Adjusting to a New Culture

Attending high school in the U.S. requires adjusting to a new culture and way of life. This can be both an exciting and challenging experience in which you will likely have both good and bad days. If you are having a bad day, just remind yourself that cultural differences and new adventures are the reason we all love to travel; that is, to experience the unknown!

While everyone responds differently to a new culture, there are typically four stages most people experience as they adjust:

Stage One: Full of Excitement
Once you arrive in the U.S., you will probably feel excited. Your first days will include an orientation (in New York City or in your host community) and will typically be very busy. You will be meeting lots of new people and seeing lots of new things. Along with excitement, you may also feel tired. Try to engage and stay involved to the best of your ability. This will help you forge lasting friendships and will ease your transition to life in the U.S.

Stage Two: The Newness Wears Off
As you adjust to life in the U.S., the sense of adventure may begin to wear off. You may find aspects of life to be different, strange, and even frustrating. The behavior of people around you might seem unusual or unpredictable. Your host family will certainly be different than your natural family. In addition, you may not understand all the traditions and activities you are participating in. Sometimes this can result in feeling anxious, lonely, or homesick.

It is helpful to recognize when this is happening and also trust this phase will pass. Do what you can to identify your feelings, but don’t put too much emphasis on them. Customs and traditions are a unique way of understanding and getting to know your new host family and host community. Participating also provides you with a memorable experience, which will in turn give you a unique understanding of a different culture.

If you need help getting through this stage, try talking with your Local Coordinator or contact the support team at CIEE. We are always here to help.

Stage Three: Finding Your Routine
Once you develop a routine – a regular schedule you follow at home and at school – you will feel more comfortable and confident. This will make it easier to make new friends and experience American culture. For some students, this phase might start just a few short weeks after your arrival; for others, it may not come for a month or more. The important thing is to be patient with yourself. Also try to be open-minded and engaged, which will make it easier.

Stage Four: Making It Your Own
During the last stage of adjustment, you will begin to feel at home with your host family, at school, and in your community. You might even be surprised by your enthusiasm and realize you like or even prefer certain American cultural traits. This is what cultural exchange is all about! Having fun, making friends, experiencing a new way of life, and overcoming the challenges that arise along the way.

Remember: CIEE Is Always Here to Help!
It’s important to remember that you are never alone while on a CIEE program. You can contact us any time to talk about what you are feeling or experiencing. We are always glad to help!