American Culture Tips

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Keys to Academic Success
In many university systems around the world, the role of the student is simple: memorize the things that are already known, and do not question the sources of this information.

In American universities, discovering something new is more important than memorizing. Finding a new way to build something, or a better way to organize a business, or a different way to interpret a work of literature is more important than simply committing huge amounts of data to memory.
  • American schools value the ability to synthesize information (put known facts together in a new way). American instructors want innovative, creative students; this is particularly true at the graduate level. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy of education, it is an important component to success in the American classroom.
Education should be useful; it should prepare the students to be productive members of society as well as to find and hold a job.
  • American universities require all students to study both liberal arts and science courses for a general education first, with specialized technical courses following a general education.
  • The Pre-College ESL Program prepares students for full participation in both general academic courses and vocational programs offered at Parkland College.
Talk to your Teachers
Many international students come from educational systems where speaking to the professor during or after class is simply not done. This is not the case in most American universities and is certainly not the case at Parkland. Generally, there is much more interaction between teachers and students in American classrooms than in most classrooms worldwide.
  • Many instructors include class participation when determining grades and will reduce your class score if you do not ask questions in class.
  • Professors may interpret silence as poor attitude. They expect you to ask questions and participate in class discussions.
  • Instructors at Parkland also have office hours (a regular time when they are available in their offices to talk to students). Use these times to visit your instructors, even if you are doing well in class.
  • Most teachers enjoy talking with students in a relaxed atmosphere, and they will know from your visit that you are interested in their course. If you are having trouble in a class, talk to the instructor first. Most will be willing to help you in any way they can.
Understanding American Values
Individualism: Most Americans believe that the ideal individual is independent and self-reliant, and most Americans perceive themselves this way, whether they are or not. Americans generally do not see themselves as representatives of their families or communities or social class. Rather, they see themselves as autonomous beings. This American characteristic can be seen in the classroom as well. Teachers will emphasize the development of independent thinking in students. Some international students may see this as selfish, but keep in mind you are in a different culture now.

Equality: As a group, Americans believe that all people are equal; no one is better or worse than anyone else. This can be seen in the classroom, in that each student’s particular needs are seen to be equally important to the instructor. Each instructor must take into account these different needs and create a balanced opportunity for everyone to succeed.

Americans are taught that all people are created equal. Though this phrase is often ignored in some parts of life, it is followed closely in others. For example, Americans treat one another very informally, even in the presence of great differences in age or social status. This is not a lack of respect; this is part of the American culture.

Punctuality: Americans tend to organize their activities around schedules, and many people place a great deal of importance on being on time. In America, being late is considered rude. If you cannot make an appointment, let the person(s) involved know.
Culture Shock
It may comfort you to know that no individual is immune to culture shock. Anyone traveling overseas to a different country for the first time – including expatriates who have previously lived in different countries – will inevitably experience culture shock. It may help to know what defines culture shock, the accompanying symptoms, and how to manage them when you experience them.

Culture shock, simply, is an uneasy feeling of disorientation brought on by the inability to respond appropriately to the social cues of another country. Your own values, perceptions and ways of doing and organizing things may seem threatened as you begin to notice the differences between your destination country and home. It is the accumulation of this psychological disorientation that is known as culture shock.

Some symptoms of culture shock include: homesickness, boredom, withdrawal, frustration and anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness, depression, stereotyping and hostility toward host nationals. Keep in mind that these symptoms and others will vary depending upon your length of stay. Most students experience some of these symptoms at some time during their studies. If you experience any or all of these symptoms, please talk to your instructor about it so that he/she can help you.

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