1. Try the local food. No matter where you are, food is an essential component of a nation’s cultural identity. I’ve often heard people jokingly question what “American” food is. If you’re wondering, it’s not all cheeseburgers and fries – far from it. Because of America’s size and diversity, American cuisine differs greatly by region. Go out of your way to try out foods that are distinctive to the area in which you’re living. If you’re in New England, try some lobster and regional seafood. If you’re in the South, look for soul food. Love for food is universal, so take some time to explore the different flavors. You might be surprised.
2. Familiarize yourself with American media. What music do your American friends listen to? Which TV shows do they watch? What books do they read? If you have the time and energy, check them out, and get your friends to take you to concerts, movies and cultural events. People often use expressions and make references from popular culture – e.g. “pre-game,” “awkward turtle” – and being familiar with those references can be a fun way to better relate to those around you.
3. Force yourself to make small talk. It varies from place to place, but Americans are generally pretty friendly. Small talk is common among the American people, and it is a great way to meet people and start conversation.
4. Share your life experiences, but keep an open mind.
If you constantly emphasize the differences between your background and others’ backgrounds, you unnecessarily make your adjustment more difficult because you are highlighting the things that separate you from your environment. A major part of adjustment is trying to see the whole picture – not just the parts that stand out the most.
Also, if someone says something that feels a little culturally insensitive or downright ignorant don’t get too worked up about it. A lot of times people are just curious, but don’t realize they are being rude. If you get angry and give up on America too quickly, you’re closing yourself off from many potential learning opportunities.
5. Explore and try new things. Whether you’re surrounded by New York skyscrapers or Midwestern cornfields, try to explore the area around you. Find out what locals in your area do, and then go do them yourself. Maybe the idea of an American football game seems strange to you. Go to one and figure it out for yourself. Knowing that a cultural tradition isn’t your thing because you’ve tried it is better than not trying it at all because you thought it seemed weird.