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Living in the U.S.

Cultural adaptation

Cultural adaptation is the process of integrating into a new culture and feeling comfortable within it. This process takes time, and most people experience some discomfort before they are able to function well in a new setting. One manifestation of this discomfort is "culture shock." This is a very normal stage of the process that nearly everyone goes through.

Just as students bring clothes and other personal items with them to the United States, they will also bring invisible "cultural baggage" when they travel. That baggage is not obvious like the items in their suitcases, but it plays a major role in their adaptation abroad.

Cultural baggage contains the values that are important to students and the patterns of behavior that are customary in their home culture. The more they are aware of their personal values and how they are derived from their culture, the better prepared they will be to see and understand the cultural differences they will encounter abroad. Previous LCI students suggest:

  • The best thing to do is to make friends from the United States.
  • Learn about the U.S. culture and try to understand the society.
  • If students find people from their country, or other international students, they should make friends with them.
  • Join a social or sports club.
  • Participate in activities and do not stay home alone.

Respecting the elderly

Americans show respect for the elderly very differently from many other societies. Sometimes this causes international visitors to believe that Americans do not respect the elderly. However, when the young talk with older people they are usually formal and polite. For example, the young may allow the elderly to talk first, and longer. The young may listen to older people more than they speak, but they are usually able to express their opinions and make their own decisions.

In the U.S., people are seen as equal, regardless of their age. Americans may not always accept advice from their elders, especially about choice of friends, studies, jobs, and marriage partners. Students may find it strange that people living in the United States ask why they don’t listen to their elders' advice instead of following their own ideas. United States citizens tend to value personal independence more than deference to family elders, and parents are proud to have independent, self-supporting children.

Eye contact

Eye contact is different in the United States from some other cultures. In the United States, a person expects other people to look directly into his or her eyes most of the time when he or she is speaking with them. (Women may face each other directly; men often stand side by side.) Eye contact shows respect for the other person, and shows interest in what he or she is saying.

Personal space

Personal space means the distance people need to keep between each other in order to feel comfortable while they talk with each other. This distance varies from one society to another. For example, in the United States and Asia, the suitable distance would be an arm's length or one meter. In other areas of the world, such as Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, the distance is less.

Physical contact

Some behaviors that are perfectly acceptable in other countries are either disliked, disrespected, or against the law in the U.S. Inappropriate behaviors may include:

  • Sending or displaying sexually suggestive notes, letters, posters, emails or other written communication.
  • Making sexually suggestive comments about a person's clothing, body, or other aspects of personal appearance.
  • Making sexually suggestive, insulting sounds, such as whistles.
  • Making jokes about men or women that insult their gender as a whole.
  • Making sexually suggestive or obscene gestures.
  • Making unwelcome sexual advances, propositions, pressure for sexual activity, requests for sexual favors.
  • Inappropriate, unwelcome touching or brushing against someone else's body.
  • Inappropriate physical exposure.
  • Unwelcome attempted or actual kissing or fondling.
  • Sexual assault or physical contact of a sexual nature against a person's will or without consent.
  • Sexual intercourse where the coercion is implied or threatened.
  • Any action taken against a person in retaliation for reporting questionable behavior.
  • Asking a person’s age, weight, salary, or the cost of a major purchase such as a house or car.
  • Burping while eating.
  • Spitting in public places, including the sidewalk or water fountains.
  • Smoking near others without asking if it bothers them.

Students must develop an awareness of their actions to avoid inappropriate behaviors.

Students should also be aware that they can and should report inappropriate behaviors by other people. If they need help to decide how to manage unwanted and uncomfortable attention, they can contact the assistant director for student services for assistance.