Bridgewater State University
International Student and Scholar Services
Making the Transition to
the United States
Most international students go through a common and very normal set of adjustment or transitional phases during their stay in the United States. During these phases of adaptation you may experience anxiety, stress, and/or discomfort such as:
- Extreme homesickness
- Desire to avoid social settings
- Physical complaints and sleep disturbances
- Depression and feelings of helplessness
- Difficulty with coursework and concentration
- Loss of your sense of humor
- Boredom or fatigue
Some of these symptoms may result from a phenomenon called Culture Shock.
Culture shock can result from the anxiety and feelings that you experience when you are in a different, unfamiliar culture. When an international student comes to the U.S., he or she may experience this phenomenon while trying to make a successful transition to the new country and to college life.
It is very important to know that experiencing these changes and symptoms are very common. It can happen to any student, even an American student.
- Stages of Culture Shock
- Phase I: Honeymoon
- During this initial stage of adjustment, you may feel excited about being in a different country and feel very
positively towards most aspects of the new culture. This phase, however, tends to last only for a short period of time.
- Phase II: Rejection/Crisis
- During this stage, you may feel homesick and miss how things were back home as "the right way." You may not be able to accept how things are in the US.
- You may lose the initial motivation that brought you to the US and desire to go back home without completing your program of study. As a result, you may get angry, anxious, or depressed.
- Phase III: Recovery
- When dealing with culture shock, it is important that you give yourself some time to adjust and start really enjoying the life in the US. As time passes by you may feel more relaxed and confident.
- Phase IV: Adjustment
- In this final stage, you are able to accept the new culture as another way of living.
Each culture has its own unique norms, which are the agreed-upon expectations and rules by which a culture guides the behavior of its members in any given situation. These norms vary widely across cultural groups. Therefore, norms that were applied in your home country are likely to be different from those in the United States.
- For instance, Americans tend to maintain fairly direct eye contact when making conversations with others. Asians, on the other hand, may avert their eyes as a sign of politeness and respect.
Although it may not be easy to adjust to different norms in the U.S., it is helpful to learn what the norms in the U.S. are and understand how things work here.
The U.S. classroom cultures may seem so different from what international students are used to in their home countries. For example, students are not allowed to
challenge, question, or disagree with the instructor in some countries, while expressing their opinions and "class participation" are strongly encouraged in classrooms in the U.S.
- Some international students also find that how assignments and exams are given in the U.S. is different from what they are used to in their home countries. Some find reading assignments overwhelming especially if English is not their first language. There may be more quizzes and/or exams, but in smaller scales than exams back home.
- For your academic success it is vital that you give yourself time to adjust, and talk to your professors if you have any difficulty in classes. Many professors at
BSU will be more than happy to help you and get to know you at more personal level.
- Many international students may find it difficult to initiate and maintain friendships in the United States. Americans tend to be quite friendly with people they have just met, but this does not indicate deep friendship. In many countries strangers are not particularly friendly to each other, but once they start considering someone as a friend, they will open their doors without reserve. Therefore, the initial friendly behavior of American students can be quite confusing to international students who may feel that these students are too forward, or may feel disappointing when they find they cannot rely on them in times of difficulties.
- Allow yourself time to adapt to a new environment and unfamiliar cultures, talk to your fellow international students who may be experiencing the same frustration,
and stay positive and open!
- International students come to the United States with a wide range of English proficiency. For some students, a lower mastery level of English may lead to frustration when communicating with English-speaking individuals. In reality it may also take international students more time to study due to the
difficulty absorbing the material in a foreign language.
- It may be very difficult to deal with this frustration, but keep in mind that you are not alone having the problem. Utilize language services offered to
discuss the difficulties you are having with your professors, and be patient.
- Tutoring and "conversation partner" services for ESL students are available through Second Language Services.
Adjusting to Life as a College Student in the United States
- Make an extra effort to socialize and establish friendship.
- This can help you feel happier and more connected to people sharing your college experience.
- Keep in touch with family.
- Recognize that homesickness is a common experience!
- Get involved on campus.
- Seek out sports teams, clubs, or organizations that will bring you in contact with people with similar interests to yourself, or try something for the first time!
- Office of Student Involvement & Leadership
- BSU Athletics
- Monitor your physical health.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep and exercise, and that you are eating a balanced diet.
- BSU Health Services
- BSU Athletics
- Monitor your emotional and psychological stress.
- Consider taking a stress management workshop, practice yoga or meditation, talk to a close
friend or family member, or speak to a counselor.
- BSU Health Services
- BSU Counseling Center
- Set goals and establish priorities.
- Develop systems and supports or seek out tutors that will keep you organized and on track as you focus on your academic success.
- Party in moderation.
- Keep in mind that using alcohol and drugs can prevent you from reaching your goals and jeopardize your academic career.
- Seek out mentors or advisers.
- Talk to your Resident Assistant, professors, staff, and faculty as you try to narrow your professional interests in terms of a possible career.
Last Modified: August 30, 2012