U.S. Culture & Culture Shock

U.S. Culture  |  Culture Shock

As part of the Career Training USA program, you’ll have one of the best opportunities to experience American culture by living and working in the U.S. and interacting with many different people. The United States is known for its unique “melting pot” culture which combines the customs of people from all over the world. We encourage you to embrace the diversity and make an effort to learn about the people you meet and their customs and traditions!

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. Here are some common characteristics of American culture:

  • 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 may ask about how your day is going or how you are without expecting an answer.
  • Americans wait their turn in lines.
  • Americans value independent thinking.
  • Americans like to joke, smile, and talk.
  • Americans are concerned with personal hygiene and cleanliness.
Learn More About American Culture

InterExchange Cultural Compass tool contains lists of things to do in all U.S. states and territories, as well as InterExchange staff recommendations for our favorite cities, sites, foods, activities, and cultural traditions. Cultural Compass will get you started with discovering the ins-and-outs and hidden gems of the U.S.!

Want more advice on what to do in certain major cities? Check out the links below to see what other activities are currently going on in major U.S. cities!

Don’t forget to look at our Cultural Events page for events in your area!

Traveling in the U.S.

The United States is a dynamic and diverse country. If you plan to take advantage of the opportunity to travel the U.S., InterExchange recommends that you:

  • Plan ahead: Have an idea of where you’d like to go and how much time you’d like to spend there. Travel in the U.S. can be expensive, so make sure you have enough money to cover your costs.
  • Consider traveling with friends: Traveling with friends can be safer, more enjoyable, and more affordable.
  • Ask Americans for advice: Use common sense when you travel. If you have an emergency, contact InterExchange for assistance.

You can also read our Travel Resources for Exchange Visitors for more tips.

Culture Shock

The W Curve illustrates the ups and downs of culture shock.
The W Curve illustrates the ups and downs of culture shock.

U.S. customs 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 completely normal and is often described as 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 your new environment
  • Feeling anxious
  • 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 feeling out of place or sad, try to determine what the cultural differences are that are making you feel this way and consider different ways to overcome these feelings. It’s important to recognize you’ll only feel this way for a limited amount of time and that you play a role in how long these feelings last. By overcoming culture shock, you’ll be better able to make the most of your experience in the United States.

Ways to Cope With Culture Shock
  • 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 make jokes. Talk with your friends and your employer. They will be understanding and supportive. Try to make friends with other Americans as well as people from other countries. Try new things and try to appreciate the cultural differences you encounter.

  • 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 don’t be afraid to 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.

  • Take Care of Your Health: When you feel stressed, relax by listening to music, taking a long walk, reading a book, or enjoying a hot shower. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet 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.

  • Talk to Someone: When you’re feeling the stress of culture shock, it often helps to talk about these feelings. A friend, co-worker, colleague, or InterExchange staff member can help ease your worries just by listening.

If your symptoms persist or are more severe, ask your doctor or health care professional for advice or contact one of the following organizations to find help:

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 making and 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.

Going Home: Reverse Culture Shock and Reentry

Though you may have been confronted with “culture shock” when you arrived in the U.S. for your internship/training program, you may also experience similar feelings upon your return home.

Reverse culture shock, though lesser known than culture shock, is a phenomenon experienced by those returning to their home country after spending substantial time living abroad. We’ve compiled a list of some of the challenges faced as well as some tips for dealing with them.

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.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation