Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Adjusting to American Culture: Expectations vs. Reality

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Aug 01, 2011 @ 08:39 AM

Adjusting to American culture map of east coastWhen we start our lives in a new country, we always come with expectations.

When you came to the United States, what expectations did you bring?

Today's post is about adjusting to American culture.

I would like to ask you this question: How do your expectations affect your ability to adjust to life in the United States when they don't match reality?


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Everyone Comes to a New Country with Expectations

 expections about life in american cultureComing to a new place with expectations is normal. 

It is a way for us to deal with the uncertainty of starting our lives in a new place.

Where do our expectations come from? A lot of people have expectations about American culture based on movies, advertisements, TV shows, celebrities in the news and general stereotypes that they have held for a long time.

But what happens when you arrive in your new city in the United States and those expectations don't match reality?

Sometimes it can be a pleasant surprise! Perhaps you had heard that the people in New York are rude but you have met some wonderful and very friendly people. A pleasant surprise could make you more open to taking chances, exploring new places and letting go of other expectations.

What Happens When Positive Expectations Don't Match Reality?

 adjusting to American culture expectations versus reality pic of girl with hatA friend of mine recently came to the US from Europe for a work assignment for a few years.

After she had been here for three or four months, I noticed that she was complaining a lot about the services in the US.

She said that she had expected the best technology in the world but reality wasn't matching her expectations.

She was disappointed that the ATMs were inefficient, the trains were often late and the cell phone service was overpriced and the quality was poor.



The Little Things Add Up


The frustrations that my friend was experiencing in the United States might seem like small annoyances but when someone is trying to adust to life in a new place, it can contribute to the experience of culture shock and can make adjusting to American culture very difficult.

I could see that my friend was really struggling to feel comfortable in her life in the United States.


What Can You Do If You Are in This Situation?

 strategies for cultural adjustmentAre you experiencing similar frustrations and finding that your expectations for your life in the United States are not matching the reality of your life here? 

Perhaps it is making it hard for you to be happy in the United States.

Well, there are some things that you can do to feel more comfortable in your life here.

Here are some ideas:



1) Talk to other expatriates or international students about their experiences: They will share some of the same struggles and you will feel better knowing you are not the only one who is having difficulty adjusting to life in the United States.


2) Recognize your frustrations but focus on the good points of your life here: Usually, when you are living and working in a new country, you feel emotions more intensely. You might feel extremely upset about how complicated it is to open a bank account but later that same day you might be completely delighted by the beauty of a famous landmark, like Central Park or the Washington Monument. Focus on the good things in your new life and don't worry about occasional low moments.


3) Speak with a cross-cultural coach or trainer: Work with a professional intercultural coach or trainer or speak with an advisor at your university. There are people who are familiar with the experience of culture shock and who can help you create a plan for making your life more satisfying. They can help you let go of your previous expectations and embrace the reality of your new life in the United States. Don't be afraid to reach out and seek a little help!


Share Your Own Experiences with Our Community!


We would like to hear from you. What expectations did you have when you first arrived in the United States? How do those expectations match the reality of your life here? Please leave a comment below or share your experience with us on Facebook.



 Learn more about life in the U.S.



Photo credit:Tim Riley , maureen_sillParker Michael Knight, .Uvitra

Topics: United States Culture, Cultural Competence

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