Living and Learning in a New Culture
American cultural differences are puzzling to many students from abroad. After the student has developed an understanding of American culture and how to relate to people, he or she can usually relax and enjoy the experience more. Most international students experience some form of culture shock, which is the inability to function effectively as a result of being suddenly transplanted to a different culture. Research has shown there are five stages to culture shock:
The students who have recovered from initial exhaustion are soon busy getting acquainted with new people, registered in their classes and oriented to the campus. They are caught up in the excitement of the experience.
Immediately following the initial excitement is the frustration with college bureaucracy, academic pressure, and the weariness of speaking and listening to English everyday.
Adjustment occurs after a few days (or a few weeks) of culture shock when the students can understand lectures and textbooks somewhat better. They make a few friends and learn to manage the size and complexity of the campus. Isolation can happen when students devote most of their time to studies. If students have problems with English, this may isolate them further, and they may cling to a friend who speaks the same native language.
This stage is realized when the student finally feels at ease with the language, university, and peer groups. The students will be better able to handle any differences with friendship at this time, and relationships can mature.
As the student draws near completion of their studies and the time to return home draws closer, some new anxieties may be felt. It is difficult to leave new friends and an environment that has become familiar. The students may realize how much they have changed since leaving home and wonder if it is possible to fit these changes into their own cultural framework. This feeling may be compounded if they are aware of changes in their own country and culture that have occurred during their stay in the U.S. Friends can be of help to students experiencing any of these feelings by just listening.
Students should remember that culture shock is a normal process in the transition from one's home culture to a new culture, and most people experience some degree of "shock" in this transition. It may help to talk about negative feelings with both American friends (who can explain aspects of American culture) and international friends who have had similar experiences.
Heidi Gregori-Gahan, Director of International Programs and Services, should be consulted when these problems arise, to assist the student in coping with his or her problems in adjustment.
LIVING IN AMERICAN SOCIETY
Because social relations and customs change so frequently, it is difficult to provide a completely "accurate" guide. Freely expressing one's opinion and openly questioning the system are encouraged in US society. For this reason trying to understand what social customs are observed and attempting to find a comfortable way to act and live in this environment can be quite perplexing. A brief introduction to some basic attitudes may be helpful in understanding American social customs and patterns.
Americans place much emphasis on individuality and personal identity. This often results in a large degree of informality in appearance, interpersonal relationships, and method of communication. Such informality can give the impression that Americans are promiscuous. This is not the case, although in some situations, individuals may be looked upon as exhibiting poor taste in their behavior or dress. As long as one does not infringe on the rights of others, he or she is permitted a great deal of flexibility in his/her personal expression.
Use of Names
Here are a few tips on how to properly address someone:
First names are
more readily used in the U.S. than in any other country. It is all right
to use the first name with someone of approximately your age and status or
with someone younger.
A man or woman
older than yourself is often addressed as Ms., Miss, Mrs. or Mr. until the
individual requests that you his/her first name or until you get to know
the individual better.
Men and women would
be confused if you used Ms., Mrs. or Mr. with a first name, as is the
custom in some countries. These are used only with the family name.
Some American women prefer the new form of address, Ms. (pronounced Miz.) This is used for both single and married women and replaces Miss or Mrs. Ms. is also an acceptable form address if you do not know if the person is single or married.
Both men and women usually smile and shake hands when they are introduced to someone. When greeting someone for the first time, Americans will commonly say, "Pleased to meet you", or "How do you do?" During introductions that are more casual a "Hello" or "Hi" is common.
Americans are curious people. They will ask you many questions. Some of their questions may appear ridiculous, uninformed and elementary, but try to be patient in answering them. You may be the first foreign national of a particular country whom they have met, and they will probably have little understanding of life in your culture. Most Americans are sincerely interested in learning more about you and your culture.
How Americans form and
maintain friendships is perhaps one of the most difficult things for
international students to understand. In this mobile society, friendships may
be transitory and are often established to meet personal needs in a particular
situation. The casualness of friendship patterns in the U.S. allows people to
move freely into new social groups. These groups usually form around work,
school, shared interests, or places of residence. Most Americans readily
welcome new people into their social group. You will probably be greeted by
many Americans with considerable warmth, but may find that this does not
always continue. Americans have many interests and they engage in a variety of
activities, so the warmth expressed in one meeting between individuals, while
genuine and sincere, may be confined to that occasion. Close friendships form
as a result of repeatedly meeting each other and identifying similarities in
points of view and sharing a variety of experiences.
Dating and Relationships
In the United States, relationships between men and women tend to be informal and vary between maintaining one exclusive relationship to dating many people with no commitment to any one person. The expectation that someone will be faithful after a couple of dates has caused many international students to become disillusioned about dating Americans. Going to social events together, while indicating that one's company is enjoyed, does not guarantee emotional attachment.
The amount of physical contact between men and women varies greatly, often depending on the amount of affection they have for each other. A large amount of touching, even at a superficial level, occurs between men and women. Therefore, while casual hugging or holding hands with someone of the opposite sex may appear to be an invitation to greater intimacy, it often is not. In this culture, there is less touching between female friends and practically none among men.
Men still tend to initiate invitations to parties, movies and other evening events, but women may also do so. Studying together, going to a special lecture or other everyday activities also provides a way for getting to know someone. Because few students have a great deal of money, many students go on dates "Dutch treat," where each person pays his or her own way. However, if a more formal invitation is extended, the man should be prepared to pay and provide for transportation.
Concepts of Time
Life in the U.S. may at first seem rather rushed to you. Americans are usually time conscious and being on time is very important. When you accept an invitation or when you make an appointment, you are expected to arrive within five minutes of the appropriate time.
You may receive invitations in person, over the phone, or by mail. Most are informal but also should specify time and place. A casual verbal invitation, such as "come and see me sometime" or "drop in" is usually given with the understanding that you will call and make more specific plans before coming over.
When you accept an invitation over the telephone be sure that you understand where and when the event is to be held and that you know how to get there. If you do not have a car, tell the person who invites you so that transportation can be arranged.
If you receive an invitation in the mail with the letters RSVP in the lower corner, this means that your host expects you to reply and say whether or not you will attend. Some invitations ask for an RSVP "for regrets only", that is, if you cannot attend. If you must refuse, give a short reason explaining why. Most invitations for large public events do not require a reply.
If you accept an invitation to a person's home, it is important to keep the appointment. The host expects the guest to call or write well ahead of time if he/she cannot come. Most Americans do not have domestic help, and it is important for them to know in advance the number for whom to prepare. Do not accept an invitation if you do not plan to honor. Americans are more offended by the guest who accepts an invitation and then fails to appear than by a person who refuses an invitation.
Children and Invitations
Children will be invited to come with the parent for some visits in homes. If you are not sure that children are included in the invitation, ask the person inviting you. If you cannot leave the children at home, tell the person who invites you.
Children may be invited to other children's birthday parties. The invitation will usually tell what the activity will be and tell when the party starts and ends. Cake and ice cream are usually served. Unless told NOT to bring a gift, guests take the child having the birthday an inexpensive gift, such as a book, game or toy.
Your national dress will be appropriate at any occasion and will be of interest to others attending. If you do not wear this national dress, wear what you may have. There are a few rules to what you wear. Generally, dressy clothes are worn to a cocktail party, very casual clothes are worn to a picnic, and "in-between" types of clothes are worn to other functions. If you are not sure about what to wear, ask your hostess or someone else whom you know is attending the same affair.
It is unnecessary to bring a gift when invited to dinner. It would be a lovely gesture and accepted graciously, however, should you do so. Overnight house guests usually DO bring a small gift to the host. A souvenir from your home country, for example, would be quite suitable and appreciated.
Before leaving, tell the host and hostess something nice about the event and thank them for inviting you. Compliments on the meal are always appreciated. It is not necessary to write a thank-you note for every invitation, but it is thoughtful to send a note of thanks for an overnight or weekend visit in someone's home, or after the first time you are invited to someone's house for a meal. A note is always acceptable and pleasant to receive from a guest who feels a host or hostess has been particularly kind or has done something to make the guest happy.
Types of Parties
Receptions are for large groups of people and vary widely. As guests arrive they are greeted by people who are being honored or who are hosting the party. Light refreshments are served. People usually stand or walk around and talk with other guests. It is proper to introduce yourself to someone who is near you. People come, eat and visit for awhile, and leave during the allotted time.
Coffee Hours are informal meetings where tea, coffee and light foods are served. They frequently precede or follow a lecture or meeting to give people the opportunity to visit or discuss a subject in a relaxed setting.
Cocktail Parties are usually late in the afternoon between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Finger foods (food easily eaten without forks and spoons) are served with alcoholic drinks. If you do not want an alcoholic drink, it is proper to refuse it and request something without alcohol.
Dinners are a complete meal. A dinner party is usually in the late afternoon or evening, but some families will have special dinners at mid-day. If you have food restrictions, tell your hostess when you accept the invitation. If the food and service are strange to you, watch your host or hostess for an example to follow. Usually guests leave an hour or two after the evening meal is finished. If there are activities planned to follow the meal, leave soon after the activities are finished. However, it is not unusual for the host and her guest to relax and talk after a dinner party.
Dessert Parties usually involve invitations to a home at 8:00 p.m. or later in the evening. Dessert and coffee or tea, or light refreshments with a choice of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks may be served.
Pot Lucks, Pitch-Ins, or Dish-to-Pass Meals are meals for school or other large groups where food is provided by those attending. The invitation or announcement will tell what will be provided by the committee planning the meal and what each family or guest should bring. Usually each family brings a big dish of food and table service (plates, forks, cups for each family member). All the food is placed on a table and people serve themselves. There is usually a wonderful mix of dishes and desserts to sample.
B.Y.O or Bring your own generally refers to parties where guests are asked to bring what they would like to drink. Food may be provided by the host, or guests may be asked to bring something. It is a time for visiting, eating and drinking. There may be dancing or games.
Picnics are informal meals eaten outside in a yard or park. Some of the food may be prepared at the picnic area (grilled). Games and other outdoor activities may be played.
It is extremely difficult to be specific about the American family because of the many regional, religious, and national backgrounds that are found in the United States. These ideas about American families are generalizations and may not be true of the families you will meet.
There are several different combinations of people that may make up a family unit. The family you meet may be composed of a mother, father, and children. Other families you meet may consist of a husband and wife who have no children at home, or an adult who lives alone and has close friends that share special times and activities. Many people in the area have come from other sections of the U.S. or from other countries, so they may not have any relative in the area. In many of the families, both the husband and wife are employed away from home. Those who are not employed outside the home are active in church and/or community organizations that are concerned with the community. Many who are employed will also participate in some church and community activities.
Few American families have servants. Those who do may have someone stay with children while parents are away, or someone to mow the lawn as needed.
Household responsibilities are shared equally among its members, including children. One's sex no longer necessarily determines his or her responsibilities. Jobs that were once "women's work" (such as cleaning and cooking) or "men's work" (such as taking care of the car and yard) nowadays are done by either sex. Some families still follow traditional patterns, but with much less frequency than in earlier days. American families often share more than household duties. For example, husbands and wives may share in making all sorts of decisions, and either might assume various responsibilities. The opinions of children are often considered, and usually families include them in entertaining.
Both boys and girls may take music lessons, swimming lessons, or sports or classes of other kinds. School-age children may also belong to scouts and other community and school groups.
If the family has a pet, it may be introduced to you as if it were a member of the family. Families love their pets and may treat them more like people than animals.
It is possible that some American family customs may annoy you. If this happens it may be because of a difference in American customs and your own. To help you enjoy your visit more, try to discover the reasons underlying the cultural differences.
A Note about Hygiene
You will probably notice that Americans are "clean freaks" and place a great deal of importance on outward appearance. Americans are offended if a person smells of sweat or has bad breath. Showering daily, as most Americans do, is not sufficient to prevent body odor. Because Americans are so sensitive to odor, they use deodorant under their arms, brush their teeth twice a day, and use breath fresheners when they believe their breath smells stale, after smoking, or after eating onions and garlic. Clothes, especially shirts and blouses, are washed after one or two wearings, even if they appear to be clean.
The following is a list of some of the special days celebrated in the United States. The list is not inclusive. Shading over the date indicates that post offices and banks are closed on that day.
New Year's Day
of the first day of the year.
|Second Monday in January
Martin Luther King Day
A day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for all he did to combat racism and prejudice in the United States.
|Third Monday in February
Washington's Birthday is observed
Celebration of the birthday of the first President of the United States.
|Originally for sweethearts, it is now a day to send cards to loved ones. Red hearts are symbolic of this day, and cards, flowers and chocolates are traditional gifts. Young school children make and exchange Valentine's Day cards.|
April Fool's Day
|A day for playing harmless jokes or pranks on others.|
Sunday in May
|A day to honor mothers and grandmothers. Mother's Day cards are sent through the mail.|
|Last Monday in May
|A day to honor the memory of the dead. People often decorate the graves with flowers. Military services honor those who have died at war. This day also marks the beginning of the summer season.|
Sunday in June
|A day to honor fathers and grandfathers. Again, cards are sent through the mail.|
|The birthday of the United States of America. The day on which the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress, July 4, 1776. Traditional colors of this day are red, white and blue.|
|First Monday in September
|A day to honor the working people. Labor organizations sponsor various celebrations. It also symbolizes the end of the summer season.|
|This is basically a children's holiday. Children dress up as ghosts, witches, etc., and go "trick or treating", a custom of going from house to house with a paper sack. They ring the door bells and are offered a piece of candy to protect the householder from a "trick". Some of the children will also collect donations to support UNICEF.|
|A special day to honor the courage and patriotism of all the men and women who have served in the U.S. armed services.|
|4th Thursday in November
|A day for families to give thanks with feasting and prayer for the blessings they have received during the year. Thanksgiving dinner often includes turkey, pumpkin pie, and other traditional foods. This day also marks the beginning of the holiday season which lasts until New Year's Day.|
(date changes every year)
|An eight-day holiday celebrated by Jews to commemorate the rededicating of their temple in ancient days. Today gifts are exchanged between family members.|
|A holiday celebrated by Christians to observe the birth of Jesus Christ. A spirit of good will pervades and gifts and cards are exchanged among family and friends. Much attention is given to Christmas by the media.|
|212 (boiling)||100 (boiling)|
|98.6 (body temp)||37|
between US Standard Weights and Measures
And the Metric System
|1 gram||.0453 ounces|
|30 grams||1 ounce|
|500 grams||1.1 pounds|
|1 kilogram||2.2 pounds|
|1 tonne||1.1023 ton|
|1 centimeter||.3937 inches|
|2.54 centimeters||1 inch|
|1 meter||3.280 feet|
|1 meter||1.094 yards|
|1 meter||.198 rods|
|l hectar||2.471 acres|
|1609.3 meters||1 mile|
|l liter||2.113 pints|
|l liter||1.056 quarts|
|3.875 liter||l gallon|
|2.25 deciliters||1/2 pint|
|225 grams butter||1/2 pound|
|450 grams||1 pound|
|5 grams||1 teaspoon|
|15 grams||1 tablespoon|
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