American Culture Shock for International Students: We’ve All Been There

american culture shock for international students

Moving to the US was my dream. It was not easy though. I love NY and always did, but american culture shock for international students came unexpectedly when I was on my first year of studies. I thought that culture shock is nonsense but it turned out to be true. My first signs were cultural difference, language barriers, and homesickness. So I decided to share with my other peers from Japan and we understood that this is culture shock

My Stages of Culture Shock

Culture shock is a common experience for many international students. USA and Japan have different traditions, so many Japanese students have culture shock experience. It often starts with excitement and curiosity about the new environment. But after a few weeks or months, the reality sets in, and you may start feeling confusion and anxiety, and homesick. The following is my culture shock story that illustrates my journey in the US. You’ll better understand it through these stages of cultural adaptation:

culture shock stages

The first stage is the Honeymoon period. At this stage, you may feel excited, curious, and fascinated by the new culture. You’re likely to enjoy the new environment, the people, the food, and the experiences that come with it. Experiencing new cultures seemed interesting to me!

For me, this stage lasted for the first few weeks of my arrival. I enjoyed exploring the city, trying new foods, and making new friends. Everything was new and exciting, and I felt like I was on an adventure.

The second stage is the Culture shock. During this stage, you may start feeling disoriented, frustrated, and stressed. You may find it challenging to adapt to the new cultures, language, and social norms. For me, this stage started after a few months of being in the US. 

I struggled with the language, cultural differences, and academic expectations. I missed my family, friends, and the familiarity of Japanese culture. So, depression after honeymoon stage covered me completely:(

One of the aspects I had to struggle with was american “huge” friendliness. You know, once I met a guy in the online app for dating. He was very friendly and kind and after a few months of dating, he invited me to his house. This guy wanted me to meet with his parents, but he meant only friendship. Such thing could never happen in Japan. I realized how culture may affect the way people differ relationships.

The third stage is the Adjustment stage. At this stage, you may start feeling more comfortable and confident in the new culture norm. Your cultural adaptation begin here. You learn the language, and understand the social norms. For me, this stage started after my first year of being in the US. 

I began to feel more confident in my language skills, academic abilities, and social interactions. Culture barrier disappeared, and I made more friends, joined clubs, and started to feel like I belonged in the US.

The fourth stage is the Adaptation stage. During this stage, you fully accept and integrate into the new culture. You embrace the differences of culture in other countries and see them as an opportunity to learn and grow. 

I’m currently in this stage.“Small talks” and huggies became usual thing for me! Mental shock fully got away from my life. I love the US and have come to appreciate the differences between the US and Japan. 

I have made lifelong friends, gained invaluable experience, and am excited about my future.

My Culture Shock Experience in More Details

My culture shock experience was not easy. Moving from Japan to the US was a significant change, and it took me time to adjust. Here are some of the aspects that contributed to my experience.

  • Language Barrier. Although I was proficient in English, I still struggled with the language. The American accent, idioms, and slang were new to me, and it was challenging to keep up with conversations. I had to get used to using such slangs as ASAP (‘as soon as possible’), Buck (one dollar), or to Ace (pass the test).
  • Cultural Differences. Adapting to a new culture turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be. I couldn’t get used to “small talks’ in America. It was like something new to me, because in Japan we don’t talk to each other so much. The usa culture also supposes constant huggings and contact with others. And that’s great, but I needed time to get used to it, you know. 
  • Communication Styles. Japanese communication is typically more formal and polite. It has a strong emphasis on respectful language and honorifics. Americans, while valuing politeness, often adopt a more casual and informal communication style. So, language shock may come to you unexpactidly.
  • Food. Food in America may be another culture shock for immigrants. It is diverse and has enormous sizes. We, as Japanese, may find the portion sizes larger, the flavors different, and the emphasis on fast food or processed food surprising.
  • Homesickness. Being away from family and friends can be a major cause of homesickness. People often feel nostalgic about the memories they have shared with their loved ones, which can make them long to be back in their familiar surroundings. Additionally, being away from the cultural norms and values can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of isolation and alienation.

​​Coping with Cultural Shock

Foreign exchange students problems are quite regular in adapting to the American culture shock. They may find themselves struggling to fit in, communicate effectively, or navigate the differences in social norms. But, there are ways to cope with the shock and make the most out of your time in the United States.

One of the most important things you can do as an international student is to embrace the foreign cultures around you. Take the time to learn about different cultures, customs, and traditions. People from all over the world may surprise you with how much you have in common with them.

tips to manage culture shock

Another way to cope with culture shocks in america is to find a support system. Connect with other international students, join a club or organization that interests you, or seek out resources on campus that cater to foreign exchange students’ problems. Talking to others who are going through the same experience as you can help you feel less alone and more understood. 

Concluding Remarks

Culture shock in america is a common experience for foreign exchange students, especially Japanese. But with the right mindset and coping strategies, you can make the most out of your cultural shock in the United States. Embrace foreign cultures and find a support system. Remember that the shock is a valuable opportunity to learn and grow, and to appreciate the diversity that makes each culture special.

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Published by
Akari Saito
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Akari is an undergraduate Marketing student in New York. Though born in Tokyo, Akari’s heart belongs to the Big Apple. In her free time, she enjoys drawing anime and cartoons, reading, and learning as much as she can about whatever niche topic she’s interested in at the moment. She never gets tired of enjoying her collection of Dragon Ball characters.