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Crossing Cultures

By KSU Counseling Services Staff


Welcome to Manhattan, Kansas! We hope that this information will provide you with ideas for making a positive transition when moving from one culture to another.

Adjusting to a new environment takes a long time. People who cross cultures usually are uncomfortable at first, and talk of feeling confused, discouraged, lonely, and anxious. As they get more comfortable, however, many people find that learning in a new culture is stimulating, exciting, and broadening.

This article describes some of the normal reactions you may have as you begin adjusting to your educational experience at K-State. Also included are some practical strategies for coping with the challenges you will be facing.

Settling in

Manhattan will be both exciting and challenging to you. Your first task, of course, is to get settled in the campus community. Things will seem very new for a while. You will establish a new daily routine. You will hear new English words and expressions. You also may adjust to a new climate, new clothing requirements, new health care procedures, new friends, and new communication patterns. You will learn about the campus itself --- find important buildings, discover services you can use, and learn about registration and enrollment procedures. In short, it will be a highly stressful time in your life.
Let's deal with some practical matters first. Some of your earliest and most important decisions will involve housing, clothing, health care, transportation, and paperwork.


Some students will plan to sign a nine-month contract and live in a campus residence hall. Many other students plan to rent an apartment or house while they stay in Manhattan. Deciding where you will live will be one of your most important decisions. You can find advertisements in the local newspaper, the Manhattan Mercury, and the campus newspaper, the Collegian. Other notices are posted in the Dean of Student Life Office in 102 Holton Hall. They also keep a list of real estate companies, and apartment complexes that offer housing.

Renting for the first time can be confusing and difficult. Here are some tips to make the task easier:

Thoroughly inspect the apartment before agreeing to rent it. Doors and windows should open easily. No electrical wiring should be exposed. Plumbing and water systems must work properly. The heating system must work during the winter. Adequate exits must exist in case of an emergency.

Don't sign any "lease" (legal contract) before you've read it completely. If the contract is difficult to understand, ask to take it with you so that you can read it slowly before agreeing to sign it. You may take it to the Consumer Relations Board in the K-State Union, and staff members there will help you understand the contract.

Apartment owners generally ask for a "deposit," an amount of money that they will return to you when you move out of the apartment if it is in good repair. Some apartments come with furniture; others do not. Kansas law prevents landlords from requiring more than one month's rent as a deposit for an unfurnished apartment, or more than one and one-half months' rent for a furnished apartment.

Laws make it illegal to refuse to rent to you on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, age, or handicap. If you believe that you have been discriminated against in any way, contact the Department of Human Resources and Equal Opportunity at 1101 Poyntz in Manhattan.

A copy of "Tenant's Handbook of Rights and Responsibilities" will help you understand most problems you might have with housing. Copies are available either from the Student Governing Association in the K-State Union or the Department of Human Resources in Manhattan. You also may contact the Student Life Office in 102 Holton Hall, or the Consumer Relations in the Student Union.


If you come from a country that doesn't get very cold during the winter, you will want to know about the seasonal changes in Kansas. This area has four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall.

Notice how widely the temperatures will vary:
Winter (December-February)

In January, the average daily temperature is below freezing: 27 degrees Fahrenheit, -2 Celsius. At night, temperatures sometimes drop as low as -20 F., or -28 C.

Spring (March-May)

Springs are warmer. In April, the average daily temperature is 56 F., 14 C.

Summer (June-August)

It gets hot during the summer. July averages: 80 F., 26 C. Some days reach 100 F., 38 C.
Fall (September-November)
October averages: 58 F., 14 C.

As you can see, it gets very cold and very hot in Kansas. The weather can change more than 50 degrees in just 48 hours. During the winter, the wind can make 30 F. feel like 5 F. (this is called the "wind-chill index"). To be comfortable, you must plan ahead and have clothing ready for any temperature. If you want to buy new clothing, look for stores in the "Yellow Pages" of the telephone book under "Clothing--Retail." If you want to spend less money on clothing, look under "Clothing-Used," or watch for "garage sales," when people sell used items from their garages. These sales are usually held on weekends, and are announced in the classified advertisement section of newspaper.

Health Care

Medical care in America can be very expensive. Generally, services are available on a "fee-for-service" basis; that is, you pay every time you use medical services. This system is quite different from the practice of most countries. Publicly funded health care is not generally available here except for programs for the poor or elderly.

Part of your tuition allows you to use the campus health care facility in the Lafene Health Center. The staff includes full-time physicians and nurses, and offers laboratory, x-ray, physical therapy, and pharmacy services. Nutrition and dietary counseling is also available. Specialized services include clinics for allergies, sports injuries, and gynecology. Payment of your health fee allows you an unlimited number of office visits during regular clinic hours at no charge. If you need laboratory tests, medications, or other procedures, you will be charged a fee. Generally, health center services are much less expensive than services elsewhere.

If you need to be seen on an emergency basis when the Lafene Health Center is closed. you'll need to go to a local hospital emergency room. Your student health fee will not cover your visits to other medical offices or hospitals during your stay in Manhattan. If you become seriously ill or injured, the only way to protect yourself from financial disaster is to have medical insurance.

It is very strongly recommended that you carry your own medical insurance. Kansas State University endorses a student health insurance plan. To find out more about this plan, contact the Lafene Health Center or the Student Governing Association offices in the K-State Union. The cost is reasonable.
It is also important to be immunized against contagious diseases. Rubeola (Red Measles), tuberculosis, mumps and Rubella (German Measles, and Three-Day Measles) are especially important concerns. While you are on the K-State campus you will be in contact with many people from many different places. These highly contagious diseases can become a very serious health problem when people are not immunized.

The best guidelines in actually using medical services are to use the services when you need them and follow the instructions of the person providing your care.


Public transportation (busses or cars that follow routes) is not available in Manhattan. If you decide to purchase your own car, it is very important that you learn about American customs in buying and selling cars. The announced price is almost never the price that you are expected to pay. Cars are one of the few items in America that are purchased by bargaining. To learn more about this practice. go to the KSU Credit Union in Anderson Hall, and ask for a copy of the brochure, "Buy a Car on Your Terms." If you are employed by the university, you may talk with staff members about borrowing money to purchase a car.

If you would like to hire someone to teach you to drive, look in the telephone book yellow pages under "Driving Instruction."

You may not need a car if you live close to the campus and also near the stores you plan to use most frequently. Although transportation is more difficult without a car, you can still get around in Manhattan. Taxicabs are available, and a couple of apartment complexes offer a shuttle service to campus for residents. Many students use bicycles.


You may need several documents while you are a student, such as a Social Security card, a bank account, insurance papers, and perhaps a driver's license. All these documents can be obtained in Manhattan.

If you have permission to work for pay during your stay in the United States, you will need to obtain a Social Security number. You will be required to produce at least three identification documents, e.g., your passport, your I-94, a birth certificate, an I-20 (if you have an F- 1 visa), or an IAP-66 (if you are a J- 1 scholar or exchange visitor). The local office of the Social Security Administration will be able to answer your questions. The address is in the white pages of the phone book under "United States Government - Health and Human Services, Department of Social Security." Applications for the Social Security card can be obtained from the Foreign Student Office at the International Student Center.

You will probably need the services of a bank while you're in Manhattan. To locate financial institutions, look in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book under "Banks" or "Savings and Loan Associations." To find out what documents you will need to open a checking or savings account, call the bank and ask to talk to someone in the customer service department.

If you have a car, you must have a driver's license. Your car must also be licensed. Contact the Motor Vehicle Department of the State of Kansas. The phone number is in the white pages of the phone book under "Kansas State of." To get a driver's license, you must pass an examination on the traffic laws of Kansas (a free booklet that summarizes the laws is available in the Motor Vehicle Department office), and then take a driving test to demonstrate your skills in operating a vehicle. They also will ask to see your passport and your student ID card from K-State.

To obtain insurance for your car, contact an insurance agent. You may want to contact two or three agents, and ask for a "quote" on what the cost would be to insure your vehicle. Phone numbers are in the Yellow Pages under "Insurance." After obtaining the quotes, you may then select the insurance policy with the lowest "premium" (the amount you pay for the insurance).


Like other cultures, The United States has developed its own customs. To make your ad~ustment easier, it may help to know what people expect with regard to friendship, dress, greetings. invitations, schedules, meals, and relationships with professors.


People from other cultures often say that Americans seem very friendly when you first meet them. They welcome you and seem willing to help. But being "friendly" in America does not mean the same as "being a friend." It takes time to develop a close friendship. People who seem friendly may or may not get really involved in your life. For this reason, Americans may seem insincere if they do not get very involved. But close friendships can develop. It just takes time and effort.

People are usually interested in talking about current events, politics, hobbies, sports, and religion. They are not as eager to talk about personal matters such as their financial situation or their family problems.

You will find that many Americans are curious about other cultures and want to know what it's like in your country. Americans tend to ask many questions. You do not, of course, have to answer every question that anyone may ask. But in America, people become friends by sharing their experiences with each other. If you are comfortable in doing so, you may show people photographs and maps. You may talk about customs, holidays, and religious festivals.

Americans do not have a strict dress code for most events. You may wear everyday clothing for most occasions--visits to other people's homes, attending classes or lectures, and going shopping. If you are going to a formal cultural event or dinner, you may choose to "dress up." You are not required to appear in Western-style clothing. It is acceptable to attend events in clothing you've brought with you from home. If you're uncertain about what to wear, ask Most Americans are willing to help with such questions.


In America, it is the custom to shake hands when being introduced to someone new. This is true for both men and women. When being introduced, you may say something like "I am pleased to meet you" or "It's nice to get acquainted." But you don't have to wait to be introduced. If you'd like to meet someone, simply walk up, extend your hand, and say, "Hello. My name is ____." People will respond by giving you their name, and you may begin talking with them.

You may see some Americans greet each other with hugs or unusual handshakes. If you do not wish to be hugged, simply extend your hand for an ordinary handshake.

As you probably know, space is an important part of nonverbal communication. Pay attention to the amount of space American students keep between themselves as they visit and stroll. It may be somewhat different from what you are accustomed to.


It is not unusual for Americans to say "Come and see me sometime" or "I'll see you later." This is a friendly gesture, but it isn't necessarily an invitation. People who want you to visit them in their homes will provide you with a date and time. As you become good friends with people, lt. may become more appropriate to just "drop by" without having a specific invitation.

If you receive an invitation, it is polite to answer either yes or no. If you say yes, it means that you are agreeing to accept the invitation. You can, however, change your mind; if you decide not to attend after accepting an invitation, it is polite to call and say that you won't be attending. It is generally considered impolite to accept an invitation and then not attend.


Americans are very conscious of the clock and tend to view time with great precision. You may hear people say, "Oh, look at the time; I've got to run" or apologize when they are a few minutes late. To many Americans, "time is money."

You will be expected to arrive "on time" to many activities. Most events have a starting time - classes, restaurant reservations, theater shows, appointments with professors. It is expected that you will arrive at the agreed upon time.


One exception to the "on time" rule in America is dinner invitations. If you're invited to dine at someone's home, lt. is polite to arrive up to 5 or 10 minutes after the agreed time. It is not polite to arrive early. Arriving very late is considered by many to show a lack of respect. Arriving on time is still the safest course.

If you're invited to someone's home for dinner, it is polite to describe any dietary restrictions you may have ahead of time (such as being a vegetarian or being unable to eat certain foods). It is also polite to refuse alcoholic drinks if you wish. Always ask permission before you smoke.

You do not need to take a gift with you when you dine at someone's home. On very special occasions, however, you can give a small gift to your hosts. It is customary to spend an hour or two talking together after finishing a meal. A few days later, you may wish to send them a short note thanking them for the invitation.


American students do not show as much "respect" for professors as students do in some other cultures. The relationship here is more open and informal. Most graduate students develop a close relationship with their primary advisor. Although each student/professor relationship is unique, many professors tend to regard graduate students more like colleagues than students. When participating in research projects, however, it is possible that misunderstanding can develop over expectations, requirements, and preferences. Most professors want students to talk directly to them about these questions. If problems are not quickly resolved between you and your professor, other campus staff may be able to help you -- other professors, the dean of your school, or counselors at Counseling Services.

Sexual Harassment

Under ordinary circumstances, communicating between cultures is a challenge. Negotiating a proper professional relationship between professor and student is especially complex and subject to misunderstanding. This is particularly true when the difference between personal and professional relationships becomes unclear. Although both male and female students may be sexually harassed, female international students are particularly vulnerable. Improper sexual advances by professors or graduate students are NOT acceptable. Even the suggestion that you perform a personal service (sexual or otherwise) that is unreasonable or beyond the focus of your academic work is unethical and inappropriate.

If you wonder whether or not the behavior of a professor is appropriate, ask someone! The Counseling Services staff will gladly answer your questions.

Culture Shock

When you leave your home culture, you separate yourself from the people and circumstances that have defined your role in society. It is possible that you may experience a loss of some of your identity. The impact of this change can be disorienting. It is called "culture shock." Culture shock can manifest itself in a number of ways.


Some of the signs of culture shock are:

  • Fits of anger over minor inconveniences
  • Irritability
  • Extreme homesickness
  • Withdrawal from people who are different from you
  • A new and intense feeling of loyalty to your own culture
  • Compulsive eating or a loss of appetite
  • Boredom
  • A need for excessive periods of sleep
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Excessive concern over minor pains
  • Depression
  • Loss of ability to work effectively
  • Unexplainable fits of crying
  • Marital stress
  • Exaggerated cleanliness
  • Feeling sick much of the time
  • Difficulty concentrating

This is a long list! You do not need to suffer from every item on the list in order to experience culture shock. Only a few of the items may apply to you -- maybe only a couple of them. Of course, if you have a pre-existing condition (such as headaches or upset stomachs), it's a good idea to have it. checked by a physician before deciding that you're experiencing a symptom of culture shock.


We cannot guarantee a cure for culture shock There are several things you can do to ease the symptoms. Trying several of the following suggestions is probably more effective than trying just one. And you may even prevent some of the symptoms of culture shock by following some of these suggestions before you notice any symptoms.

  • Keep active. Spend time outside of your room or apartment. Observe Americans in their own culture. Go to shopping centers, parks, libraries, and sporting events. Watch. Listen. Learn. This process increases your knowledge of Americans and makes it easier to understand differences in habits, customs, and social practices.
  • Make American friends. Get acquainted with Americans. Ask questions. Be willing to answer questions about how you do things in your country, so that you and your American friends can make interesting comparisons. It also helps to make friendships with people from your own culture if they are available and compare your impressions with theirs.
  • Read. At the end of this brochure is a list of suggested readings. These books will give you much more information about crossing cultures. But you may also wish to read as a way of understanding American culture. Membership at the Manhattan City Library is free, for example, and you can find hundreds of American magazines that you may read at no cost. You may sit in the library and browse as long as you wish.
  • Exercise. Find some physical activity that you can enjoy. Exercise can be an effective way to lessen worry and depression. Many Americans, you will discover, like to be active. They like to run or walk along pathways in the city parks or on the streets. They also like organized games. At K-State the Chet Peters Recreation Complex and the Natatorium swimming pools are available to students. You can find facilities for tennis, handball, racquetball soccer, volleyball, badminton, basketball, martial arts, and aerobic classes. Your culture back home may or may not value physical activity very highly, but medical research has shown numerous advantages to a consistent and vigorous exercise program. If you decide to become more active, you will want to check with a physician in the Student Health Center before beginning a serious exercise schedule.
  • Join groups. Your adjustment to American culture will be easier if you participate in campus organizations. There are many student groups on campus. The Foreign Student Office can tell you more about student nationality clubs and groups. In addition, the campus newspaper announces the meetings of many campus groups. You can attend most of these clubs once or twice just to see if you're interested. If you're not, you do not need to return. There is no obligation to join.
  • Work on your English. One of the most important steps you can take to ease your adjustment is to improve your English. It is much easier to learn the details of American culture when you know how the language is used. Listen for unusual or new phrases. Ask about ~slang" terms you don't understand. Most Americans will gladly explain words or terms that sound new to you. So don't be afraid to ask questions when you don't understand.
  • Consider obtaining a host family. A host family can usually help a great deal and can listen to your problems. The Foreign Student Office has applications for a host family program that is sponsored by a local Christian group. They can provide you with more details about the program. You may also get acquainted with a particular family on your own. This may take longer than an organized program because it takes time to make friends. Either way, it will help your adjustment if you can get acquainted with an entire family.
  • Introduce yourself to other international students. There are hundreds of other international students on campus. They are experiencing many of the same adjustment problems you will be facing. Talk with them about how they're managing the changes. The International Student Center is one place to meet students from other cultures. You may want to join an international student organization and attend some of the activities. Students have come to K-State from more than 90 countries, and many of them have organized clubs which reflect their specific needs and cultures.
  • Remember your family. If you've brought your spouse or family with you, remember that they will be experiencing culture shock as well. They, too, will be making difficult adjustments. It will help their transition if you can encourage them to take many of the same steps you might be taking -- keeping active, making friends, reading, exercising, and attending various activities and events in the Manhattan area. Depending on your schedule and budget, you may want to consider taking them on longer excursions to Topeka or Kansas City, or to outdoor recreation areas near Manhattan.
  • If you left your family back home, they will want to hear from you. Writing or calling regularly will help to maintain your relationship with them.
  • Be patient. Culture shock is something that most international students experience in some way while they're here. Remind yourself that the problem is not permanent. Simply realize what is happening to you, and give yourself time to get over it.

Campus Resources

During your stay at Kansas State University, you may find some of the following resources useful.

  1. Foreign Student Office, KSU. This office acts as the primary resource for international student programs. The staff handles immigration-related paperwork and provides assistance for a variety of concerns faced by international students. Offices are located in the International Student Center. This building provides an inviting atmosphere where you can find new friends. Everyone is welcome to join in the programs and activities of the center and the various international student organizations. (785) 532-6448
  2. English Language Program. This program was developed to teach English to people who want to learn it for scholarly, professional, or personal reasons. The office is located in 205 Fairchild Hall. (785)532-7324
  3. Lafene Health Center. Many of your medical needs can be taken care of at the out-patient clinic on campus. Physicians and nurses provide allergy immunization, clinical laboratory and X-ray services, health education, dietetic information, pharmacy medications, physical therapy, and specialized services for sports injuries and women's needs. The center is located in the Lafene building. (785) 532-6544
  4. Career Planning and Placement. People in this office provide career planning and job placement assistance to K-State students, former students, and alumni. Services include career advising, letter and resume preparation help, on-campus employment interviewing, a career library, credential services, employer contacts. and much more. You can find this office in Holtz Hall. (785) 532-6506
  5. Legal Services for Students. This office helps students understand their legal rights and responsibilities. The full-time attorney provides preventive legal education and consultation to campus and community groups. This office is found in the K-State Union on the ground floor. (785) 532-6541
  6. Counseling Services. The staff at CS provides confidential counseling assistance to K-State students. They offer professional help in many areas: adjusting to change, getting along with other students and professors, making career choices, managing time and studying effectively, overcoming conflicts in relationships, managing stress, and coping with emotional crises. To make an appointment, simply call the office and tell the receptionist that you'd like to make an appointment to talk with someone. In an emergency, you may simply walk in and talk to the "on call" counselor. Their offices are located on the second floor of the Lafene building. The first five visits are free for full-time students, and additional appointments are available at low cost.

Returning Home

You probably expected to encounter differences when you moved to the United States. After being here for a while, it will be important to think about returning home. Preparing to return home is just as important as preparing to leave home.

This next section will offer some suggestions to make your return home more successful. If you're reading this brochure near the beginning of your stay in the United States, the next section may not seem relevant right now. So you may want to file this information and read it more closely later.


Several factors may make recently stressful:

  • Changes at home. You may discover significant changes have taken place back home. Political, economic, and social conditions may have changed in ways that are difficult to fully understand. Although you may have heard about these changes, it may be difficult to comprehend the effects of these events prior to reentry. Some of the changes may be unwelcome, such as dramatic shifts in political climate or severe financial difficulties.
    • If you've left your family back home, you may discover new difficulties in your relationships with them. Your role may have changed in their lives, and they may think about you differently.
  • Changes in you. You may have significantly altered your world views during your stay in this country. You may not even be aware of how subtle some of these changes are. Your views of events, customs, people, and ideas may have changed slightly. You may talk about events differently. If your new ideas are considered unacceptable, you may experience pressure to conform or even rejection.
    • Your status may be different. You may be considered to have changed -- professionally, financially, or socially. People you knew previously may talk about you in new and different ways. This may make it difficult for you to re-enter the job market. Your career path may have taken a new turn. You may end up living in a different home. You will face changes in many areas that you simply didn't expect.
  • Changes in people. You may find that your friends and extended family members do not understand what it's like to live in another country. Your attempts to explain the experience may seem boring or silly to them. They may be reluctant to listen to you, even though you want to talk to them.
    • Your colleagues may feel resentment and antagonism toward you because you've had the opportunity to study and live abroad. They may not ask you a lot of questions about what you've learned, and they may even criticize your views as being foreign and useless to discuss.
    • People may not find it easy to tolerate your new ideas or attitudes, and may feel cautious about accepting new practices, attitudes, or ideas.


You can take several steps to make your return home a little easier.

Be considerate of yourself. Develop strategies that will help you make the transition more easily. Think about your integration into the network you left. Imagine possible reactions of friends, family, and professional associates. Plan possible responses to these reactions.

You may want to identify and examine your own expectations about returning home. Which expectations are realistic, and which are simply hopes? Explore some of the ways your stay in the United States has changed you. Imagine some of the positive and negative aspects of being home again. Be willing to acknowledge areas of potential difficulty for you - areas that conflict with the way things are done back home.

Most people who have returned home after an extended year abroad say that they faced many decisions about ideas and behaviors from abroad to modify and which to maintain. These decisions are faced for quite some time after returning.

Be considerate of your relationships. Plan how you want to say goodbye to friends and acquaintances in the United States. Saying goodbye is not only polite in America; it also helps you acknowledge the transition that will be occurring in your life.

You may find that your relationships back home have changed somewhat. It will take some effort to reorganize these friendships. It will help if you can find other people who have had experiences similar to yours. Develop a support network with these other returnees. You might find it helpful to seek the advice of former students who studied abroad. There is often a special consciousness in people who have lived abroad.

© All student articles are used by permission of the respective author(s). Copyright belongs to the University Life Café. No part of this may be used without authorization.

Crossing Cultures (pdf)