US culture is beamed around the world in the form of blockbuster action movies, TV comedies, fast food restaurants, rap music, and over-the-top political campaigns – but what is US culture really?
Culture is commonly described as being similar to an iceberg. Some aspects – like those listed previously – are visible above the surface, while others – such as conceptions of equality, friendship, and individualism – are not as easily understood.
When considering U.S. culture, it is important to remember that the United States is a very large country and each region is unique. A person from New England and a person from the Deep South will have very different experiences and perceptions. The US population is also incredibly diverse and a wide range of traditions, beliefs, and cultural expressions can be found throughout the nation.
The following may help to shed light on some aspects of US culture:
- Social Customs and Cultural Differences – A good guide to social interactions and everyday life situations
- NAFSA US Culture Series: Introduction to American Life – A sample edition, but readable
- Culture of the United States - A good overview, but remember it is Wikipedia
- Learn about the USA - Facts and figures from the US government
Adjusting to life in a new country can be something of a roller coaster. In fact, cultural adjustment is often described as a W curve:
- Everything is new, interesting, and exciting.
- Differences become apparent and irritating. Problems occur and frustration sets in.
- You may feel homesick, depressed, and helpless.
- You develop strategies to cope with difficulties and feelings, make new friends, and learn to adapt to the host culture.
- You accept and embrace cultural differences. You see the host as your new home and don't wish to depart or leave new friends.
- You are excited about returning home
- You may feel frustrated, angry, or lonely because friends and family don't understand what you experienced and how you changed. You miss the host culture and friends, and may look for ways to return.
- You gradually adjust to life at home. Things start to seem more normal and routine again, although not exactly the same.
- You incorporate what you learned and experienced abroad into your new life and career.
It is perfectly natural to experience ups and downs as you adjust to life in the US and the process will be different for each person. A few tips to aid in the adjustment process:
- Be open-minded. The US may be very different from your home country, but don’t rush to judgment – sometimes different can be good!
- Be proactive. Getting involved in campus activities is a great way to make friends and establish a sense of belonging in your new home.
- Have a sense of adventure. Explore your new surroundings and engage with the community outside Western for a more well-rounded US experience.
There are many resources available to help you through the low periods. If you’re feeling really down, stop by ISSS – we’ve also gone through the process of adjusting to life abroad and we’re here to listen. We can also help connect you to campus offices such as the Counseling Center which provides assistance to students dealing with a variety of concerns. The service is free to students enrolled for 6 or more credits who have an address in Washington.