The basics
THE USA: Essentials - Must read

Essentials: Culture in the US

Learn about American culture, including dealing with culture shock, what to wear and how to behave on campus...

American culture - The Social Network
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As we pointed out in our previous guide, America is a large country with a whole spectrum of different cultures, people and ways of living. This can make it quite difficult to know what to expect in terms of how people socialise, communicate and dress etc., as this will depend on where in the country you’re studying. Many suffer from culture shock as a result. Generally though Americans are very friendly and outgoing though their demeanour may seem a little direct or “in-your-face” at times.

 

 

Campus life

Campus life on American campuses is rather relaxed, even fun. There will always be something going on such as charity events, rallies for the university’s sports teams, (safe, non-violent) political demonstrations and more; plus you’ll see students socialising, reading, playing sports (like Frisbee) and more. Things might be a little more formal on some campuses, especially at more prestigious universities. But don’t worry; campuses are large so you’ll always find space for yourself.

 

Many American movies depict university campuses as rather raucous with parties all the time. Remember, the legal age to buy or consume alcohol is 21 years old! However it is generally accepted that students do find ways to get their hands on alcohol at parties, though you should be careful as you can still get into trouble with law enforcement if you are caught. However there are plenty of ways to socialise which don’t involve alcohol so don’t feel pressured that you should.

 

A rite of passage at American campuses is the sharing of a dormitory room with another person (of the same sex). This person could be a lifelong friend you make, or at the very least the person you'll discover campus with in your first few weeks.

 

Find out more about campus culture in our guide, ‘The US higher education system...simplified’.

 

 

Greetings

Most students will greet each other with a light handshake or hug depending on the relationship or scenario. Usually a ‘Hi’ or ‘Nice to see you’ will get the conversation flowing (plus it saves you if you’ve forgotten someone’s name or if you’re not sure if you’ve met them already). If you bump into someone you know while out with your own group, make sure you introduce everyone to one another so they don’t feel left out.

 

Watch the clips from our Hangout with two international students in America, directly from their campus at Rowan University in New Jersey.

 

 

Dining

Before beginning to eat dinner in the evening, many Americans say a short prayer (or “Grace” as they usually call it) even if they are not particularly religious; this is normally to give thanks for the meal they are about to eat and simply for the good things they’ve received that day. Meanwhile those who are not Christian will say a prayer from their own religion too. A knife and fork are customary; though with many different foods from around the world becoming the norm in American society, using your hands or other eating utensils is also allowed.

 

 

Sports

Sports are a major part of not just American culture, but American university campus culture in particular. On a large campus you can find students from all corners of the world, studying different subjects; so it can be hard for them to find something which they all have in common. That’s why sports teams which represent universities are so popular and why students turn out in great numbers to support them. In fact, college sports are just as highly regarded as national sports, with widespread television coverage of games which take place in huge stadiums on campus – often the largest sports stadiums in a state will be those located on campuses.

 

Furthermore sports are one way which students receive scholarships to study at American institutions.

 

Read more about football culture in American universities

 

 

Clothing

This depends somewhat on the climate of where you are. Though the seasons are the same no matter where you are in the country (approximately, summer from July to August and winter from November to January), the weather across this large country can vary wildly. The east coast of Arizona, Nevada and California is considerably warmer (Californians hardly see clouds), while the west coast sees more rain. However it’s not quite as simple as that. Several states like Minnesota which border Canada experience colder weather while Seattle is famous for its heavy rainfall all year round. Several states in the south like Louisiana experience rather erratic weather, ranging from humid heat to severe storms.

 

 

Now you know more about American culture, start searching for a course in the States.

 

 

Read more:

‘The US higher education system... simplified’

‘Tuition fees in the USA’

‘Applying to study in the US’

‘Applying for a US student visa’

‘Student accommodation in the USA’

 

Main image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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About Author

American culture - The Social Network

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.

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