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Adjusting to Life in the United States
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Adjusting to Life in the United States

Culture Shock

Everyone going to live in a new environment will experience culture shock to some degree. They will also be offered the opportunity to learn and grow in unique and exciting ways.

The term refers to the stresses and strains which accumulate from being forced to meet one’s everyday needs (e.g. language, climate, food, cleanliness, companionship) in unfamiliar ways.

Effects of Culture Shock:
  • Frustration
  • Mental Fatigue
  • Disorientation about how to work with and relate to others
  • Boredom
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Physical Discomfort
If these symptoms become severe, please contact the University's Counseling Center.
Keep in mind the Cultural U-Curve for Cultural Adjustment.

Food & Healthy Eating

Some people relocating to the United States may find it difficult to eat as healthy as they had in their home countries. Even with its countless fast food restaurants, the United States still offers a number of healthy alternatives. Healthy eating is a priority to many Americans and as a result many restaurants, including fast food places such as McDonald’s, offer healthy alternatives on their menus. Popular throughout the United States is the food pyramid which offers suggestions on the amount of different varieties of food an individual should eat on a daily basis. If you are struggling with knowing what to eat, please visit the Student Health Service.

Slang Usage

Slang is informal language consisting of words and expressions that are not considered appropriate for formal occasions. Slang usage is very prevalent among college kids. If you hear a word spoken that you do not understand and cannot find in a dictionary, it is most likely a slang word. Do not be afraid to ask others what a certain word means, as it may be important that you understand the exact definition of a word in order to avoid certain situations. There are a number of websites that will provide you with a list of regularly used slang words—though they are by no means comprehensive as there are always new words being created and used.

Personal Hygiene

People in the United States usually bathe or shower at least once a day and put on fresh, clean clothing and deodorant after each shower or bath. To be clean and neat is more desirable than to have a wardrobe of expensive clothing.

If you are invited to an event you should ask your host/hostess or another person about appropriate dress from the occasion. If you are going to someone’s home or to speak to a group, your national dress is usually appropriate or appreciated. You may be asked a lot of questions about the garments of your national dress, since dress is a good conversation topic.

Schedule Etiquette

Americans tend to be very time conscious and place high value on promptness. If you are going to be more than ten minutes late for an appointment or meeting, you should telephone ahead to let the other party know.


In the United States it is customary and expected to tip your service providers as a way to show appreciation for their service. It should be kept in mind that tips are a way of expressing satisfaction and are given because many people, including servers and bartenders, do not make as much money as other employees because their pay is to be supplemented with the tips they make. Larger tips should be left for those who provide extraordinarily good service; smaller tips or no tip at all should be left when service is poor. All percentages are out of the entire price of what you are buying.

Waiter/Waitress in a Restaurant 15-20% of total bill
Food Delivery Driver 15-20% of total bill
Bartender 15-20% of total bill
Taxi Driver 15% of total bill
Hair Dresser 15% of total bill

You should never tip police officers, physicians, government or University employees.  It may be interpreted as a bribe, which is illegal.  You do not tip bus drivers, theatre ushers, museum guides, salespeople, employees at fast food restaurants, or hotel clerks.

Helpful Websites:

Welcome Center for Immigrants and Internationals:
World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh:
Global Pittsburgh:
Presenting Pittsburgh: