8 Surprising Things about American Culture for International Students

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From slang to restaurant etiquette, you should be prepared for many surprises about American culture when you decide to study in the USA. International students come here with impressions based on movies. TV shows and movies may represent real life from time to time, but they cannot fully prepare you for the real experience.
Whenever you visit a foreign country, you immerse in its culture. Foreign cultures always manage to surprise you in one way or another. Studying in the USA will be an enhanced experience of the same type, since you’re going to spend more time here.
So what are the most surprising things about American culture you should be prepared for? Let’s list them!

1. The Food Portions Are HUGE

When you order food at an American restaurant, you get a huge portion that you couldn’t possibly eat. If you were used to European portions, expect to be served a double-sized meal. 

For foreign students in the USA, food is a culture shock of its own.


2. People Are Polite

Truth be told, it depends where you come from. But most foreign students find Americans to be really nice. A foreign student at Utica College asked 33 international students to identify the most surprising things about America and Canada. They were mostly talking about the food, but you’ll notice comments about people being nice few times.

All cultures have kindness imprinted in them, but not all of them express it to third parties. British people, for example, are perceived as cold and overly intellectual. They make small talk about the weather and don’t care much about the person they are talking too. At least that’s how foreigners see them.

Americans, however, are usually very communicative. They are eager to make contact with foreigners and they will invite them to go out together.


3. Tons of Writing at Universities

The educational system is part of the culture. In America, it’s practically based on writing. Students are writing papers all the time, and to be honest - they are not that good at them.

As a foreign student, you’ll have to fit into that culture.

Maria Olivier, writer for EssayOnTime, explains: “The most surprising things about foreign students in the USA is the volume of writing they have to do. Essays, research papers, term papers, book reports, lab reports, case studies, business plans... you name it. It’s a challenging aspect of education that they have to adjust to.”

Oh, maybe it’s time to start polishing up your academic writing skills before you head off to America?


4. Mega, Super, Giant Stores!

You go out to get some oranges and you go back with complete supplies and at least $300 spent at the superstore.

When you first enter an American superstore, you’ll wish you had a map to navigate through it. On your way out, you’ll notice people buying everything they don’t need.

5. The A/C Goes Nuts

Expect to freeze in closed area during the spring and summer. You might consider taking a sweater when you go for groceries... in summer!

People here go crazy on the air conditioning.

6. People Leave Big Tips at Restaurants

If you plan to work as a waiter while studying, you’ll love this. If you’re just a student who likes the occasional restaurant dinner, you won’t enjoy the fact that you’re expected to provide a generous tip.

In most European countries, people are used to leaving coins on the table as a “thank you for the good service.” In America, you’re expected to tip 15% - 20% of the pre-tax bill. If you’re using coupons, you’re expected to tip on the full amount; not on the discounted price.

If you tip lower or you don’t tip at all, the servers will hate you and might spit in your coffee the next time they see you.

Oh; you’ll also need to tip taxi drivers, hair stylists, and the pizza delivery service.

7. Cheerleaders

When college teams play, the cheerleaders are more fun that the games themselves. If you haven’t seen any movies with cheerleaders, we’d recommend you not to do it. That’s how you’ll get really, really surprised when you see them in person.

These are not your usual sports team fans or audience entertainers. They take it to a whole other level. They are practically gymnasts, so you might start wondering why they don’t use that talent for a more useful purpose.

8. The Super Bowl and the World Series

Oh. My. God! If the Super Bowl doesn’t surprise you, I don’t know what will. This is the culminating game of a regular season in the annual NFL (National Football League) championship. It’s such a big event that people won’t stop talking about it. Brands pay $4 million for a commercial of 30 seconds during the broadcast.

Take a moment to process that.

Speaking of sports, Americans are also crazy about baseball. The annual championship is called The World Series, although only American teams participate in it. Okay; there’s one Canadian team, too.

Go figure.


One Thing Is Definite: You’ll Enjoy It!

Yes; you’ll find the USA surprising. But you know what? This experience will be great because it will surprise you. Embrace the differences and enjoy your stay!

Author Bio: Serena Dorf is a social media savvy Los Angeles-based content writer. She is interested in marketing, writing, and public speaking. In her free time, she is reading classic American literature and learning Swedish. You can find her on Google+ and Twitter.


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