By Brianna Burrows
For many international students, studying in the USA brings excitement about learning and living in a different culture. Some international students want to prepare by understanding what cultural difference they will encounter in the United States. Luckily, you don’t have to worry too much as we’ll share six aspects of U.S. culture international students need to know:
The USA’s history is deeply rooted in the concept of independence and individuality. Americans value differentiating themselves from others. One way they show this is being very direct about voicing their opinions. It might appear that when a group of Americans are voicing their opinions they are arguing and fighting, this is many times not the case. This is different from many cultures where speaking openly about your personal beliefs is not encouraged. So don’t be afraid to share your opinions with others when you come to the USA. People in the USA feel this is their right as an American.
The Value of Time
Americans treasure their time. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “time is money,” and Americans live by it. When Americans talk about time, the time is not a general estimate, but an exact expectation. For example, in the USA it is understood that when meeting someone at a specific time, that you show up at that exact time. Arriving 10 minutes late or later, without notifying the person you are meeting, is not socially acceptable and can be considered impolite.
According to Inc.com, workers in the USA put in more hours than any other country, except for South Korea. Many Americans judge success by how many hours you devote to your work, school or project. Although, a normal work week for a full time job is 40 hours a week, for many industries there is a societal expectation to work more especially at the beginning of your career. However, just recently young millennials are thinking more about the need for a work/life balance. But, the work-your-heart-out ethic still predominates as an expectation in most places. For school, there is the same mentality to work hard in order to graduate with your degree, build your resume and get good references from your professors.
The USA is a large country and has a history of expansion, which has affected Americans’ beliefs about personal space. Americans value their personal space in public. In this context, Americans use the term “space” meaning the distance between you and other people. While in some countries it might be normal to stand very close to each other in public spaces, such as the subway, Americans view this as an invasion of personal space. Be respectful of other people’s space and don’t stand close to others if there is room to stand at least a foot or two away.
Americans love to be clean and smell nice. If you walk into any convenience store or supermarket you’ll see a tremendous amount of fragrance products ranging from personal deodorant, laundry softener and detergent, air fresheners, perfumes, and cologne. Body odor is considered unpleasant, so make sure to wear deodorant. Alternately, using lots of perfumes or cologne is undesirable too. Americans are well known for having aesthetically pleasing and fresh teeth so don’t forget to brush your teeth after eating smelly foods, like garlic, or drinking coffee, or have breath mints or gum available if you can’t brush. And of course, make sure to bathe or shower frequently!
How To Address People You Don’t Know Well
American culture does not have an established custom for speaking with people of different social positions or age. Americans are very informal when greeting other people, no matter what age they are. Most people speak to each other using their first names. When speaking to someone with a title, such as Professor or Doctor, it is more appropriate to use their title when speaking to them until you know them well. For example, “Professor Smith, how are you?” Often times when meeting someone for the first time, they will inform you how they like to be addressed. It is important to remember that while it might seem informal to address people by their first name, it is not a sign of disrespect and shows your understanding of equality in relationships.
While it may seem there are a lot of cultural differences, the USA is a very large and diverse country. Culture shock is normal but knowing these differences, before you study in the USA, will better prepare you for the experiences you will encounter while living in the USA.
Brianna Burrows is a freelance marketing specialist and alumna of Northeastern University. She specializes in event management, social media management, and content branding. Follow her on Twitter here.