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Adjusting to Life in the United States

Those of you who are new to the United States will have an opportunity to learn a great deal about this country and its culture during your stay.  In addition, you will have the unique opportunity to learn about yourself and where you come from.  You will experience the fascination of living in another country as well as the frustration of missing things that were so familiar to you at home.  During your initial weeks, months and even years in the United States, it will be important for you to reflect on and discuss your experiences with others.

Anyone planning to live in another country for an extended period of time should be aware of culture shock.  Culture shock is the emotional reaction to difficulties you may experience when you are unfamiliar with the new cultural patterns and are unable to understand or predict what is going on around you.  We all experience and deal with culture shock in very personal ways. Everyday activities that you might manage with ease in your home country may seem like major endeavors in your new environment.  Furthermore, as you discover different cultural values and means of communication, you may question your own, wondering how they fit into your new life in California.  The symptoms frequently associated with culture shock are boredom, sleeping excessively, compulsive eating or drinking, family tension and conflict, and chauvinistic feelings.  Symptoms may last from a few days or weeks to several months.  Because everyone responds to culture shock differently, just be aware that it is a normal process.

The accompanying unemployed spouses/partners sometimes have the most adjusting to do, having left all the social, personal and career ties behind.  This spouse is usually the one most responsible for managing the household and interacting on a day-to-day basis with the new culture.  The degree to which the spouse adjusts can play a significant part in how well the family, as a whole, adapts to the new surroundings.  For the employed spouse, the change may be less pronounced, as the work environment may provide opportunities to build confidence and friendships in the new culture.  Nevertheless, the working spouse may still feel pressure to perform as well as he or she did at home.  



Honeymoon Stage.  Upon arrival, some people may feel a sense of great enthusiasm.  During this stage you should do as much as possible to get settled in your new environment.

Crisis Stage.  As you settle into a daily routine, your initial euphoria fades and the challenges of adjustment become more apparent.  For example, growing frustration with the language and cultural differences is common, turning some everyday events into significant challenges or frustrations.

Flight Stage.  In response to these frustrations and anxieties, you may deny the reality that you are living in a different culture.  You consequently adopt any number of avoidance techniques, such as refusing to go out regularly, burying yourself in books, or frequently contacting family and friends in your home country in order to resist engagement with the new culture.

Integration Stage.  All the different stages start to balance out and you begin to adjust in more positive ways to your surroundings.  Your ability to interpret cultural signs improves.  You are able to enjoy American customs while appreciating those of your country.  You feel more capable and outgoing.  However, this still includes moments of the earlier stages and difficult times.  These fluctuations are normal and eventually you will experience the new culture from a more balanced perspective.

We can also recommend some books and blogs to help you smooth your transition to the United States and California, in particular.

. American Ways, by Gary Althen and Janet Bennett
. Newcomer’s Handbook for Moving and living in Los Angeles, First Books editor.
. Relocation to Los Angeles and Orange County, by David Steidman


Another efficient way to cope with culture shock, adjust and embrace your new lifestyle is by being engaged in a new social life through different activities and networking. For more information, visit Social Life and Networking.


DISCLAIMER:  The information provided on this website is for general information only.  Caltech does not endorse or recommend any of the organizations listed.