The majority of international students who plan to study in the states often fail to observe the fact that the U.S. is a very different country as compared to most of the other countries. Students simply assume that life in the U.S. is going to be all sunshine and rainbows and that things are just going to be fine and they don’t prepare for what is coming.

Well, it isn’t completely the students’ fault. It is the world media that paints such a picture of America in students’ minds. But it is the responsibility of the students to understand the reality and get to know the difference between how things work in the U.S. and their home country to be a successful international student.

So, why is it important to understand the cultural differences between the U.S. and your home country? One of the most important things required to be a successful international student is the ability to blend in the foreign culture and understanding cultural differences will help you to do so.

The first thing to understand is what exactly Western Culture and Eastern Culture means.

West vs Rest

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West vs Rest

The countries shown in dark blue color in the above illustration, namely Canada, the U.S., western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are considered as the Western Countries. Whereas, the rest of the countries are considered as the Eastern Countries. The culture followed in eastern countries is called the eastern culture and the culture followed in western countries is called the western culture. The western culture is also called the “individualistic culture” or the “independent culture” and the eastern culture is also called the “oriental culture” or the “communalistic culture” or the “dependent culture”.

Often, the western countries are called “The Global North” and the eastern countries are called “The Global South”.

Interestingly, the eastern countries and people from the eastern culture form a majority. Only one person out of every five in the world is from western culture and the rest are from eastern culture. So it is the westerners that form the weird minority.

As an international student, you will be going from a culture that is accepted around most of the world to a culture that is very unique and different. Realizing this fact is important to prepare for the cultural shock.

So, how exactly is western culture different from eastern culture?

Cultural Vantage Points

The following cultural vantage points will shed some light on the cultural differences between the west and the east.

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Cultural Vantage Points

In western culture, relationships are not hierarchical and everyone is considered to be equally important and respected irrespective of their age or professional qualification, whereas, in eastern culture, people who are older or have higher professional qualifications are considered to be more respectful and important.

Moreover, in the west, people are more task-focused when it comes to spending time, that is, they see time as money and want to get their tasks done without wasting any time, whereas, in the east, people are more event focused and love to spend their time on building relationships.

When it comes to speech, people in the west are honest, whereas people in the east value harmony over honesty, that is, they would rather speak the lie and maintain harmony in the relationship than speak the truth.

Also, the westerners are independent and do things themselves, on the other hand, the eastern culture has different levels of society, and people in a higher level of society hire people from a lower level of society and help them monetarily.

Considering food, eastern culture is famous for its hospitality, whereas westerners view the same hospitality as ostentatious and prefer to be efficient which easterners view as inconsiderate.

Then there is a difference in ethics, how something is considered to be right or wrong. In eastern culture, ethics are based on honor and shame. If something brings honor to your society then it is considered to be right and if something brings shame to your society then it is considered to be wrong. Such is not the case in western culture. In western culture, ethics are strictly based on law. If something follows the law it is considered to be right and if something breaks the law it is considered to be wrong.

Another good cultural model that will help you paint a clear picture of the cultural differences is the Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory

The Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory is a cross-cultural model that distinguishes countries based on six dimensions.

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Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory

The Hofstede’s dimensions distinguishing the Indian and the U.S. culture is shown below.

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As can be seen from the Hofstede’s graph, the degree to which hierarchy and unequal distribution of power are accepted is more in India than in the U.S. . Personal independence is also valued more in the U.S. than in India.

The two aspects which are common among both countries are masculinity and uncertainty avoidance.

Also, in India long term orientation is more accepted than in the U.S., that is, in India is more acceptable to have short term pain to have long term gain.

There is a huge difference between the two countries in terms of indulgence. The U.S. is more indulgent oriented whereas India is more restraint oriented, that is, in the U.S. it is acceptable to have relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun.

There is no doubt that western culture is very different from eastern culture, and to find a job and succeed in America, you’ll have to do things the American way.

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Consider the two sports, Cricket and Baseball, both of them involve bat and ball, with the main goal for scoring runs. But the number of players involved, the type of playing field, and the rules of the game are different and if you play baseball with the rules of cricket and strategies that are good for cricket then you definitely won’t win. You’ll need to understand baseball and its rules to win it.

Similarly, your goals in India and the U.S. as a student may be the same, to get good quality education and get your dream job, but studying and finding jobs in the same way as you did in India won’t get you near to your goal. You’ll need to understand the American culture and adapt to it to get your dream job.

Though there are a lot more cultural differences and I have just scratched the surface, I hope this article proves helpful to you.

By Tanmay Patil

Illustration Credits:

  1. West vs Rest: Robert Adams
  2. Cultural Vantage Points:
  3. Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory:
  4. Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory (India vs the USA):
  5. Cricket vs Baseball:

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