How can I learn American culture?

While talking with a Filipino friend this morning, I was reminded of how hard it is to learn about American culture. Even as an American, I don’t understand American culture in all parts of our country. What is considered “normal” in the Southwest or Midwest (the parts of the country where I have spent most of my life) are definitely NOT normal for New England or the West Coast! Throw into that a wide variety of religious differences, ethnic backgrounds, and age-specific tendencies, and we are undoubtedly difficult to label and understand. We are just too huge and diverse!

With that said, Internationals coming to the U.S., particularly those with internet access, have many resources that can help them learn about American culture (at least the part of American culture where you will live). Before arriving, I recommend reading everything you can about your new school (if applicable), city, and state. Since each of these has its own “micro culture,” learning about them first can help narrow your focus and prevent information overload!

You can also look at websites that offer general information about American culture, although I would limit these to those published by educational institutions or organizations that focus specifically on serving the needs of newcomers. Please do not try to learn about American culture from television or magazines! These are very distorted views of the general American culture.

Just be forewarned that learning about a culture and experiencing it are two VERY different things. I think all of us are often surprised by how long it takes to feel comfortable in another cultural environment. You need to expect to experience culture shock when you come to the U.S. Although you may be extremely happy when you first arrive, you will face a time when American culture seems absurd and incomprehensible. You need to know that these feelings are perfectly normal. If you persevere (especially if you can connect with some Americans who help you adjust), you will successfully pass through culture shock and reach a point where you not only have a deeper understanding of American culture, but, hopefully, appreciate parts of it as well.

Photo by Creative Roots