What is Culture Shock?

As a Work & Travel USA participant, you’ll have an incredible opportunity to experience American culture by living and working in the U.S. and interacting with many different people. What you may find surprising is how diverse the United States is! We encourage you to embrace the diversity and make an effort to learn about the people that you meet and their customs and traditions.

Some 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.

Common Signs of Culture Shock

  • 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. Recognize that 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.

Characteristics of U.S. Culture

Some American customs may seem strange to people from other countries, but familiarizing yourself with 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. It is not unusual for them to bathe more than once a day.

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. Speak 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 put yourself out there. If English is not your first language, try to speak it 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. Relax when you feel stressed 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. If your symptoms persist or are more severe than the symptoms listed, ask your doctor or health care professional for advice.

  • 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.

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.

Learn More About American Culture

InterExchange Cultural Compass contains lists of things to do in all 50 states as well as InterExchange staff recommendations for our favorite cities, sites, foods, activities and cultural traditions.

If you are coming to the U.S. on one of our programs, or are simply interested in visiting, Cultural Compass will get you started on your way to discovering the ins-and-outs and hidden gems of the U.S. Explore Cultural Compass with your host employer, new American friends and other participants on your program and select activities you can do together.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation