Beyond the Paperwork: Cultural Adjustment Tips for New Immigrants to the USA

Beyond the Paperwork: Cultural Adjustment Tips for New Immigrants to the USA


Here is some information to help students, scholars, and their families adjust to living in America.

Beyond the Paperwork

Culture Shock

Culture shock happens when people feel anxious, surprised, confused, or lost because they are in a completely different cultural or social environment, like a foreign country. This happens because it’s hard to get used to a new culture and figure out what is appropriate and what is not.

As a new student or scholar at Harvard, you might find it more difficult than expected to adjust to a different educational system, culture, and sometimes language. The information below may help. Cultural adjustment usually takes several weeks or months and often occurs in three phases.


Phase I – The Honeymoon: At first, you might feel very excited and thrilled. But for some people, this excitement doesn’t last long.

Phase II – The Rejection: You might start missing your familiar ways of handling school, work, and daily life. Language differences can make things harder, making you study longer than others. Speaking and listening to English every day can feel exhausting if it’s not your first language.

You might feel homesick, miss your life back home, and be very critical of life in the United States. It’s common to feel frustrated, angry, anxious, or even depressed. You might have minor health issues or problems with sleep and eating. Your motivation could drop, and you might want to pull away from new friends.

This reaction is normal when living in a new culture. You might even think about going home early before finishing your studies or research. It can be disappointing if things are not what you expected. Helping your spouse and children adjust to life in the U.S. can add extra stress.

Phase III – The Recovery: Over time, you’ll start to enjoy your new surroundings more. Your feelings about being at Harvard and in the U.S. will get better, though they might not be as high as during the honeymoon phase.

You’ll become more relaxed, regain your confidence, and enjoy life in the U.S. more. You’ll develop a more balanced view of life at Harvard and in the U.S. Problems and misunderstandings that seemed big before will be easier to understand and solve.

Ways to Diminish Feelings of Culture Shock

Understand that what you’re feeling is normal and happens to many people. If you’re with your spouse and family, it’s important to share your feelings with each other.


Instead of isolating yourself, try to reach out to friends and others for support, even if it feels hard. In some cultures, sharing problems outside the family is uncommon. However, students and scholars here face unique challenges that may be different from what they experienced at home.

The family support system you had at home is hard to replace here. At Harvard, there is also the added pressure of succeeding in a new educational environment.

Connecting with fellow students and scholars from your home country can be very helpful. Speaking your own language, sharing a meal, or having coffee and talking about adjusting to life in the United States can make a big difference.

You can email Khuong Nguyen or ask at the HIO for contact information of students and scholars from your country at Harvard.

Join a cultural club to meet people from your own country or other countries.

Explore the attractions in the Greater Boston area. Staying indoors and doing nothing when you’re feeling down can make you feel more isolated.

There are always events happening on the Harvard campus and in nearby communities. The Boston Globe is a good source for finding events.

Engaging in athletic activities or other forms of exercise, like taking walks, can also be beneficial.


1. Why is it important to embrace diversity in the USA?

Embracing diversity helps you appreciate the various cultures, traditions, and perspectives that make up the American society. It fosters mutual respect and enhances your ability to integrate and thrive in your new environment.

2. How can I improve my English skills as a new immigrant?

You can improve your English by enrolling in language classes, using language learning apps, participating in language exchange programs, and practicing with native speakers.

3. What are some common social norms in the USA that I should be aware of?

Common social norms include being punctual, respecting personal space, maintaining eye contact during conversations, and valuing others’ opinions. It’s also important to understand and follow local laws and regulations.

4. How can I build a support network in a new country?

You can build a support network by joining local community groups, participating in social events, connecting with fellow immigrants, and using online forums and social media platforms to meet new people.

5. What are some core American values I should understand?

Core American values include individualism, freedom of speech, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. These values influence many aspects of American life and understanding them can help you adapt to the culture.


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