"Culture shock" is a term used for a sense of disorientation and confusion that most people experience when they arrive in another country or when returning to their home country after an extended period in a foreign country. New visitors to a different culture have left everything they consider "natural" and familiar and are expected to function in a new country right away. Culture shock is a normal and temporary part of the process of adapting to a new environment, and there is no reason to be overly concerned.
Getting acquainted with social and cultural differences is a very important process because it will help you build relationships with Americans. Below you will find some common American customs you are likely to encounter.
Summers in Cedarville can be very hot and humid. Average summer temperatures are often in the mid 70’s and 80’s, Fahrenheit, but can reach into the high 90’s with high humidity for short periods. Students should be prepared with modest, but cool summer clothing, especially at the start of the Fall semester. Autumn often has fluctuating temperatures with some hot days and some very chilly, a blend of warm and cool clothing is necessary. Winter in Cedarville can be very cold and windy. Many international students find winter to be very cold, especially if they come from a warm, tropical climate. It may snow between late October and late March, with the heaviest snows falling in January through early March. Freezing rain, sleet, and ice are also common winter weather.
Students will need a thick jacket, gloves, hats, and scarves. Plan to wear layers of clothing and bring sturdy shoes, waterproof is best. Temperatures in winter range between 23 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, however the wind chill makes it feel much colder. Wind chills can fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Spring is often very windy and wet, so waterproof coats and rain boots are appropriate.
Americans generally consider themselves to be frank, open, and direct in their dealings with other people. They will often speak openly and directly to others about things they dislike. They will try to do so in a manner they call "constructive," that is, a manner which the other person will not find offensive or unacceptable. If they do not speak openly about what is on their minds, they will often convey their reactions in nonverbal ways (without words, through facial expressions, body positions, and gestures). Americans are not taught that they should mask their emotional responses. Their words, the tone of their voices, or their facial expressions will usually reveal when they are feeling angry, unhappy, confused, or happy and content. They do not think it is improper to display these feelings, at least within the limits.
Americans are generally more direct and open than most people from many other countries. They will not try to mask their emotions. They are much less concerned with avoiding embarrassment to themselves or others than most cultures are. To Americans, being "honest" is usually more important than preserving harmony in interpersonal relationships.
In many cultures, there is a great difference in status between students and professors. Students show their respect for their professors by listening quietly. They do not question what the professor says. In the United States, it is quite acceptable for students to ask questions and to engage in discussion with the professor. This is not disrespectful. In fact, professors view participation in class discussions as a sign of interest in the subject matter.
There are a few rules students are expected to observe. It is very important to come to class on time. If you are late, enter quietly and sit down. If you know that you will have to miss one or more classes, let your professor know ahead of time. Make sure you do not miss any assignments.
During the first class meeting, your professors will inform you of their office hours and when and how they can be reached. If you have a problem with the material presented in class, do not hesitate to see the professor during office hours and ask for help. Because professors sometimes have other meetings scheduled during their office hours, it might be best to e-mail the professor and ask for the best time to come to his/her office. Even if you do not have a problem, it is a good idea to get to know your professor by talking to him/her. It gives both of you a chance to get to know each other. This may be particularly important if you have trouble understanding the professor or he/she has trouble understanding you. Often all it takes is a little time to get used to the other person's style of speaking.
At the time of the first class meeting, your professor will specify "due date" for various assignments. These dates are very firm, and you must hand in your assignments by the date in order to get full credit. If you know that you cannot meet a deadline for an important reason, contact your professor ahead of time and try to work out an arrangement that is mutually agreeable.
One thing you need to know about studying in the U.S. is that speaking and learning in English will be exhausting and frustrating, particularly in the beginning. Many international students have to spend much more time than their American counterparts to complete the same assignments. This can lead to stress and feelings of inferiority.
The most important thing you can do to improve your level of success in the classroom is to improve your English skills. Your English will not improve if the only people you talk to outside the classroom speak your native tongue. You have to speak to Americans whenever possible, listen to the radio, read newspapers, etc. Interacting with U.S. culture will greatly enhance your ability to understand your colleague and professors on the academic level. The more proficient your English becomes, the more successful you will be in the classroom.
If you are feeling pressure, you have to take the initiative and ask for help. You must ask to join study groups or ask professors questions. No one will approach you to find if there is anything you do not understand. However, classmates and professors are usually willing to help if they know you are having problems. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to help yourself. Remember how much effort it took to get the opportunity to study at Cedarville University and put twice as much effort into your work to make the most of your stay here.
While many Americans are fairly open and warm people who are quick make new acquaintances, their mobility and sense of individualism mean that their relationships are often casual and informal. This is not to say that Americans take friendship lightly. It just means that while Americans know a lot of people, their lasting friendships are often few.
Comparatively, women in America are generally less inhibited than women from other countries. They are not usually shy with Americans or international visitors. Their relaxed and more independent attitude may be misunderstood by people whose native culture is more restrictive of women's activities. It is not unusual, for example, for unmarried women to live by themselves, to share living space with other single women, or to go to public places unescorted.
There are no universally accepted rules about dating Americans. Traditionally men have taken the initiative in asking women on dates, but this is changing as women are asserting their equal status in society. Common dating events include dinners, concerts, movies, and plays. If you want to know someone better, you might ask the person to join you for coffee or a lunch; such meetings can provide the beginning of an enduring friendship without the pressure of being a "date." It used to be the practice that the one who invited a person on a date would pay for any expenses incurred (such as the dinner check or the ticket price). It is becoming more common for people on a date to "go Dutch," which means that each person pays for his or her own expenses. If you plan to "go Dutch," make sure the other person understands this before you go out.
The most important thing to understand about Americans is their devotion to individualism. They have been trained since very early in their lives to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies. They have not been trained to see themselves as members of a close-knit, tightly interdependent family, religious group, tribe, nation, or other collectivity. At Cedarville University there is more of an interdependent family feeling than at most other institutions. We acknowledge that we are part of God's family and therefore are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Closely associated with the value they place on individualism is the importance Americans assign to privacy. Americans assume that people "need some time to themselves" or "some time alone" to think about things or recover their spent psychological energy. Americans have great difficulty understanding foreigners who always want to be with another person and dislike being alone.
While you are here, we hope that you will meet and spend time with Americans and their families. These suggestions may help you feel more comfortable when you are invited out.
The invitation is usually for you alone unless your host specifically invites your family or friends. Bringing guests of your own without asking your host's permission is considered impolite. If you receive a written invitation, it will include the date, time, place, and description of the occasion. You should always answer a written invitation, especially if it says R.S.V.P. You may respond by telephone or by letter; prompt notice is appreciated. Never accept an invitation unless you really plan to go. If you must decline an invitation, it is enough to say, "Thank you for the invitation, but I am unable to attend." If an unavoidable problem makes it necessary for you to change plans, be certain to tell the host as soon as possible before the time when you are expected. Make sure you get directions to the place where the event will be held.
When accepting an invitation for a meal, be sure to explain to your host if there is anything you are not supposed to eat. This courtesy will help the host to plan for food and beverages that everyone can enjoy. If you must refuse something after it has been prepared, refuse politely. Never hesitate to ask for any food on the table ("Would you please pass the rolls?") since asking for more food is considered to be a compliment to the host. Being on time is very important in American culture.
Americans put a great deal of emphasis on personal cleanliness. The standard of personal cleanliness that a person maintains determines (to a large extent) how he or she is accepted in society. Most Americans are very sensitive to the smells and odors of the human body - sometimes their own, but especially someone else's. For this reason, most Americans bathe once a day and sometimes more during hot weather or after strenuous exercise. They use deodorants and antiperspirants. They wash their clothes frequently. Most Americans are also very concerned about having clean hair and fresh breath.