F-1 Cultural Adjustment

Your decision to pursue your studies in the U.S. is a major one that presumably involved serious thinking and preparation for consequences that you may encounter following your decision. It is also assumed that you made this decision in a responsible manner and that you are fully aware you are crossing into another culture, another place that may be significantly different from your culture or the place you have been accustomed to.

Adjusting and settling into any new environment–be it a new home, a new job, or a new country–is a process that takes times and energy and affects both the mind and body. The variations in climate, geography, religion, food, social mores, politics, and general way of life may make a newcomer feel somewhat “lost”, confused, or even just physically ill during the first few weeks in the new environment.

Some tips on cross-cultural adjustment are provided in this section. ISSS advisors will be willing to sit down with you and discuss any feelings of discomfort or concerns with the new environment that you may have. Should the ISSS advisor feel you are undergoing some serious adjustment problems, you may be referred to an office that can better assist you.

Programs, services and organizations that may help include:

  • The International Peer Mentor Program: This program sponsored by ISSS pairs new international students with current FIU students who will be available to answer any questions they may have.  International Peer Mentors can help direct new students to various resources on campus and provide moral support and encouragement, as they were once new to FIU themselves!  If you want to participate, you can sign up for this program at the ISSS Immigration Orientation or simply fill out an International Peer Mentor Request form in the ISSS Office in GC 355 at the Modesto Maidique Campus or in WUC 363 at the Biscayne Bay Campus.
  • International Student Club (ISC): This student organization exists just for you!  Members include both international and domestic students, but the club’s purpose is to celebrate the diversity of nations represented at FIU and to serve as a resource and advocate for international students on campus.  Participation in this club’s events and activities is a great way to meet people from all over the world, learn new things, and hopefully find a place where you feel welcomed, relaxed and at ease in your new environment. To find out more about the International Student Club at each campus, check out their Facebook page.
  • Department of Campus Life: In addition to ISC, there are many other student organizations and societies for both undergraduate and graduate students at FIU as well as other ways you can get involved and become a more active member of the university community.  The Department of Campus Life (GC 2240 at MMC and WUC 122 at BBC) is the place to learn more about these organizations and to find out what’s going on and what’s new on campus.  This department sponsors many special events that are free to students, so don’t miss out!
  • FIU Counseling and Psychological Services Center: This office provides individual and group counseling at no additional cost to FIU students (this service is covered by the health fee). Their professional staff is always willing to meet with you to discuss any concerns you may have.
  • ISSS Cultural Adjustment Workshops: ISSS may periodically offer workshops that provide information about U.S. classroom culture and other cultural adjustment issues for students.

The entire FIU community welcomes you and hopes that you will feel at home soon enough. We are trying our best to reach out to you as well as to every other student enrolled in the university. However, we can only do so much. You will have to do your part as well by taking advantage of the many programs and services offered, participating in clubs, or looking into other opportunities for student involvement.

Cultural adjustment takes time and patience. It takes effort. It need not mean that you fully assimilate to the new culture and forget your own. It means learning to understand the new culture as well as holding on to yours. You will notice similarities as well as differences. Learning to adjust accordingly to the differences and to understand that there will be certain aspects you cannot change in your new environment can only serve to enhance your experiences here in the U.S.

Some Tips on Cross-Cultural Adjustment

  • Listen and observe. Since there are new rules, norms, and cues that may be unfamiliar to you, you need to listen to verbal communication and observe non-verbal communication carefully and try to put them in the proper context.
  • Ask questions. You cannot assume that you always know what is going on or that you always understand some communication. Most Americans will be very helpful to you if you need an explanation of something. You may need to rephrase a question, check the meaning of something, or repeat what you have said.
  • Try not to evaluate or judge. You will see many things that are different from your own culture. It is important not to label everything as good or bad in comparison with your own culture; most customs, habits, and ideas, are simply different from what you have known before. You may also misunderstand something and thus put the wrong interpretation on it until you have more information.
  • Try to empathize. Try to put yourself in the other person’s place and look at the situation from that person’s perspective. There are very different cultural perspectives of the same situation.
  • Approach new experiences with openness and curiosity. To experience a new culture and to learn from it, it is important to be open to new experiences, to try new things, to be curious about the way things are done in a new place. The more you explore, the more you learn.
  • Cultivate a sense of humor. It is very likely that you will make mistakes as you explore a new culture, and if you can laugh at them yourself, it will help you learn, and other people will respond with friendliness.
  • Acknowledge your anxiety and frustration. Learning to function in a new culture is not easy, and it is natural to feel anxiety and frustration. If you recognize that these are a normal part of the experience, you may be able to deal with them more effectively. Your sense of humor and openness will also help.
  • Become involved. The more you put into the experience, the more you will learn from it. You should make an effort to meet people, form friendships, get involved in activities, and learn about the people and their culture.