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Cultural issues & emergencies


CULTURAL ISSUES


Culture shock


It is the experience of leaving a familiar culture and entering a new or unfamiliar one. Culture shock can happen to anyone, regardless of how often he or she has traveled to other countries or how long she or he has lived abroad. Entering a new culture involves stress, and confronts the traveler with surprises he or she had not anticipated, regardless of how well prepared he or she thinks he/she is for the new culture. Suddenly the familiar sights, sounds, tastes, ways and behaviors one is used to are missing, and there are a variety of new experiences to deal with in their place.


Things that can contribute to culture shock:


Language
It is tiring to communicate all day long in a language which is not your native tongue. It takes a lot of energy to pay close attention, to try to catch what people are saying, to understand what is going on around you and to express yourself clearly. You may need to ask questions to clarify your understanding, ask people to repeat what they have said, or ask others to speak more slowly with you. It is also a real challenge to follow and appreciate jokes and humor in a different language, because not only are you dealing with what the words mean, you are also trying to figure out why the joke is funny. What is funny in your own culture might not be funny in the new culture, and vice versa. It can be enormously frustrating to regularly be in situations where everyone around you is laughing at something that must be funny, but you can't figure out what it is or why it is funny to them. Regional accents can also be difficult to understand, even for people who speak and understand another language fluently. The ear needs time to adjust, and there are new words, expressions and idioms to decode.


Climate
You may find that you are sensitive to the differences in climate. The weather might be warmer or cooler than what you are used to, there might be more or less rain or sunshine than where you come from and the summer humidity might be a shock in itself. On hot, humid summer days in the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest, you might find yourself soaked in sweat, even after just a few minutes of activity (and on such days, taking two or more quick showers might not seem like such a crazy idea, after all!). You should drink a minimum of two, but preferably three or more (depending on the heat, humidity and your level of activity and sun exposure) liters of water per day, just to keep your system functioning. Most of us do not drink enough fluids daily, and are insufficiently hydrated. It is also a good idea to wear a hat to protect your head and face from the sun. Colas and soft drinks actually dehydrate your body (cause water loss), and can result in your body losing calcium and other important minerals and taking in too much phosphorus. If you want the energy to flow, stick to H2O.


Food
You may find that the food tastes quite different, or strange from what you are used to. It might be spicier, or blander, or even with no taste. One thing you can count on this summer: you will experience some culinary adventures. Americans may cook less at home than people in your country do, or may go out to eat for some meals. Whatever your situation, try to eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables daily, preferably several servings of each.

Social Roles
The way that people interact with each other may surprise, confuse or even offend you. For example, you may find that people are always in a hurry, or seem cold or distant. You may find that relationships between men and women appear more or less formal than what you are used to in your culture, as well as differences in same sex social contacts and relationships. One helpful suggestion is: "Don't take it personally." Listen, observe, ask questions. Find out what the normal or expected ways of interaction are, and respect those, even if you disagree with them or find them strange.

Rules of Behavior
Every society or culture has its unspoken rules of behavior which help determine the way that people treat each other. These rules may not be obvious at first, but sooner or later you will probably run into them and you may find those experiences disorienting. For example, there will be differences in the ways people decide what is important, how tasks are allocated and how time is respected. Be a careful observer, and ask others to help you understand what these unspoken but expected rules of behavior are.


Many of you have had previous work experience. Many have not. Regardless of the work experience a participant has had, there are many unique features associated with working in the United States. Often things that would be considered normal in Romania are not acceptable in American work places. Following are some suggestions.
DO
•    Come to work on time. Punctuality is very important and repeated lateness can lead top the loss of a job.
•    Smile. Americans are prone to smiling.
•    Treat customers with respect. A common phrase in business is, "The customer is always right".
•    Work quickly and efficiently. Time is money.
•    Be willing to try new things: new foods, sights and activities.
•    Take care of personal hygiene. Americans tend to be very concerned about cleanliness.
•    Communicate with your boss.
•    Be patient. You may feel that the American culture and language are overwhelming at first. Keep in mind that with time, you will learn and understand more.
•    Dress neatly and conservatively.

DON'T

•    Worry!
•    Expect special treatment.
•    Get fired. Lateness, theft, drinking on the job, drug use and disobeying employer rules are all grounds for dismissal.

Sexual relationships


Many employers discourage or forbid staff from developing romantic relationships with other staff while on job site property because this could interfere with the staff members' attention to their responsibilities and could cause other inter-staff difficulties. In many states the legal age for consent is 18, regardless of whether or not the other person agrees to have a sexual relationship. If you have sexual contact with someone who is under the age of consent, it could result in your being fired, and also result in your being arrested, going to court, serving jail time, having to pay a fine and being deported, as well as being refused future entry into the U.S.


Sexual harassment


You are going to be a part of a community, and you are also expected to be a role model to other staff. There will probably be other staff you will be attracted to and interested in, and this is perfectly natural, because you will be spending a lot of time with others and working closely with them. What you do with that interest and how you handle it, however, is something you should think carefully about, because the other person may not be interested in you, and not want you to express your interest.


Sexual harassment is not limited to physical contact. It can occur any time that an individual is uncomfortable with another person's approaches, comments or discussions. No means No. Sexual harassment is a crime, and could result in your being fired from your job, arrested, charged, going to court, serving jail time and being deported.


Americans are often very friendly to everyone they meet, and you could mistake someone's general friendliness as a sign of interest. Don't make assumptions. If you are unsure about a situation, try to find a way to tactfully and respectfully discuss the situation with that person.


If you feel that someone is showing you unwanted interest, you need to make it very clear to that person that you are not interested and that you do not want further attention from them. If that person should continue, you should bring the matter to your employer's attention immediately.


Shoplifting


Removing any item from a shop or store without first paying for it is a crime, and could result in your being arrested and charged. Most stores have security cameras and personnel who make sure that shoppers don't shoplift.


EMERGENCIES


Emergencies


Please, use the sponsor agency’s emergency number only in case of true emergencies, otherwise you can call the toll-free number during business hours.
The following situations are not considered to be emergencies:
•    losing your documents (in case this happens please contact your nearest embassy or consulate)
•    disliking your job
•    homesickness/culture shock

The following situations are real emergencies:
•    arrest
•    severe injury/illness
•    death (of family member or other participant).


In case of natural disaster/storm or other emergency situation


You should quickly seek appropriate shelter. For hurricane, tornado, severe weather storms, flooding and other natural disaster situations, there should be local or regional emergency shelters such as churches or schools open for travelers and persons who have had to evacuate their homes. It is a good idea to have a small, portable AM radio with you and to keep tuned to a local radio or TV station for updates on the situation.


For other emergency situations


Try to keep calm and think clearly. Listen to the news reports and follow whatever emergency instructions they provide.