Cultural Orientation

Cultural Adjustment

Cultural adjustment is a process that happens over a long period of time. The process is different for different people, but there are certain stages to the process that most people go through as they adjust to a new culture.

Like others who have left their homes and resettled in a foreign land, you will probably feel worried and frustrated as you try to adjust to your new country. These feelings are normal, and they usually go away over time. You may need 2 to 5 years to adjust fully to life in your new community. Your adjustment will be easier if you work together with those who are helping you. Being patient, keeping an open mind, and learning healthy ways to cope with stress and culture shock can help ease the process. Finding a job and learning English will also help you adjust. Learning to live in a new culture is not easy, but it can also be a good experience as you learn new things and gain new skills.

The U-Curve of Cultural Adjustment

There are four common phases of cultural adjustment that you may experience during your adjustment process: honeymoon, culture shock, adjustment, and mastery.

  • Honeymoon Phase 
    You have feelings of excitement and happiness, everything is new and exciting and good. This often occurs soon after arrival in a new place.
  • Culture Shock Phase 
    You have feelings of worry and confusion as you, the newcomer, try to function in a place that is different and unfamiliar.
  • Adjustment Phase
    Your feelings settle down as you come out of culture shock and start to feel more comfortable and confident in your new community.
  • Mastery Phase 
    You have a feeling of comfort with your new life and culture, although there are still difficult periods sometimes.

Ways to cope with culture shock may include getting together with friends, playing sports, or contacting religious or spiritual resources. If you or a member of your family ever feel unable to cope with the stress of your new life in the United States, seek help right away.

Getting involved in the local community by attending cultural events or volunteering may also help ease your adjustment to life in the United States. Community involvement is a way for you to meet not only other members of your ethnic or religious group, but also to meet Americans and practice English. Resettlement staff will help you learn about your new community. Explore your community on your own as well.

Family Dynamics

Resettlement may affect family dynamics by changing existing roles. The change in family roles is one of the most stressful parts of resettlement for refugees. However, there are healthy ways to deal with these role changes. Communicate openly and honestly with family members so that each person has a good idea of what everyone in the family is feeling and going through.

Refugee parents may face challenges as their children adjust to the new culture faster and differently than they do. Parents may not like some of the things their children want to do or some of the ways they talk and act. Yet some parenting practices may be unacceptable or even illegal in the United States. If you are concerned about your family or are struggling with your children, talk to someone at your resettlement agency. They may be able to help you or to connect you to family services or programs in your community.

American Values and Cultural Norms

The United States is a diverse society, made up of people of different races, ethnicities, religious views, and other practices or beliefs, yet there are cultural norms and expectations that are fairly widespread throughout the United States.  Showing tolerance and respect towards all people, whatever their beliefs and backgrounds, is an important value for most Americans. You should be tolerant and respectful to those who are different from you, and you should expect the same tolerance and respect from others.

Some of your traditional practices may differ from those of most Americans. Some practices may be considered unacceptable and even illegal. Although Americans are open to other cultures and ways of doing things, there are certain basic values, beliefs, and practices that they expect residents of the United States to follow:

  • The philosophies of self-sufficiency and self-advocacy are central to American culture and to your cultural adjustment.
  • Americans believe in equality of the sexes, and they value independence in both men and women.
  • People are expected to arrive on time for appointments and meetings, whether professional or personal. Being late is seen as disrespectful, and in some situations being late can have serious consequences. You may lose your job if you show up late for work, and you may lose appointments if you are not on time to meet with your case worker, doctor, or other service providers.
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