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How international students can better adapt to the American culture

For some international students at BYU-Idaho, the American culture is hard to understand.

The United States is a very diverse country where many different cultures exist. But at the same time, there are general cultural rules that can be different or frustrating for some international students.

“Here in the United States people are very respectful and a little more quiet than Brazil,” said Jessymara da Silva, a sophomore majoring in professional studies at BYU Pathway Worldwide. “I’m a person who likes saying ‘hi’ by giving hugs and kisses, and here people don’t do that. This was very different for me because I feel that I don’t have the same love for people when I don’t show my love like I used to do it in my country.”

For some students, time and schedule is a shocking cultural difference.

“Here they (Americans) start the day very early, so they eat at different times and eat dinner at like 5 p.m.,” said Belen Pauvif, a junior majoring in marriage and family studies at BYU-I. “In my country, Chile, we start everything late and we eat dinner at 9 p.m.”

Non-verbal communication of the American culture is very different from other countries.

“In Brazil, we show a lot of body expression even when we’re talking to somebody we don’t know, but here in the U.S., I don’t see a lot of body expression, and If they do it, I don’t feel it’s authentic,” Da Silva said.

These cultural changes make the adjustment for foreigners in the America very hard.

But according to the cultural adjustment BYU-I web page, there are some tips that could help international students understand more about the American culture and have a better adjustment.

Individuality

Americans believe in individuality. For many international students, individualism can be shocking and selfish, but for the American culture, it is a strong value. Americans are encouraged from childhood to be independent in their opinion and lifestyle.

Time and Punctuality

For Americans, time is very important. Americans start the day very early, thus they eat earlier than some international students are used to. For Americans, being on time is a great value because it is a way to show respect, responsibility and importance towards others; it means that they care about other people’s time. It is recommend that people arrive a few minutes earlier to an appointment or meeting. Tardiness is seen as rude and offensive.

Non-verbal Communication

For Americans, consistent eye contact is important because it shows engagement in conversations with other people. If foreigners do not have consistent eye contact, it can be viewed as insulting because it shows that the person is distracted.

Americans also believe that personal space must be respected and when people are too close to their personal space, it makes them feel uncomfortable. This is also why Americans avoid physical contact sometimes. In many cases, physical contact is correlated with romantic feelings for them.

Adapting to the American culture can be shocking and hard for international students because they sometimes feel they are losing part of themselves, but there are some things international students can do to adapt better.

“Some things that helped me to adjust my culture to this new culture was to find people who I have things in common with, people who speak my language and want to help me with English,” Pauvif said. “I tried to involve myself in the American activities, my classroom and also appreciate the things from this country. I also try not to think too much about my country.”

Other students decided to receive therapy to have a better transition to the American culture.

“Going to therapy helped me to understand how to act better and be myself at the same time,” Da Silva said. “And what primarily helped me was to have friends from my own country so I could see that it was possible to live my culture and respect the culture of the country I’m living in.”

The transition to another country can bring homesickness, depression, fatigue and isolation. BYU-I provides mental health services that could help international students to have a better emotional stay in the United States.

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