Cultural Issues


A certain amount of “culture shock” is normal when moving from one culture to another, whether across the world, across the country, or just across town. You should expect it, recognize it, and be prepared to deal with it. If you need help, please do not hesitate to contact the Office of International Student Services or the Counseling Center.

Common Symptoms of Culture Shock

  • Extreme homesickness
  • Desire to avoid social settings that seem threatening or unpleasant
  • Physical complaints and sleep disturbances
  • Depression and feelings of helplessness
  • Difficulty with course work and concentration
  • Loss of your sense of humor
  • Boredom or fatigue
  • Hostility toward the host culture

Dealing with culture shock – step back, assess, search for an appropriate explanation and response

  • Observe how others are acting in the same situation
  • Describe the situation, what it means to you, and your response to it
  • Ask local residents how they would have handled the situation and what it means in the host culture
  • Plan how you might act in this or similar situations in the future
  • Test the new behavior and evaluate how well it works
  • Decide how you can apply what you have learned the next time you find yourself in a similar situation

Throughout the process, take care of yourself

  • Read a book or watch a video in your home language
  • Take a trip
  • Exercise and get plenty of rest
  • Write or phone home
  • Eat good food
  • Do things you enjoy with your friends

Keep in mind that the reactions and perceptions of others toward you, and you toward them are not personal evaluations but are based on a clash of cultural values. The more skilled you become in recognizing how and when cultural values and behaviors are likely to come in conflict, the easier it becomes to make adjustments that can help you avoid serious difficulties.


Some things that Americans may view as rude, you may not view as rude, and vice-versa.  This may be the result of cultural differences.  You do not have to fully change your personality and beliefs, but it is important to know what Americans feel is important so that you don’t give the wrong impression.  First, Americans value time more than most other cultures.  The phrase “time is money” is a common belief among Americans.  With this being said it is very important to be on time and is considered rude to be late.  If you are late to an appointment, you may find that you will have to re-schedule.  Deadlines are also very important with schoolwork.  Many professors will not accept work that is late, so it is very important to pay attention to due dates on the syllabus.


Holidays marked with * indicate an official holiday for which most schools, offices, banks, and stores are closed.

*January 1, New Years Day
Celebration of this holiday begins the night before, when Americans gather to wish each other a happy and prosperous coming year. Many Americans make New Year’s Resolutions.

*Third Monday in January, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday
Martin Luther King, Jr. organized and led the civil rights movement in America during the 1960’s. His leadership was characterized by peaceful dissent in the tradition of Gandhi. He is often quoted for his “I Have a Dream” speech.

*February 12, Lincoln’s Birthday
Abraham Lincoln was President during the Civil War (1861-1865), a period that had a profound effect on the history of the nation. He acted to bring the seceded states back into the Union and was instrumental in obtaining freedom of slaves. This is an official holiday in many states, including Illinois, often celebrated as President’s Day in conjunction with Washington’s Birthday (see below).

*Third Monday in February, Washington’s Birthday or President’s Day
Honors George Washington, the first President of the United States. This date is commonly called Presidents’ Day and many groups honor the legacy of past presidents on this date.

February 14, Valentine’s Day
A romantic holiday, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by sending cards, giving candy to friends, and giving flowers to loved ones.

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day
This is a day dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland.  Many people wear green on this day.  Beware; you may be pinched if you don’t!

April 1, April Fool’s Day
This day is marked by the custom of playing practical jokes on friends.

One Sunday in March or April, Easter
This is a religious holiday for Christians. Many traditions are now connected with Easter, including the decoration of brightly colored eggs, giving baskets of gifts to children, and Easter Egg Hunts.

Second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day
On this day Americans honor their mothers.

Third Sunday in June, Father’s Day
Fathers are honored on this day.

*Last Monday in May, Memorial Day
Memorial Day is the day when Americans remember those who died in the military service of their country. Many families visit graves and decorate them with flowers.

*July 4, Independence Day
Independence Day is the U.S. national day. It commemorates the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. This official holiday is celebrated all over the country with picnics, political speeches, and community gatherings that culminate with fireworks displays.

*First Monday in September, Labor Day
This official holiday honors the nation’s working people.  It is the last holiday of the summer season and is celebrated with picnics and other festivities.

October 31, Halloween
Children dress in costumes and visit the neighbors to receive candy on this holiday. This is called “trick or treating.”  Adults may attend costume parties.

*November 11, Veterans’ Day
This day is to honor American men and women who have served in the military services of the United States.

*Fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day
The first Thanksgiving Day was observed by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1621 to give thanks for the bountiful harvest and their triumph of survival over the wilderness. Now it is a day when Americans give thanks for the life they enjoy and they celebrate by gathering with family to eat traditional foods, such as turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

Late November or Early December, Chanukah
An eight-day Jewish holiday marking the rededication of the Temple.

*December 25, Christmas
Many people regard this as the most important holiday of the year, with the holiday season extending from a few days before Christmas until New Year’s Day. The origins are religious in nature, but is has become a day celebrated by almost everyone in the United States. Family members travel great distances to be together for this day. Gifts are exchanged and a traditional dinner is shared. Even families who do not have strong religious convictions decorate a Christmas tree and join in the festivities of the season.

December 26 to New Year’s Day, Kwanzaa
This seven-day celebration is based on the African principles of family, community and spirituality, with an emphasis on children. Kwanzaa is particularly celebrated among persons of African descent.


Here is a list of Religious Holidays and the dates of observation.

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