Culture Shock and American Social Customs

Culture Shock

“Culture shock” is the name given to a feeling of distortion or confusion that often occurs when a person leaves a familiar place and moves too an unfamiliar one. Coming to Fairbanks from another country, you will encounter a multitude of new things.  The buildings look different, and so do the trees and the birds.  The food is not the same as it is at home, and the people look, speak, and act differently from the people at home. Even the smells are different.  Your English might not serve you as well as you expected it would.  You might not be able to convey your full personality in English, with the result that you think other people are seeing you as a child and your family and friends are far away.

Different people react differently to culture shock.  You may feel stimulated by your experiences.  You may also feel confused, unsure of yourself, and even have some doubts about the wisdom of your decision to come here.  In extreme cases, the stress of culture shock may be so severe that you may develop psychological and physical symptoms that interfere with your academic success.

You may be experiencing culture shock if you notice that you:

  • Become nervous
  • Are unusually tired and want to sleep a lot
  • Write many letters home
  • Feel frustrated and possibly hostile toward this country
  • Get excessively angry about minor irritations
  • Become dependent on fellow nationals who are also new to the country

All of these feelings and behaviors will make it difficult to concentrate on your studies, deal with Americans, and use English.

Coping with Culture Shock

Phases of Adjustment

Cultural Differences in the Classroom and on Campus

Faith and Religion

Adjustment for Spouses and Children

Thinking about Going Home

Thank you to the University of Idaho and the University of Alaska Anchorage for permission to use and adapt portions of their International Student Handbook.

American Social Customs

Although Americans tend to be casual in their interactions with each another, it is always appropriate to practice good manners. These are some of the more common American social customs with which you should be familiar.


Forms and Adresses

Conversation Interruption

Eye Contact



Informal Social Visits

Accepting Invitations

Formal Invitations


Types of Social Gatherings


Telephone Etiquette

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