Cultural Adjustment. Overcoming Challenges as an International Student

Homesickness, cultural shock and language barrier can bring down international students in the U. S. However, there are ways to combat these problems. Read the article to learn some valuable tips.


Even if you are overwhelmed with excitement right after arrival to the U. S. you might start feeling homesick soon. This is what you can do to lessen these negative emotions.


Bring a piece of motherland with you: a toy you have had since being a child, a little souvenir from your hometown, a family photo or just a postcard can cheer you up when you miss your native country. Find a way to keep up a hobby you used to have in your country. It will help you feel at home.


Find some quiet 'me time'. Get rest, practice mindfulness or just walk in the park or along the beach.

New impressions

Travel and explore the town you live in. Build new memories and get new impressions. The more you find out about the surroundings, the more self-confident you feel, the stronger your sense of belonging is.

Cultural shock

America is a real 'melting pot', no wonder you might get disoriented when you get there. However, there are ways to deal with cultural shock.

Live like locals

  • Embrace the new normal. Learn how Americans behave in everyday life: how they greet each other, what are the common topics for small talk, how they apologize and ask for favor. Try to obtain some of these habits.
  • Go to the places the locals go: dine in local cafes, shop in local shops or markets and jog in parks nearby.

Immerse in the culture

  • Celebrate American holidays, go to museums and theaters, take part in national festivals or at least get a seasonal decoration for your apartment.
  • Don't forget about cultural background. You might have already learned something about American literature and you have watched some (lots of?) American movies. Try to watch news, sitcoms or TV shows, flip through glossy magazines.

Language barrier

Overcoming a language barrier can be a tough task. However, there is nothing impossible for a determined person. Here are some tips how to do it:
  • Accuracy does not mean fluency.
Students from some countries, for example, from Russia may know loads of expressions and grammar rules but they hesitate to speak because they are conscious of making a mistake. Continue working on your accuracy but don't neglect the fluency. Join speaking clubs, play board games, discuss movies with fellow students.
  • Practice language in real life.
After having learned something in the classroom, go outside and use it in a conversation with a native speaker.
  • Self-confidence is the key.
Don’t worry if you don’t know some (or many) rules or if your vocabulary is rather poor. There was once a Russian woman in her forties with almost zero level of English. She was traveling abroad when she got sick and had to buy some laxatives. She came to the drugstore and said 'Stop toilet! Please!' And she got her medicine and everything was OK with her. Just keep in mind that you can survive with even tiny knowledge of the language.
  • Don't underestimate the role of the input language.
This is the language you absorb, not produce. Read authentic books, watch sitcoms and news programs, listen to conversations in the street — it will help you to obtain a huge amount of grammar and vocabulary.

Practical сhallenges

There are things that we just take for granted when living with our parents, like, well, a clean bathroom and a 'magic' coffee table that cleans itself (watch the video below). Things change when you start living on your own, especially in a new country.
  • Accommodation
First things first, you have to find a place to live. It might bе a room or apartment for rent. The rules of renting may be different from the ones in your country. Find out beforehand about deposits, realty agencies or groups on Facebook where you can find a flatmate. Learn about approximate renting prices in the city/state you're going to live in. You might need some help here. A&K will provide free guides on adaptation. We also can arrange all possible problems with accommodation, renting a car or opening a bank account.
  • Laundry
Even such a simple thing as doing laundry could be very difficult: not all apartments are equipped with a washing machine. In some buildings there are washers and dryers installed in the basement. Sometimes you have to go to a public laundromat: don’t forget to take some coins to use it. You might also want to obtain a cloth bag to carry all your clothes to the laundromat.
  • Shopping
Speaking about laundry, you'll also have to find out where you're going to buy laundry detergent or fabric softener and lots of other things for everyday needs. Find out about local supermarkets and possible discounts.
  • Non-metric system
Goodbye meters, liters and kilos. Welcome yards, pints and pounds. And also ounces, sticks, inches, stones and so on. You might need to use a calculator before you get used to the new measurements.
  • Technology
Not only units of measurement are different in the USA. If you bring a laptop or a smartphone charger, make sure to get an adapter because European plugs don't fit American sockets. However, that will be the smallest tech-problem. Internet and mobile services can also be a pain in the neck. Research thoroughly prepaid plans available in your area, including the wireless network's coverage, speed, limit for data, texts and voice minutes. Don't fall on 'unlimited' plans because very often it means that your connection can slow down.
  • Transportation
Find out about any means of transportation you can use. Which is the best and/or fastest way to get to your school, how you're going to travel in the area. You might consider buying or renting a car. Up to three months you can use your foreign driving license. If you're going to stay in the U.S. for a longer period, you will need to apply for a local driver's license. Visit the nearby office of DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) for more details.
  • Entertainment
Last but not least. Certainly it's not the biggest priority, but all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, isn't it so? Find out about Netflix or other streaming services plans, read about upcoming events, gigs or plays, learn about possible discounts for students.


You came here to study, didn't you? So it's very important that you know about the specifics of the American educational system.
  • Different expectations
In some countries, for example in Russia, teacher expects students to listen, learn and repeat. Controversial points of view are frowned upon. In the U.S., on the contrary, disputes are very welcome. Another difference is that in Russia teacher-student relationship is rather formal, whereas in America it's very common to be on first-name terms with your teacher.
  • Anti-plagiarism
What is considered as 'helping your fellow student' is called plagiarism in the U.S., which is strongly prohibited. Respect your and other students' work, don't try to steal it or be stolen.
  • Academic strategies
Strategies for academic success are also quite different. American students are encouraged to be proactive in the classroom, take part in group projects and express their individuality. The assigned dates for exams might also differ, you'd better find out about it in your school/university.

Teamwork rocks!

It's extremely hard to overcome all those problems alone. And you don't have to. Students who came to the U.S. with A&K assistance join friendly communities in every state and town where partner schools are located. How can a community help you?
  • Practical help
In a community you can find a flatmate. Students share information about gigs and academic events, exchange tips on whatsoever everyday problems, from contacts of a reliable plumber to the best prepaid mobile plan.
  • Mutual support
A&K community is not only about advice and recommendations. It's also a place where you can find a study buddy, a shoulder to cry on because you miss your hometown so much or a company to party all night long.
Contact us for more information. Let's explore America together!