English as an International Language

Adapting to a New Culture

We congratulate you for your courage and foresight in coming to study at Park. There is no better way to master a language than to live within it. But living in a new country, with an unfamiliar culture and language, can sometimes be strange, lonely, and even frightening. You will be faced with different food, different ways of thinking and behaving, and a different living environment.

Phases of Culture Shock

Adjustment to living abroad can sometimes take a long time. You can expect to go through roughly four phases of “culture shock” when you come to Park (these are the same phases everyone goes through when entering a new culture, whether it be you, or a foreign person coming to your country):

  1. The “honeymoon” phase: You are excited at being in the new environment! Everything seems charming, interesting, and amusing.
  2. The “dreadful” phase: Everything that seemed so wonderful about your new surroundings now appears terrible. You may experience feelings of annoyance, anxiety, frustration, and extreme homesickness.
  3. The adjustment phase: Gradually, you begin to feel used to things, and better able to cope with life. Things do not seem as strange or unfamiliar, and you begin to make and recognize routines, and gain the ability to understand people’s behavior better.
  4. The mastery phase: Not everyone reaches this stage; but if you stay long enough to finish your degree in the United States, chances are very good that you will. Students who reach this phase feel comfortable in the new culture, and are able to participate fully and freely in whatever situations they might find themselves in. This does not mean, by the way, that they necessarily give up their own cultures. Rather, they become bicultural or even multicultural.

Almost everyone goes through the stages described above, though some progress through them more quickly than others. In all probability, your first semester will be the most difficult. You will encounter problems and challenges, which are listed in detail in your handbook from the International Student Services. Please be sure to read it! It is full of good advice.

Suggestions for Success

Suggestion #1: Prepare yourself before you come
In English, we have an expression that is appropriate here: “forewarned is forearmed!” Before you come, find out everything you can about Park University, about the Midwest, about cultural, political and climactic differences between your country and the United States, and so on. If you can, talk to people who have been to the United States or who have been in similar situations to yours. While it is true that it is very difficult to imagine ahead of time what your experience as a whole will be like, it is still useful to find out what you can. You will discover many interesting things, which will cause you to think about the experience to come. This will better prepare you mentally as well as physically.

Suggestion #2: Do NOT isolate yourself
The adjective “overwhelmed” is a good one to add to your English vocabulary, if you do not know it already. In a new environment, it is easy to become overwhelmed by feelings of homesickness, loneliness, exhaustion, anxiety, or irritation. The best way to fight these negative feelings is by making friends, and talking to people. As people say, “Sharing joy doubles the joy; sharing pain halves the pain”. Make every effort to join clubs, to participate in campus events, and talk to your classmates. It is also important to keep in touch with home, but not TOO much; you live here now, and you need to build a support network around you, where you live. Having said that, do bring photos and things which remind you of home, and will comfort you when you are feeling badly.

There are also people around whom you should talk to, if you begin to feel really depressed, or if you have a problem. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Your EIL teachers and Coordinator are always glad to listen. The International Student Service staff is well prepared to assist you. Your R.A. (Residence Advisor), if you live on campus, is also an important person to communicate with. Finally, our university counselor Linda Waxse may be reached by email or by phone at (816) 584-6237.

Suggestion #3: Take care of your body
Sometimes, especially if you are feeling stressed or ‘low’, it is easy to fall into bad habits, such as not eating properly, not sleeping enough, and not exercising. All of these are very important to both your physical and your mental health (remember, your brain is an organ, which requires nourishment and rest!)

Suggestion #4: Be patient and positive
If you are feeling frustrated, try not to be impatient with yourself or others around you. The whole endeavor of moving to another country, earning a degree, mastering English, and so on, takes time. The strangeness of things will wear off. Do not lose sight of your goal, or your reasons for coming here in the first place. With time, patience, and perseverance, you will achieve your objectives.

Also, maintain a positive attitude. Perhaps more than any one other single factor, your attitude will determine your degree of success.

What Do We Expect of You?

When you arrive at Park, the International Student Services office will inform you of your legal obligations. In the classroom, each instructor will tell you his or her ‘rules’; many of these are found on the class syllabus. In general, however, we expect you to do the following as a Park EIL student:

  • READ the syllabus for each class. Your instructor will probably go over it with you in the first few days of class, but make a point of reading it yourself. A syllabus is like a map, which contains a lot of essential information: your instructor’s name, office number, and phone and e-mail address; the course text book; learning objectives; and outline, as well as assessment measures (tests, essays, and so on).
  • Be punctual. You are expected to arrive in your classroom on time, ready and prepared for class. 8:00 a.m. means 8:00 a.m., not 8:05, 8:10, 8:15, etc. This is part of your grade. If you are often late, your grade will suffer.
  • Attendance: There are only a few reasons that are accepted for missing class. These are in your class syllabus. Your teacher will also discuss them in the first days of class. In general, do not miss class.
  • Do your work. Do your OWN work. In the United States, and indeed all ‘Western’ countries, cheating in its many forms, (e.g. getting answers from another student during a test, having another student do work for you, etc.) and plagiarism (copying another’s work and passing it off as your own) are NOT acceptable. Your instructor will discuss this in detail with you. Please note that cheating and plagiarism are serious offences, and students who do this will be punished. In the worst case, this may result in expulsion from the university.
  • Ask questions if you are confused or do not understand something. We are glad to help. Also, we do not accept ignorance as an excuse for a poorly or wrongly-done exercise or project.
  • Speak English at all times in class, and also outside of class.
  • Classroom behavior: Especially in non-EIL classes, you may be shocked by what your classmates wear (shorts, brief tops, and so on), and how they act. For example, American students often eat or drink in the classroom (though some instructors do not allow this). Students may put their feet on a desk or a chair. In general, relationships and behavior are informal. This does not imply or invite disrespect, however. And -please note- wearing ‘revealing’ clothing does not mean that a person possesses low morals.
  • Relationship with instructor: In the U.S., the relationship between instructor and students may be much more informal than you are used to. You may call your instructor by his or her first name, if you are invited to. (This often happens). Also, students in the U.S. are expected to ‘speak out’ in class: ask questions, participate in discussions, and so on. If you are too quiet, your grade may suffer! Finally, though it may be hard for some students to get used to, it is important to look someone in the eye when speaking to them.
  • Be respectful and civil. In the EIL classroom, and indeed in all classrooms, we will not accept the following: bullying; laughing unkindly at someone else’s efforts; inappropriate slang or swearing(your teacher will help you with what is acceptable, and what is not); touching someone else without their permission; insolent or hostile words or acts, either towards the instructor or another student. Any of these behaviors will result in an interview with the Coordinator, and possibly further consequences, if necessary. In American society, there is a “Golden Rule” which applies here: “Treat others as you would like to be treated”.
  • If you have a problem, seek help. There is always someone to help you at Park. Here is some useful information on whom to contact:
    • Academic issues: (for example, questions about classroom situations, grades, home work, etc.) First, talk to your instructor, in person or by phone (their number will be on the syllabus). If the problem persists, contact Dr. Osborne, Herr House 8, at (816) 584-6517. For tutoring, go to the Academic Support Center in the Underground; contact Susan Michaud at 816-584-6330 for information. For advising and registration, adding/dropping courses etc., talk to Dr. Osborne, or Mr. Cunningham in Herr House 19 at 816-584-6792.
    • Personal issues: for housing or roommate problems, talk to your R.A., whom you will meet when you move into the dorm. For psychological problems (loneliness, stress, anger, etc.) contact counselor Linda Waxse at 816-584-6237.
    • Financial issues: Speak with someone in International Student Services: one of the graduate assistants in Herr House 3, or Kimberly Connelly (816-584-6834) or Michael Hernandez (816-584-6379).
    • Visa issues, legal issues: contact Michael Aidoo (816-584-6508), in International Student Services, or Ms. Connelly or Mr. Hernandez.
    • Medical problems: If there is an urgent problem, immediately call 911, and then Security on campus at 816-584-6444. For less serious problems, consult International Student Services.