Student Life: Adjusting to American Culture

Moving to a new country and adjusting to their culture may be challenging. Remember that you are not alone if you struggle to adjust at first.

Culture Shock

When people move into a different setting, they must make certain adaptations to their usual behavior and attitudes. Some students experience what is known as "culture shock" after they arrive.

"Culture shock" is a phrase for the feeling of disorientation and confusion that often occurs when a person moves from a familiar setting into an unfamiliar one. The climate, language, customs, food, and the culture are different. It is harder to convey your feelings and personality in a language that is different from your native one. You may feel lonely and may doubt your decision to come here. Some symptoms of culture shock include homesickness, avoidance of social settings, depression, or sleep disturbance.

It is normal to experience some signs of culture shock. We at the UFIC hope you will adjust to life in Gainesville and enjoy your experience as an exchange student. If you feel you are experiencing culture shock:

  • Maintain perspective: Remember that thousands of new students from around the world have come to Gainesville and UF. You are not alone in adjusting to a new setting.
  • Keep an open mind
  • Learn from your experiences
  • Evaluate expectations: Your reactions to the United States and Gainesville are the result of the way things are here and the way you expected them to be. You should examine whether or not these expectations were reasonable.
  • Visit UFIC to find out what resources are available at UF that can help you get a useful perspective on culture shock and its learning and personal growth possibilities.
  • Visit Counseling for International Students for additional assistance.

Characteristics of Americans

Although American society is very diverse, it is possible to describe some general attitudes and practices common among Americans.

  • Individualism: Most Americans see themselves as separate individuals and only secondarily as representatives of a family, community, or other group. They dislike being dependent on other people or having others depend on them. Some people from other countries may view this attitude as selfish or self-centered. Others may view it as a healthy freedom from the constraints of ties to family or social class.
  • Materialism: "Success" in American society is often measured by the amount of money or the quantity of goods a person is able to accumulate. Some cultures see this as a lack of appreciation for the spiritual or human things in life.
  • Limited Friendships: Americans are taught to be self-reliant and live in a highly mobile society so they tend to avoid deep involvement with many other individuals. Americans tend to compartmentalize their friendships by having their "friends at work", "friends at school", a "tennis friend," and so on. People from other cultures sometimes interpret this as an inability to be friends with Americans. Here it is seen as a normal way to retain personal happiness in a mobile, ever-changing society. In spite of this generalization, it is still possible to cultivate meaningful friendships with Americans.
  • Time consciousness: Most Americans place considerable value on punctuality. They tend to organize their activities by means of schedules. As a result, they may seem to be in a hurry and not able to relax and enjoy themselves. Foreign observers sometimes see this as being "ruled by the clock." In this country, it is a way of assuring that things get done.

How to address people

  • Greeting other students, professors, deans, and other individuals of a higher status than yourself, will require you to address them differently.
  • If two friends are meeting, you can simply greet them with a "Hi” or "Hello." Sometimes the person's name is inserted after the greeting.
  • If you were addressing a professor with a Ph. D or a dean, you would address them as Doctor, followed by their last name.
  • If you are addressing – your boss, or a client, for example. It is polite to address them as Mr. / Ms. until the situation becomes more informal.
  • If someone says, "Please call me (Henry)", you know you can use first names. If someone uses your first name, you can use his or her first name too.
  • People in English-speaking cultures often shake hands when they meet someone for the first time. It is also polite to smile.
  • In the US, people expect to maintain eye contact with the person who is talking.

Tips & Gratuity

  • Tips, or gratuity, are not added to the bill in U.S. restaurants. Nevertheless, tips are often expected and needed by service workers. It is customary to tip the server at least 15 percent from the amount of the bill not including tax.
  • A 20 percent tip is given for very good service. For large groups (usually 6 or more), a 15% tip is often added on the bill. You should always look at your bill to see if the tip has been included.
  • You do not tip in fast food restaurants. You are not expected to tip in self-service cafeterias, but it is customary to leave a small tip if a server assists you.
  • Taxi drivers expect a tip of 10 to 15 percent of the fare. Hairdressers customarily get a tip of 10 to 15 percent of the total bill. You are NOT expected to tip grocery store baggers.