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Living in the US

Language Barrier

Speaking a foreign language in a classroom is one thing, but living in a society where you have to use the language on a daily basis is completely different. Here are some language problems you may encounter while in the U.S.

Relatively close to Chicago, Cincinnati, and Detroit, Fort Wayne has historically served as a transportation and communications center for Northeast Indiana and an incubator for many products and companies.


You might not understand the local accent right away. Regional accents vary in the United States.
Give yourself time to get used to the local accent, and in time you will probably find yourself speaking in the same way.

Americans may not understand you right away. You will also have your own accent and you might use a different vocabulary. Try to speak slowly at first to make sure you are understood. Do not be shy to ask others to speak slowly if you have trouble understanding them.


Americans use a lot of slang and idioms in their speech. Their language is very colorful and full of imagery and it might take some time to completely understand it.


Humor, wit, and sarcasm are an integral part of American English. Some international students have trouble adapting to the informal style of conversation or understanding whether the person they are speaking with is being serious or not. This, however, should be interpreted as a mark of friendliness rather than a show of disrespect.


You might not know all the abbreviations and technical terms used in your study, program, or workplace. If you do not understand a word or an abbreviation, simply ask the meaning.

Speak Up!

Communicating constantly in a foreign language can be exhausting! Give yourself time to adapt to the language. And do not hesitate to ask people to repeat what they said, speak slowly, or explain what they mean. It would be wise to carry a small dictionary with you in case of an emergency. Most importantly, do not be afraid to make mistakes. These will all be a part of your learning experience.

Culture Shock

Culture shock is the psychological process of having to adjust to new surroundings and a new culture. However well you may feel you know the U.S., all international students go through these phases in varying levels of intensity. Just remember to expect it and that it is a normal reaction. Understand that there can be both pleasant and unpleasant shocks. The process of adjustments has highs and lows. The exhilaration of being somewhere completely new and learning new things is as much a part of the process as the frustration and loneliness.

Common Symptoms:

  • Feeling isolated, frustrated, and nervous. You may find yourself sleeping a lot even after you should have recovered from jet lag.
  • Feeling very home sick. While it is normal to miss family and friends, if you think of nothing else and write letters or send emails all the time, you are probably suffering from culture shock.
  • Feeling hostile towards the U.S. people around you. Minor irritations may make you very angry.
  • Being dependent on your country’s people on campus.
  • Doubting the decision you or your family made to come to the U.S. could be caused by academic anxieties, social tensions, or difficulties in achieving your goals.

Stages of Cultural Adaptation

Honeymoon Phase

The first few days or weeks in a new culture are exciting, exotic, and a sensory delight. Tourists who go overseas for two weeks may not leave the honeymoon phase. People about to spend years overseas may have very long honeymoon periods. But, soon enough, this blissful feeling wears off.

Culture Shock

Culture Shock is the emotional and physical response we experience settling into a new culture. For some, culture shock is brief and hardly noticeable. For others, it can cause intense discomfort often accompanied by hyperirritability, bitterness, resentment, homesickness, and depression. Some may experience physical symptoms such as stomach pain or nausea. Cultural shock is normal. Awareness is the most important step in understanding your cultural experience.

Cultural Adaptation

Cultural adaptation involves psychological adjustment and social adjustment and refers to the success of adapting to a new culture by participating in the local culture, learning the language, making friends, and enjoying life.

Cultural Issues

Learning about new and different languages, music, foods, and social customs will enhance your experience. Differences, however, can also lead to confusion about how to behave in different situations and the meaning of others’ behavior. Understanding some common cultural patterns in the United States can ease the transition and help students (and family members) feel more at ease. Understanding another culture does not mean that a person must abandon his or her own ways. Getting acquainted with social and cultural differences is a very important process because it will help you to build successful relationships with Americans. The following are some common American customs you will probably encounter.

Social Invitations

  1. The invitation is usually for only you unless your host specifically invites your family or friends. Bringing guests of your own without asking your host’s permission is considered impolite.
  2. The written invitation will include the date, time, place, and description of the occasion. You should always answer a written invitation, especially if it says R.S.V.P. (Répondez s’il vous plaît; French for “please respond”).
  3. Never accept an invitation unless you really plan to go.
  4. If an unavoidable problem makes it necessary for you to change plans, be certain to tell the host as soon as possible before the time when you are expected.
  5. Make sure you get directions to the place where the event will be held.
  6. When accepting an invitation for a meal, be sure to explain to your host if there is anything you are not supposed to eat. This courtesy will help the host to plan for food and beverages that everyone can enjoy.
  7. If you must refuse something after it has been prepared, refuse politely.
  8. Never hesitate to ask for any food on the table: “Would you please pass the rolls?”, since asking for more food is considered to be a compliment to the host.
  9. Also, being on time is very important in American culture.


Americans put a great deal of emphasis on personal cleanliness. The standard of personal cleanliness that an individual maintains will determine (to a large extent) how he or she is accepted in society. Most Americans are very sensitive to the smells and odors of the human body; sometimes their own, but especially someone else’s. For this reason, most Americans bathe once a day, and sometimes more during hot weather or after strenuous exercise. They use deodorants and antiperspirants, and they wash their clothes frequently. Most Americans are also very concerned about having clean hair and fresh breath.

Eating Etiquette

  1. Please close your mouth while eating. Americans are taught to eat with their mouth closed, and they don’t usually make sounds when they eat.
  2. Do not talk when you have food in your mouth and do not wave or point with a utensil.
  3. The fork is held in the left hand, pointing downward. The knife is held in the right hand. After cutting the food, the knife is laid down and the fork is switched to the right hand to eat the cut food. Continental style (where the fork stays in the left hand to eat the cut food) is perfectly acceptable.
  4. Your napkin should be placed on your lap shortly after you are seated and kept on your lap at all times during the meal. Do not tuck your napkin under your chin.
  5. Raise your hand or index finger and make eye contact to signal a server.
  6. Dinner at an American home may be fairly informal.
  7. When you are invited to an event, it is very important to call or drop a note letting the host know if you will attend. With that said, Americans are notorious for not responding to invitations.
  8. Do not be afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by responding “no” to an invitation. People will be offended if you say you will attend and then do not come.
  9. Americans tend to eat more quickly than people from other countries. Dining in the United States is seldom the long, lingering event it is in much of the world. The point is more often to eat rather than socialize and savor the meal.
  10. When eating at a restaurant, the server will bring your bill to the table when the server believes you are finished eating. It’s polite to make payment and leave the restaurant within 10-15 minutes of receiving your bill.

Individualism and Privacy

The most important thing to understand about Americans is their devotion to individualism. From childhood, they have been trained to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies. They have not been trained to see themselves as members of a close-knit, tightly interdependent family, religious group, tribe, nation, or other collectivity. Closely associated with the value they place on individualism is the importance Americans assign to privacy. Americans assume that people need some time to themselves or some time alone to think about things or recover their spent psychological energy.

Directness and Assertiveness

Americans generally consider themselves to be frank, open, and direct in their dealings with other people. Americans will often speak openly and directly to others about things they dislike. They will try to do so in a manner they call “constructive”, that is, a manner which the other person will not find offensive or unacceptable. If they do not speak openly about what is on their minds, they will often convey their reactions in nonverbal ways (without words) through facial expressions, body positions, and gestures. Americans are not taught that they should mask their emotional responses. Their words, the tone of their voices or their facial expressions will usually reveal when they are feeling angry, unhappy, confused, or content. They do not think it is improper to display these feelings, at least within limits. To Americans, being honest is usually more important than preserving harmony in interpersonal relationships.

Friendship and Dating

While many Americans are fairly open and warm people who are quick to make new acquaintances, their mobility and sense of individualism mean that their relationships are often casual and informal. This is not to say that Americans take friendship lightly. It just means that while Americans know a lot of people, their lasting friendships are often few.

Comparatively, women in the United States are generally less inhibited than women from other countries. They are not usually shy with Americans or international visitors. Their relaxed and more independent attitude may be misunderstood by people whose native culture is more restrictive of women’s activities. It is not unusual, for example, for unmarried women to live by themselves, to share living space with other single women, or to go to public places unescorted.


The U.S. and Indiana Tech are very strict in enforcing piracy laws. Downloading, copying, and sharing material such as music, movies, games, and applications, for which the copyright holder has not given you rights is both against the law and Indiana Tech’s Acceptable Use Policy for computing resources. More information on piracy laws can be found in your Student Handbook.