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Cultural Adjustment

Living in the United States might be different than your own country. Here are some tips to make your cultural transition better.

Academic Environment

You may find that there are significant differences in the U.S. classroom as compared to your experiences at home. If there is something that you do not understand in the classroom, make sure to speak up. Raise your hand to ask a question or talk to your professor before or after class. Professors will often have office hours where you can set up an appointment to meet with them to ask more questions about class, assignments, or tests.

Choose your classes carefully and pace yourself. Taking too many courses or too many challenging courses at once can be discouraging and can negatively affect your grades. If you have questions about what classes to take, you can reach out to Academic Advising.

Cultural Transition

As you come to America you may experience some culture shock. Culture shock is a feeling of anxiety or disorientation when you are in an unfamiliar culture or area. It is a natural reaction when adjusting to a new environment. It happens differently for everyone. In fact, there are some Americans from different parts of the U.S. that may go through a similar experience.

As you are transitioning you may go through some of the following: extreme homesickness, trouble sleeping, depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, or a desire to avoid social settings.

Here are some tips that could potentially help you transition to life in the U.S.:

  • Listen and observe others and try to learn from them.
  • Ask questions. You may not know what is going on all of the time - it’s fine to ask questions and other students can be very helpful.
  • Try to empathize with others.
  • Be curious. Try new things!
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
  • Try to accept frustration. Adjusting to a new culture isn’t always easy and it is natural to feel frustrated and anxious. These are a normal part of the experience.
  • Get involved! The more you put into experiences, the more you will get out of them. Make an effort to meet people, participate in activities, and form friendships.

If you find that you are really struggling, please reach out to International Services and set up an appointment with an advisor.

U.S. Culture

Though there are Americans who come from diverse backgrounds there are some generalizations of the American culture. Understanding the American culture can be helpful as you live in the U.S. Keep in mind that these generalizations may not always fit the people you encounter or all circumstances.


Americans believe “all men are created equal” as stated in the Declaration of Independence. This encompasses all men and women, no matter your race, gender, or national origin. Equality can also relate to status and age. People are often treated on a first-come, first-serve basis no matter social status, seniority, or how important the need is. Students are treated the same by professors and other staff members at BYU-Idaho. Do not expect special treatment.

Making Conversation

When talking to other students, you might find that Americans ask a lot of questions. They are sincerely curious about you and may have little understanding of your life. Be honest with others and try to get to know them as well. This shows that you care and are genuinely interested.

Non-Verbal Communication

Even when people aren’t talking, they can communicate with you. However, many misunderstandings can happen from body language or non-verbal communication. Here are some things to be aware of:

  • Eye contact can be consistent, or they may look away and then back at you. Which is normal.
  • Touching other people can make them uncomfortable or nervous.
  • Spacing can be very important. Americans believe in personal space and can be uncomfortable when standing too close. Generally, an arm’s-length away is a good place to start.


Americans are devoted to their individualism. Americans believe in being your own person and sticking up for your rights. Independence and self-reliance are emphasized in the U.S. Americans do not often see themselves as representing their families or communities which can be perceived by other cultures as selfish. Individualism is found in the classroom as well. Teachers expect students to work on their own unless otherwise specified and produce original work.

Time and Punctuality

Time is very important in America. Americans view time as a limited resource. Americans will be early or on time for gatherings and expect others to be on time as well. They will often keep a schedule of activities. Plan to arrive early or exactly on time for appointments or meetings. Showing up late can be viewed as being disrespectful, rude, and offensive. Make a point to be punctual.


Americans can be very direct with others, which may seem rude in other cultures. They often do not hide their feelings and are very expressive. Being direct and honest is often seen as more important than preserving relationships.

Different Customs

  • There is no taboo associated with the left hand in America.
  • They do not have a negative association with the bottom of shoes or soles of the feet.
  • People point with their index finger.
  • Respect for someone is shown by making eye contact.
  • Relaxed postures, whether sitting or standing, are very common; this does not mean that they aren’t listening.
  • Unless there is a specific reason to close them, doors will usually be open.