Cultural exchange occurs when people gain more in-depth understanding and knowledge about another country, its culture, its customs and its day-to-day practices through person-to-person contact. Our participants as well as our hosts embrace this aspect of InterExchange programs and understand its importance whether they’re part of a camp, a family, a seasonal business, or a professional environment.
The United States is often described as a “melting pot” attracting people from countries all over the world. It is a culture that is continuously being reshaped and redefined as more people from other countries gain exposure to the country. It is also influenced by visitors who share their cultures during their time in the U.S. and by the deeper insights and favorable attitudes about American life they return to their home countries with.
InterExchange makes it a priority to give our participants and hosts resources to explore cultural learning opportunities together or independently. We’ve created an online guide to U.S. culture, including recommended sites and activities for everyone to enjoy during time spent in the U.S. We encourage everyone to discover new places and aspects of American culture, whether they’re visitors or natives!
The InterExchange Inside the USA handbook also contains many helpful recommendations and resources.
What Is Culture Shock?
Almost all international interns/trainees will encounter some difficulties adjusting to living and working in the U.S. Culture shock is defined as the psychological shock of having to adjust to new surroundings and a new culture that may be dramatically different from one’s own. Participants may notice that the familiar signs of home and the automatic responses used in their daily lives in their home countries may not achieve the desired results. Climate, food, landscapes, people, and their ways may all seem strange. English ability may not serve the participant as well as he or she expected. The participant may feel the pressures of the fast paced life in the U.S. You should expect a short transitional period while the participant “warms up” to his or her new situation.
Signs of Culture Shock
International interns/trainees experience culture shock to varying degrees; some hardly notice it at all, while others can become overwhelmed. Many may not attribute their problems to culture shock. Whatever the case may be, being sensitive to these issues will benefit you all. If at any time, you require assistance in dealing with any cultural misunderstandings, please do not hesitate to call the InterExchange Career Training USA program staff.
Below are some common signs of culture shock:
The participant may feel isolated and frustrated. He or she may become nervous and/or excessively tired or may sleep a lot, even after recovering from jet lag.
The participant may be excessively homesick. It is normal to miss home, family and friends but if the participant can think of nothing else, email/Skype, call home all the time, or frequently seem depressed or cry, he or she is most likely suffering from culture shock. The participant's attitude towards the U.S. may seem unfavorable as the cause of this discomfort. Normal, minor irritations may make them overly upset.
The participant may become dependent upon others from his or her home country. These friendships are important and are extremely supportive. However, a participant spending time exclusively with others from his or her home country denies him or herself the educational experience of interacting with people from the U.S. and other countries.
The participant may have deep doubts about the decision to come to the U.S. and may experience stress and anxiety in the workplace. He or she may wonder: “Why does my boss speak so loudly and quickly?” “Will I be able to repay my parents the money they lent me?” This stress can become overwhelming and cause tension.
The participant may feel reluctant to speak English or to associate with people.
Coping With Culture Shock
Almost all interns/trainees overcome their culture shock and successfully complete their programs. The following suggestions may help you in understanding and resolving any problems that may arise:
Maintain your perspective. The participant will occasionally need your advice or encouragement. Usually the participant will just need to know he or she has someone on his or her side to help boost his or her confidence while adapting to this new environment.
Keep an open mind and a sense of humor. People in the U.S. may do or say things that people in the participant’s home country would not do or say. Try to understand that the participant is acting according to his or her own set of values and that these values are from a culture different from yours.
Review the “About U.S. Culture” section of our website for recommendations of sites and activities that your interns/trainees can enjoy.
Encourage the participant to become involved in local activities and introduce him/her to opportunities when possible (such as joining a sports team or obtaining a local sports facility membership, community events, street fairs, volunteer activities, etc.).
Read our section on Culture Shock for more suggestions to help interns/trainees cope with the transition: