Cultural Adjustment

Culture Shock

Culture Shock is a term used to describe the anxiety that’s experienced by almost everyone who relocates to another culture for an extended period of time. Learning to cope with confusion with the language, frustration with different ways of doing things, isolation from your friends and family, and homesickness are a part of adapting to a new culture.

Please realize that you are not alone! Many international students coming to UC San Diego are feeling the same ups and downs that you are feeling. The best way to overcome the "down" times and to meet new friends is to get involved in activities that you normally would do in your own country.

Join a tennis class, sing in a chorus, give presentations about your country to community groups, or do whatever interests you. If you participated in an activity in your home country, try the same activity here, or do something completely different! A good place to start is to come to the International Center and join the many activities that we have designed for international visitors and their families.

Culture graph

Phases in adapting to a new culture

  • Excitement upon arrival, everything is new and wonderful.
  • Homesickness, frustration, fear and depression may occur.
  • Beginning to adjust, make friends, and participate in activities.
  • Difficulty returning to home country, reverse culture shock.

Cultural Hints

Obviously all Americans are not the same, but here are a few common American characteristics that you might find helpful to be aware of.

  • Americans often will say, “How are you?” “What’s up?” “How’s it going?” as a means to simply say “Hello”, and “I’ll call you” “See you” or “Later” as a means to simply say, “Good-bye.” These statements are typically not taken literally.
  • Americans are also very informal, and address each other by their first names from the time they meet, even with elders and people of authority.
  • Most Americans shower every morning, not in the evening like many other countries. Take this into account when scheduling bathroom arrangements with American roommates. Also, natural body odors are considered unpleasant and offensive, so deodorants, colognes and other toiletries are used often.
  • Breakfast and lunch are usually light meals and the main meal of the day is dinner (in the evening) usually eaten around 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm.
  • Dress is generally informal on campus. There is no one particular style adopted; however, it is important to keep in mind what is appropriate on campus and what is not.
  • As a rule, gifts are given to relatives and close friends. They are sometimes given to people with whom one has a casual but friendly relationship, such as a host or hostess, but it is not necessary or even common for gifts to be given to such people.
  • In a question of honesty versus politeness, honesty wins. For example if you are invited to an event and cannot/do not want to go, it is much better to refuse graciously and courteously than to accept an invitation and not go.
  • In the USA, great value is attached to time. Punctuality is considered an important attribute. You should try to arrive at the exact time specified for dinner, lunch, and especially appointments with professors, doctors, and other professionals.
  • Relationships between two people in the USA may be platonic friendships, or strong emotional and physical commitments, or something between the two extremes, regardless of gender. Whatever the nature of the relationship, the most important thing is to be open and honest about your feelings and intentions in order to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings or discomfort.
  • Actions involving sexual intimidation, sexual abuse, sexual assault, engaging in obscene behavior, or other unwelcome, intimidating, hostile, abusive, or offensive conduct of a sexual nature are strictly prohibited by law and are considered very serious matters in the USA and in the UC San Diego community.
  • Keep in mind that unspoken signals (body language) by others may not mean what you think. Various gestures are automatic and vary from culture to culture.