Unit 3. Culture Shock


Text 1: Culture Shock

 Before You Read


1.  “Culture Shock” is a popular term used to talk about how people react when they are in foreign places. What do you think it means?

2.  Read the title of the article and then take one minute to skim it. What do you think the article will be about?

3.  In this reading, an Australian student compares life in Australia with life in the United States. As you read, take notes in the chart below on some of the differences this student talks about.




The United States

a)    driving

Less traffic than in the USA;

Steering wheel on right side

Crazy drivers; more traffic than in Australia

b)   pace of life



c)    drinking alcohol



d)   relationships between professors and students




Saying Tamara Blackmore experienced culture shock when she arrived here last September is an understatement. It was more like culture trauma (extreme form of “culture shock”) for this adventurous student who left Melbourne’s Monash University to spend her junior year at Boston College (BC). Bkackmore, 20, was joined at BC by 50 other exchange students from around the world. Like the thousands of exchange students who enroll in American colleges each year, Blackmore discovered firsthand (learned by directly seeing or experiencing) there is a sea of difference (very big difference) between reading about and experiencing America firsthand. She felt the difference as soon as she stepped off the plane.

As soon as she landed in Boston, Blackmore could feel the tension in the air.

She was about to taste (to experience) a lifestyle far more hectic (very busy) than the one she left. “Driving in Boston is crazy,” says Blackmore. “It took me a while to get used to the roads and the driving style here. I was always afraid someone was going to hit me. It was particularly tricky since the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car. In Australia, it’s on the right side.” Beyond the cars and traffic jams, Blackmore said it took a while to get used to so many people in one place, all of whom seemed like they were moving at warp speed (traveling very, very quickly).

“There are only 18 million people in Australia spread out over an entire country,” she says, “compared to more than six million people in the state of Massachusetts alone. We don’t have the kind of congestion you have in Boston. There is a whole different perception of space”.

The pressing problem for Blackmore was making a quick adjustment to the American lifestyle that felt like it was run by a stopwatch (a watch which can be started and stopped by pressing a button). For this easygoing Australian, Americans seemed like perpetual – motion machines (machines that never stop moving). “Americans are very time-oriented,” Blackmore says.

“Everything is done according to a schedule. They are always busy, which made me feel guilty about wanting to just sit around and occasionally watch television. Australians, on the other hand, value their leisure time. The pace there is a lot slower because we don’t feel the need to always be busy. It’s not that Australians are lazy; it’s just that they have a different concept of how time should be spent. Back home, I used to spend a lot more time just talking to my friends”.

It didn’t take long for Blackmore to adjust to Americans rhythms (get used to American lifestyles). “I felt the pressure to work harder and did more because everyone was running around doing so much”, she says. When BC students weren’t huddled over books, Blackmore found it odd that they were compulsively jogging, running, biking, or doing aerobics in order to be thin. “Compared to home, the girls here are very skinny”, she says. “Before I got here, I heard a lot of stories about pressure to be thin and that many young American women have eating disorders. I’ll go out with a friend and just tuck into a good meal (enjoy a meal) and have a good time, whereas an American girl would just pick at her food (eat only a small amount of food)”.

When it comes to drinking, Blackmore says, Americans have a lot more freedom. “We are more casual about drinking at home”, she says, ”whereas there are many rules and regulations attached to when and where you can drink in the United States, not to mention a legal drinking age of 21 compared with Australia’s legal age of 18”.

But it’s BC’s laid back (relaxed) and friendly learning environment that sets it apart from her Melbourne college experience. “Generally speaking, learning facilities are a lot better in Boston”, she says. “In Australia, students and teachers have little contact outside the classroom. It’s a formal and depersonalized relationship. College is a place you go for a few hours every day and then go home. Your social life and school life are separate”.

It’s just the opposite at BC, according to Blackmore. “BC students and faculty (the teaching staff of a university) are like one big happy family”, she says. “There is a real sense of team spirit. It’s like we are all in this together. Going to school here is a lifestyle, whereas at home we are just a number. We attend school to get a degree so we can graduate, get a job, and get on with our lives (move ahead in our lives)”.

Another pleasant shocker was the close and open relationships American students enjoy with their teachers. It’s a sharp contrast to Australia, where college students keep a discreet but respectful distance from their teachers.
“I was surprised when I learned students go out to dinner with their lecturers”, she says. “We just don’t do that back home. Professors deal with hundreds of students and you are lucky if they remember your name”.

When Blackmore returns to Australia at the end of the school year, she’ll have plenty of memories, most of them good ones. BC, like most American colleges, has gone out of its way to create a memorable experience for Blackmore and its other exchange students.

(By Bob Weinstein, from “The Boston Globe”)

After You Read


A. For each item below, circle the two answers that best complete each statement.


1.  The purpose of the reading is to                                   .


a)  demonstrate that Americans study hard and experience a lot

b)  show one student’s thoughts on cultural differences between Australia and the United States

c)  point out some ways in which foreigners experience culture shock in the United States

d)  argue that everyone should spend a year as a foreign exchange student


2.  Tamara Blackmore says that                                in Australia.


a)  students and teachers sometimes become good friends

b)  students make a clear separation between their academic and social lives

c)  professors often do not know their students’ names

d)  universities are not as good


3.  Blackmore says that American professors                 their students.


a)  have dinner with

b)  enjoy warm relationships with

c)  jog, run, and bike with

d)  are smarter than


4.  When it comes to drinking alcohol, Blackmore feels that                                .


a)  there are stricter rules in America

b)  the drinking age in Australia is too low

c)  Americans drink more than Australians

d)  Australians are more relaxed about alcohol than Americans


5.  Blackmore would probably agree that                                                 .


a)  Americans are better drivers than Australians

b)  American professors take a greater interest in their students than Australian professors

c)  Australians are more relaxed than Americans

d)  American women enjoy good food more than Australian women


6.  The overall tone of the reading is                               and                              .


a)  humorous

b)  thoughtful

c)  upsetting

d)  informative


B. Work with a partner to answer the questions below.


1.  Tell your partner about three differences Tamara sees between life in Australia and the United States.

(e.g. “Tamara says that the drivers in Boston are crazy. She says that there is more traffic congestion in Boston than in Australia. Also, Tamara mentions that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car in Australia, but on the wrong side in the United States. She means that the steering wheel is on the left side in American cars.”

2.  Tamara noticed many cultural differences between Australia and the United States. Which cultural differences do you think were relatively easy for Tamara to get used to? Which ones do you think were difficult? Why?

3.  From what Tamara says, do you think that university life in your country is more similar to university life in Australia or in the United States? Why?


C. Topics for discussion and writing.

1.  Based on Tamara Blackmore’s comments in the reading, would you rather study for a year in Australia or in the United States? Why?

2.  Imagine that Tamara was coming to your country to study for a year. What advice would you give her? What would you tell her about the food, the students, the professors, and other aspects of university life in your country?

3.  Have you ever experienced culture shock? Describe your experience. Which country were you in? How long were you there? What are your most positive and negative memories of the experience?

4.  Think of a country where you would like to study or work for six months to a year. What would you do to prepare for living in this country? Make a list of five questions you have about life in this country and research the answers to these questions.


Text 2: Customs in Different Countries


A. Read this advice about customs in different countries. Can you guess where these customs are from? Match the advice with the countries in the box.






Saudi Arabia

1.  Eat with your fork only. You should first cut up your food, then place your knife on your plate (you shouldn’t rest it on the table), transfer the fork to your right hand and begin to eat.

2.  You oughtn’t to phone someone at their home after 9 o’clock in the evening unless it’s someone you know very well and are sure they won’t mind. You also ought to be on time for appointments as people are very punctual here.

3.  If you have any chewing gum, you shouldn’t chew it in the street.
You can’t buy it here because it’s banned (isn’t allowed). Don’t try importing any gum into the country because you can get fined and even get sent to jail if you are caught.

4.  Accept coffee (agree to take it) if you are offered it in somebody’s home or office. The ceremony of drinking coffee together is very important and you oughtn’t to refuse. A guest normally ought to accept at least three cups before indicating, by shaking the cup as you pass it back, that you’ve had enough.

5.  You should take your shoes off when you are invited into someone’s home. You ought then to put on a pair of guest slippers which you will find by the door. Different coloured slippers are left by the toilet door for use in there. Don’t forget to change back into your other slippers when you are out.


B. Read the text again and check.


1.  Eat with your fork only in the United States.

2.  In Switzerland you oughtn’t to phone someone at their home after 9 o’clock in the evening unless it’s someone you know very well.

3.  In Singapore if you have any chewing gum, you shouldn’t chew it in the street.

4.  Accept coffee if you are offered it in somebody’s home or office in Saudi Arabia.

5.  In Japan you should take your shoes off when you are invited into someone’s home.


C. Are these customs the same in your country? Find all examples of “should (n’t)” and “ought (n’t) to” in the text above and compare them with your country.


D. Give some advice for a visitor to your country. Here are some ideas to help you: greeting people, accepting presents, table manners, visiting someone’s home.

E.g. In Russia you should be on time for appointments. Students shouldn’t be late for their classes.