Coping With Culture Shock


4 minutes

Have you just arrived in the U.S. for the first time? Even though the beginning of the summer season is an exciting and busy time, you may still experience culture shock. Many of the customs here may seem odd or uncomfortably different from those of your home country. Being in a new and unfamiliar place can be challenging even for the experienced traveler and feelings of isolation and frustration can occur. This is totally normal and is often described as culture shock. Knowing the common signs of culture shock and some coping mechanisms can be very helpful in overcoming culture shock.

Common Signs of Culture Shock Include:

  • Feeling excessively homesick, resentful, tired, anxious, or isolated
  • Sleeping a lot
  • Writing or calling home very frequently
  • Crying a lot
  • Feeling resentful toward the new environment
  • Feeling anxious about your new job
  • Feeling reluctant to associate with new people or to speak English

Culture shock can happen suddenly, and it can make enjoying your new situation much more difficult. If you find yourself experiencing feeling out of place or sad, try to determine what the cultural differences are that are making you feel this way and consider a few different ways to overcome these feelings. Understanding that you'll only feel this way for a limited amount of time and that you play a big role in how long it lasts is important to recognize. By getting over culture shock, you'll be better able to make the most of your experience in the United States.

Characteristics of U.S. Culture

  • Some American customs may seem strange to people from other countries, but knowing about them may help you better adapt during your stay in the U.S.
  • Being on time is important.
  • Americans like privacy and personal space.
  • Americans can be very direct and honest, even though it may seem rude to people from another culture.
  • Americans ask about how your day is going without expecting an answer.
  • Americans wait their turn in lines.
  • Americans value independent thinking.
  • Americans like to joke, smile and talk.
  • Americans are very concerned with personal hygiene and cleanliness. It is not unusual for them to bathe one or even two times a day.

Ways to Cope With Culture Shock

  1. Keep an open mind and a sense of humor. While people in the U.S. may do or say things that people in your home country would not, that doesn't mean they're strange or unapproachable. Americans like to talk, laugh and makes jokes. Talk with your friends and coworkers. They will be understanding and supportive. Try to make friends with other Americans as well as people from other countries. Try new things and take the cultural differences in stride.
  2. Stay positive! Remember why you wanted to participate in the program in the first place. You came here to learn and experience new things. This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so put yourself out there. Try to speak English as much as possible. It might be difficult at first, but with regular practice you will learn more. As you learn, you will become more confident about interacting with your surroundings. Everything will get easier with time and practice. A new world of possibilities and experiences will open up for you.
  3. Take Care of Your Health. Relax when you feel stressed by listening to music, taking a long walk or reading a book. Get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly. Take vitamins to stay healthy, and wash your hands often. Consider writing in a journal to remember the best experiences and work through the difficult ones.
  4. Talk to Someone. When you're feeling the stress of culture shock, it often helps to talk about these feelings. A friend, co-worker or InterExchange staff member can help ease your worries just by listening.

If your symptoms persist or are more severe than the symptoms listed, ask your doctor or health care professional for advice to address your concerns.

Once you become more comfortable, you'll be able to enjoy your time more and really take part in all the U.S. has to offer.

As always, whenever you need assistance, the InterExchange team is here to provide advice and support.

An Important Note For Non-Native English Speakers:

  • Always speak English during your program. You may be uncomfortable with your skills and even feel embarrassed, but you will quickly notice that people will be patient and positive when correcting your mistakes. Your English abilities will improve by understanding your mistakes. Everyone will admire you for your willingness and desire to improve.
  • The worst mistake you can make is to keep silent. Keeping quiet or sticking to your native language can further isolate and alienate you from your surroundings. Because English is spoken by everyone around you, speaking English will enable you to make friends with people from many cultures. These friendships are some of the most rewarding elements of the program, and are a great way to overcome culture shock.
Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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