Studying in the U.S. can be both exciting and challenging. Attending a university in the United States means “living” in a different society – one that may be quite different from your own. You are likely to experience “culture shock” after your arrival to the U.S.. To help ease your transition, let us first identify “culture shock”: the more you know, the better you can prepare for it.

What is Culture Shock?

*the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life (Macionis, John, and Linda Gerber. "Chapter 3 - Culture." (Wikipedia)

*a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Three Stages of Culture Shock

Stage one – Honeymoon Stage

At first you are excited by the new environment and fascinated by the American culture. There may be some frustrations but they do not spoil your enthusiasm. This phase takes place during the first few weeks in the host country.

Stage two – Negotiation/Disintegration Stage

During this period, you become aware of the cultural differences in many aspects of everyday life. These differences may lead to anxiety, unpleasant feelings of frustration and anger. You may feel disconnected from surroundings and seek security from home, which may result in homesickness and an obsession of home food.

Stage three -- Adjustment Stage

In this stage, you are likely to become opinionated and negative on what is around you, start cling to other students from home country and hoping to have negative stereotypes about the U.S reinforced. At the same time, you will have problem-solving skills developed and gradually adjust to the new environment.

Preparing for Culture Shock

  1. Read about living and studying in the U.S
    1. Literature on U.S culture :
    2. Lipson, Charles. Succeeding as an International Student in the United States and Canada (2008). The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  2. Get in touch with your I-Connect partner during the summer and ask him/her about living and studying at University of Puget Sound.
  3. Learn some social survival skills like how to address people in different social groups and how to use gestures and body language.
  4. Buy a journal to write about your feelings after you arrive.

What might surprise you?

Informality: Life is pretty information in the U.S., especially in the Pacific Northwest. Dress is very casual. It is common to call others by their first names.

Conversation: You might hear “What’s Up?” or “How’s it going?” from your peers. These are questions that don’t necessarily spawn a conversation, but just mean “hello.” People seem very friendly and sometimes superficial.

Individuality: Americans tend to value their individuality. They are direct in communicating. A student might even ask you about your grade in class.

Privacy: Americans tend to stand an arm’s length apart when conversing. When meeting someone, they shake hands.

Time: It is best to be on time for appointments!

Classroom culture: Students are very engaged in classroom discussions and don’t hesitate to give their opinions.

Overcoming Culture Shock

  • Keep an open mind. Try not to perceive anything different to be “wrong”. Avoid interpreting and judging others’ behavior from your own cultural perspective.
  • Be courageous. Most of the professors, staffs and students are very friendly and helpful. Do not hesitate to ask people around if you have questions. (Start by introducing yourself to your I-Connect partner and your advisors!)
  • Get involved. Many of Puget Sound students met their best friends during Freshman Orientation, campus events, and club gatherings. Participating in campus activities and joining clubs or organizations will help you find students with similar interests.
  • Maintain a sense of humor. Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s ok if you say something wrong or don’t know what to do in a social situation, laugh at yourself and others will laugh with you.
  • Keep fit. Staying healthy and exercising will help reduce the stress on your body.
  • Talk to someone when feeling low. If you are feeling very low, talk to someone about it. This could be your fellow students, RA (residence assistants), International Student Advisor and Student Counselor.