communication style!

Ask for clarification. If you get a sense that your host dad is frustrated and not letting you know, follow up with him. "Is there something I should do differently?" or "Is there anything that you'd like to to talk to me about?" are good ways to get the conversation started. Repeat what your host family says to you in your own words to make sure that you understand.

Be honest with yourself and your hosts. If you don't know how to get to soccer practice the first time you go, tell your host family that you need additional guidance. If you don't have time to do the children's laundry before they come home, tell your host family, and suggest an alternate plan. American families appreciate direct and straightforward communication, and you'll have more successful experience by being honest (but still tactful).

Have a sense of humor! Living and working in a new culture can be difficult, especially when you're improving your language skills. But if you can laugh at small misunderstandings and stay positive, this will help you to overcome daily challenges with a smile.

Learning to adapt and communicate across cultures is a challenge, and no one will ever be perfect at communicating, but improving and learning new skills will greatly enrich your life and your understanding of the world. What are some tactics that have helped you become a better communicator? We invite you to share advice and suggestions that have helped you to adapt and share your thoughts more successfully.

Stephanie Willhide Stephanie Willhide

Stephanie started her career working for a cultural exchange program that supports English language learning in Chilean public schools. She came to InterExchange's Au Pair USA program in 2013, and now works as the Web Developer.

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