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Whether you have read books and articles, or have studied in the United States before, it is always an adjustment when you live and study in a community that is different from your own. The majority of people studying, working or living in a new and different culture undergo cultural adjustment. There is a difference between “getting adjusted” – settling into your new dorm room or apartment, learning your schedule – and cultural adjustment.

Most of you will be excited with the newness of being in the United States, meeting new people and getting settled into your new lives. For some of you however, the excitement will wear off, and you will experience some difficulty adjusting to your new environment. Remember, you are not alone; there have been many international students before you who have experienced what you are feeling.

Culture Shock

"Culture shock" is very common and happens when a person is adjusting to a new culture and environment. There are some things you can do when you start to experience the sense of anger, frustration or even mild depression associated with culture shock:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge that you might be experiencing culture shock
  2. Make new friends with American and international students
  3. Talk to someone about your feelings - a friend, your RA, a counselor or IC staff member
  4. Get off campus and explore the area - Bristol, Newport, Providence, Boston and New York City are close by
  5. Do not give up

The Four Stages of Cross-Cultural Adjustment

The Honeymoon Stage

The honeymoon stage is characterized by feelings of exhilaration, anticipation and excitement. You are fascinated with everything that is new. You are embarking on your "dream come true", studying in the United States. You may feel eager to please the people around you. You display a spirit of cooperation, and show an active interest in others. Because you want to please others, you may nod or smile to indicate understanding when in fact you have not understood. When the misunderstandings mount up, you move into the second stage of cultural adjustment, the hostility stage.

The Hostility Stage

The second stage of cultural adjustment is characterized by feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety and sometimes depression. You may feel frustrated by university bureaucracy and weary of speaking and listening in English daily. It can be upsetting to realize that, although you have studied English, you don't seem to understand anyone. Sleep patterns may be disrupted. You may suffer from indigestion and be unable to eat. You might react to your frustration by rejecting your new environment.

The internal reasoning might be, "if I feel bad, it is because of them." At this point it is likely that you will display some hostility towards American culture. Some of this hostility is translated into fits of anger over minor frustrations, excessive fear and mistrust of Americans, frequent absenteeism, lack of interest, lack of motivation and, at worst, complete withdrawal. Many academic problems begin during this stage.

The Humor Stage

The third stage follows when you begin to feel relaxed in new situations and begin to laugh at misunderstandings and minor mistakes that would have caused major headaches during the hostility stage. You will have made some friends and you are able to manage the size and complexity of the University.

The Home Stage

The final stage occurs when you not only retain allegiance to your home culture, but also "feel at home" in the United States. You have successfully adjusted to the norms and standards of this University and this country. You should be commended for the ability to live successfully in two cultures!

Tips for Coping With the "Hostility Stage"

  1. Talk to someone from your home country. It can be very helpful to discuss your concerns with someone who shares your cultural perspective.
  2. Meet Americans. A sympathetic American can provide you with insight on cultural norms and standards in the United States. Call or stop by the Intercultural Center or Student Programs and Leadership for lists of programs and activities you can join.
  3. Join a club or organization. This is an excellent way to meet people who share similar interests. Stop by Student Programs and Leadership for a list organizations.
  4. Put things into perspective. It is common for people to experience culture shock when living in a new country. The vast majority of people go on to not only have a successful experience, but to truly enjoy their stay in the United States. Try to find the positive aspects of your stay here.
  5. Discuss your concerns with your advisor in the Intercultural Center or the counseling center. The staff at the IC is concerned about your well being, and understands how difficult it can be to make the adjustment to a new culture.

We promise this period will pass if you let it. If you are having a difficult time, be sure to come to the Intercultural Center to talk about your feelings and conflicts or contact the Counseling Center at 3124 to talk about it.