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U.S. Culture and Cultural Adjustment

In the Classroom

  • In the U.S., it is acceptable to ask questions or discussions with your professors.
  • Some professors view class participation as part of the course grade.
  • If you do not understand the course material, it is acceptable to meet with the professor during office hours. You should not be afraid to ask for help.
  • Due dates for assignments are firm. You must hand in the assignment by that date to receive full credit.
  • If you know you will miss a due date, you should explain to your professor as soon as possible and try to work out an arrangement that is agreeable. Some professors will try to help you; others might be more firm in their due date requirements.
  • Time management is an important skill to learn.
  • Critical thinking must be learned. You should not copy answers from the Internet.
  • Independent thinking is valued in U.S. culture.
  • Presenting ideas clearly and in a well-thought-out manner is valued.
  • U.S. students can be competitive.
  • Treat all students equally.
  • Informality is normal.
  • Friendship is based on similar interests and doing things in common – sports, movies, studying.

Interacting with Americans

  • Americans are very informal in dress and social interactions. American students wear jeans and T-shirts and carry backpacks.
  • People call each other by their first names; it is a sign of mutual respect, open dialogue and intellectual exchange.
  • Use titles for professors and those in authority until asked otherwise (Professor/Doctor/Mr./Mrs./Ms.).
  • Americans place a high value on time. They do not like to wait. It is considered rude to be late; if you will be late to a social engagement, call or text to let others know and give an explanation.
  • Americans value hard work.
  • Americans view themselves as individuals with freedom and responsibility to manage their own lives.
  • Americans are not always comfortable being obligated or dependent on others.
  • Americans value personal space. We tend to stand about two or three feet apart when talking to each other. We might move back if we feel another person is too close.
  • Americans tend to make eye contact when speaking. This is seen as showing you are truthful and trustworthy.
  • Americans are very direct. We do not guard our emotional responses, as some other cultures do.
  • Watch how Americans say something: You can learn how we feel about a subject by the tone of our voice, our facial expressions, or our hand gestures.
  • If you are invited to someone’s home for a party or dinner, it is appropriate to let the host know if you will attend. This is called RSVP (please respond). You do not have to bring a gift, but flowers or other small items are appropriate if you want to gift your host/hostess.
  • It is appropriate to let your host know if you have certain foods you cannot eat.
  • Americans like to look and smell good and be “germ-free”. Some Americans might react negatively to those who do not bathe frequently, use deodorant, or regularly wash their clothing.

Regional Phrases and Slang

You will find that U.S. citizens have many regional phrases and use slang. Sometimes there is no direct translation. Some English words have multiple slang definitions. Context is important!
Here are some slang dictionaries that might be helpful:

Dealing with Organizations

  • Be respectful.
  • Remember that in the U.S., rules are followed. Procedures and paperwork are not negotiable.
  • It is more effective to explain exactly what you need and what kind of problem you have been having, and ask, “What do I do now?”
  • If you follow procedures and instructions carefully, a lot of time and energy can be saved.
  • If you aren’t sure, ask.
  • Take the names and phone numbers of those who were able to help you, in case there is a delay or problem and you need more help.

Adjustment/Culture Shock

Culture shock is a physical and psychological reaction that comes from changes to your everyday routine.
Almost everyone who moves to another country will experience some culture shock.
It is a natural process and nothing to be ashamed of.
The stages are

  • Pre-departure Anxiety: This happens in your home country, before you leave. You will experience a gradual increase in your emotional excitement.
  • The Honeymoon: The first reaction to a new culture is often euphoric . The differences in scenery, food, language or dialect are very exciting.
  • Initial Culture Shock: This is where excitement turns into frustration. It is difficult to communicate. You can’t find your favorite foods. You miss family and friends.
  • Surface Adjustment: You have settled into a new routine. You are registered for classes and you’ve started meeting people, some with similar interests.
  • Deep Culture Shock: There may be unresolved differences between American culture and your home culture.

Physical symptoms

  1. Fear of physical contact with the host national

  2. Health and safety are over-stressed

  3. Absentmindedness

  4. Crave food from home

  5. Use alcohol or drugs to cope

  6. Work declines in quality

  7. Unsuccessful performance of daily tasks

  8. Fatigue

Psychological symptoms

  1. Anxiety and irritability

  2. Frustration and disorientation

  3. Rejection of others from host country

  4. Hostility toward host country

  5. Excessive fear of being robbed, cheated or injured

  6. Fear of physical contact with the host national

  7. Health and safety are over-stressed

  8. Absentmindedness

  9. Crave food from home

  10. Use alcohol or drugs to cope

  11. Work declines in quality

  12. Unsuccessful performance of daily tasks

  13. Fatigue

  14. Misinterpretation of others’ gestures and body language

  15. Self-doubt

  16. Aggressive attitude

  17. Mood swings

  18. Feeling of helplessness

  19. Feeling of being rejected

Adaption and Adjustment: This requires the ability to know yourself well and know the ways of the culture and its expectations for you. You might be challenged to learn new concepts and ideas. Keep an open mind and it will help you adapt in this new culture.

What can I do about culture shock? Do not isolate yourself. You are not alone. Go out with friends or classmates. Do things socially beyond studying. See a counselor in International Student Services or UTSA’s Student Counseling Services if you feel overwhelmed.

Culture Shock Survival Tips

  • Avoid isolation. Talk to others.
  • Keep in touch with home. Use e-mail, texting and social networking sites to stay in touch with family and friends at home.
  • Keep your sense of humor.
  • Withhold judgment on something until you understand it.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions if you do not understand something
  • Do things you enjoy doing to relax: Paint, read, exercise, play music
  • Seek help if you need it from family, friends, your host family, academic advisors, International Student Services, your professors, or UTSA Student Counseling Services.