Cultural Differences

It’s a big deal for international students to adjust to a new environment that is far different from their home country. They are exposed to many different situations, experiences, and changes when they arrive at a new university in another country. At first, everything seems perfect- new people, new city and for some a new language. You'll probably have a wonderful time during your first several weeks. Some people call this the "international honeymoon phase". When the honeymoon is over, you’ll start to realize there are a lot of differences between the United States and where you’re from. You may face some cultural shock.

In any new experience, there will probably be bumps along the way. Things happen and can be difficult to handle so far from home. COVID-19 impacted so many of us- including students who persisted through the global pandemic. Regardless, we believe that you are able to live well in this new environment. We encourage you to be prepared and do your best when facing challenges. Take the time to learn more about the similarities between the culture you grew up in and the city that you are entering now.  Try to make friends, be active, explore new places, and participate in community activities. Just remember to BE PATIENT with the process. Many international students face culture shock in their own way. Give yourself time to adjust and utilize the support from fellow international students.

Networking: Some cultural differences include your FRIENDSHIP with others. People are willing to talk about their hobbies, current events, weekend plans, or sports. However, personal matters are not usually discussed, including financial or family problems. When Americans greet each other, whether male or female, a handshake is appropriate. Spatial distance is a very important aspect of nonverbal communication. Most Americans stand three feet apart when talking. 

Dress code and punctuality: Another cultural difference you may notice is how people dress. Students mostly dress informal, unless told to wear formal clothing, such as working in an office setting. Time management is another major thing. Americans have a high priority of being punctual. The phrase “time is money” is very common. Although many cultures around the world may not observe this principle, you will be expected to be on time for events, classes, appointments, etc. 

Student-teacher relationships: The relationship between student and professor is usually open and informal. Most professors want their students to communicate directly to them about any questions they have in order to resolve issues quickly. Most professors communicate through emails for questions. If you want to see them in person, you can schedule an appointment or meet with them during their office hours. Professors are very friendly and open to assisting students.  

Weather: GVSU is located in Michigan, a state that gets cold (below freezing) from November to the end of April or May. Be prepared for the weather as you might experience the coldest winter of your life! However, as cold as it is outside, inside it is warm and cozy. During the winter you may have a chance to work on your skiing, sledding or practice hockey. It is advised to buy your winter clothes here, as they are specifically made for the cold temperatures that occur here. During the summer the weather is warm and very nice. Every season is unique in Michigan. The best time of year is the fall to witness the leaves change colors.

Food: GVSU provides dining halls around campus for students to purchase meals. Shopping markets, like Meijer or Walmart, are also available for purchasing food and other basic needs. Grand Rapids has many international markets, including Asian, African, and Mexican stores. Sample cuisines from a variety of restaurants available in GR, including Spanish, Ethiopian, Japanese, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and more. 

Transportation: Grand Valley State University has two main campuses which are about 11.5 miles (18.5 km) apart. These campuses are located in Grand Rapids and in Allendale. You can easily travel between campuses via GVSU Laker Line (Bus 50). All bus lines throughout Grand Rapids is free for GVSU students no matter where your destination is. All you'll need is your college ID. Be sure to view bus routes and schedules, and plan your travels accordingly. 

Housing: On-campus and off-campus housing is available for students. You can find affordable on-campus housing by applying to Housing and Residence Life. A $150 refundable deposit is required. As an international student, living on-campus is advised as furniture is provided and cost of living is included in your student tuition. Campus housing is centrally located, which will help, as you are probably unfamiliar with the area.

Plagiarism: All students are expected to adhere to the academic honesty standards, especially with respect to plagiarism, set forth by Grand Valley State University. Students in the Health Informatics and Bioinformatics Program are expected to adhere to the academic honesty guidelines as set forth by the School of Computing and Information Systems. If you copy material without referencing it, you may be subjected to the following circumstances: (1) failing the assignment, (2) possibly repeating the entire class, or (3) being dismissed from the program.

More Resources

Immihelp - Green Card, Green Card Employers, Visas, Visitor Medical Insurance

For more information on Grand Valley's support and resources for international students, please visit our International Students page.

Page last modified February 9, 2021