If you have decided that studying in the USA is worth your while, then there are some American cultural norms that you should learn in order to reduce the impact of the potential culture shock you may experience. Information is the best cure for this phenomenon, after all.
By being aware of these cultural norms, you will limit the surprise factor you will experience upon arriving on campus. You will also find an easier time bonding with people, and one cannot overstate the importance of making friends when studying abroad. All of this will combine to make you more diligent and successful in your studies, not to mention that your overall mental health will benefit in the long run.
Let us see what these norms are, then!
The USA was founded on the ideas of liberty and liberal individualism. This does not necessarily mean that everyone will be out for themselves or that you cannot count on your friends to help you. It does, however, mean that American universities typically value students who can stand out and think outside the box.
During classes, try to gain the attention of professors you would like to work with more closely. Realize that nobody will probably tell you exactly what to do and so it is on you to pave your way forward. This is even reflected in the liberal arts model of many American universities, where students can customize their degrees.
Another thing with American cultural norms is… well, there are a lot of them. More specifically, being the melting pot of the world, there are many different cultures within the USA, each with its own cultural norms.
Fortunately, you need not learn all of them. Just be aware that you are moving into quite a multicultural society. As you meet new people from diverse cultures, try to respect any customs that they practice, as long as they do not offend you personally.
Like in most Western cultures, the people in the USA prefer that you be on time. Although the concept of time and punctuality can be quite lax in other parts of the world, in Western Europe as well as North America, punctuality is quite highly valued.
Try to avoid being late to meetings, whether they are social, academic, or professional. Attend events on time and you should not have many problems. If you have a habit of being chronically late, then consider working on it because Americans value their (and your) time.
Physical proximity and bodily contact may be quite commonplace in certain parts of the world, but American cultural norms around touching and getting close to people are not as lax. Generally speaking, you want to be careful about getting too physically familiar with a person you have just met, lest you risk being termed a weirdo.
A safe bet is to always allow the other person to make the first move when it comes to greetings or social cues. Then, once you have picked up on the patterns, you can start to act proactively in various situations.
Unlike the British, Americans prefer to say things to your face. There is little room for superficial politeness in American communication. This will either make you happy or annoy you depending on what kind of person you are. Love it or hate it, most Americans are direct in their communication.
Of course, most people working in services like sales will still be pleasant and polite. On the whole, Americans are quite cheerful anyway. However, especially when you get to know them a bit better, they will not hesitate to tell you exactly what they want and establish strong boundaries.
As we have previously mentioned, learning about the cultural norms of the place you are visiting is one of the best ways to prevent culture shock. Now that you are acquainted with some of the behaviours and customs you might encounter in the States, you can go study there with more confidence. However, always remember that none of these is absolute, especially in a country as diverse as the USA.
For more useful tips and advice on studying abroad, read some of our other blog articles.