A study abroad experience in the U.S. offers the chance to view highlights of America’s culture and landscape, practice English language skills and make new friends. Learning about American culture before you travel may ease some of the nervousness you have and help you better understand the American students in your classes and dorms.
Preparing for your Trip
Learning about the culture of Americans is only one part of preparing for a study abroad trip. Other things to consider include:
- Visa – You’ll need a visa for an extended stay in America and F1 visa insurance.
- Housing – Inexpensive housing options include student housing, cooperatives and host families. You may decide you want to live in an apartment, in which case you’ll need enough money to pay monthly rent and a renter’s deposit.
- Finances – As a visa holder, you can only work on campus and have a cap on hours. While you may need to secure a job during your semester away, you will also need savings to meet your expenses.
- Language skills – While many Americans know a second language, not all do. Some level of English language skills is invaluable when preparing for a stay in the U.S.
American Culture and Values
- Individualism – It’s okay to be your own person in the U.S. Americans celebrate and value their differences, for the most part. For those raised in cultures where differences are not celebrated, this American attitude can be unsettling. Of course, this can make it challenging to understand Americans because everyone is different!
- Efficiency – Americans work long hours and value efficiency. You may notice people become impatient when waiting in line or when waiting for someone who is late. Be respectful of time to make a good impression.
- Directness – Most Americans are open and direct people who say what they think. If your culture does not speak directly to elders or peers, this can be surprising! Americans mean what they say and take others at their word, so you must learn to speak directly to your U.S. peers.
- Privacy – The right to privacy is a cornerstone of the Constitution, the U.S.’s governing document. In America, people generally call or text their friends to make plans instead of just dropping by that person’s residence. And many people come to value time spent alone. If you’re going to be sharing a room or living with an American, learn their personal view of privacy and alone time so you do not accidentally intrude.
- Achievement – The “American Dream” speaks to the power of achievement in this country. From immigrants trying to make it in America to American-born students trying to achieve academic success, achievement is held high here. While this often makes people competitive, Americans are quick to congratulate others on their successes and generally have good sportsmanship. Americans believe that anyone can make it with hard work, and may be more apt to believe in social mobility than international students who come from cultures with more rigid social hierarchies.
The most important thing to know? Relax and enjoy your time in the U.S. For the most part, Americans are a very laid back and casual people who generally enjoy meeting new folks and making friends. Look forward to seeing you!