10 Hilarious Surprises About American Culture for International Students

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When American students study abroad, they often find that their preconceived notions of the host culture are way off, from language nuances to restaurant etiquette. They also discover new cultural traits that surprise them (both good and bad). So, what do international students in America think about their host country when they arrive? What shocks them, what do they find strange about American culture, and which Hollywood stereotypes are reinforced or overturned?

A survey of international students in America was conducted via GoAbroad’s extensive social media community — read on to find out 10 hilarious things students who study in the USA are surprised by:

1. So Many Flags!

Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory in a womens costume sewing the American flag

We love to show off our red, white, and blue (because ‘MURICA). “From the national anthem at sports events to flags on every block, Americans seem to be very proud to show their nationalism.” – Katja from Germany

2. Large Portions of Food!

Emma Stone rolling her eyes at a plate of food

Super sized, free refills, big plates, mega everything! For those who study in the United States, you can challenge yourself to eat it all or put it in the mini fridge for another meal for later (buy one, get one free!). “I was always so full after every meal.”  – Paulina from Poland

3. So Many Choices.

Retta from Parks and Recreation saying, Treat yo self.

America is all about freedom! Soup or salad? Decaf or half caf? French fried or baked potato? Scrambled eggs or poached eggs? How would you like that cooked? “Sometimes you’ll need more than a couple of minutes to just look over the menu with the huge number of choices.”  – Vihaan from India

4. Where is Everyone?

A tumbleweed rolling across a road

Inside watching cat videos. While it depends on if you’re in more rural areas or cities, many international students studying in the USA are shocked by the lack of people in the streets, hanging out outside, or walking to places. “I was afraid when we drove through the town and no one was on the street, it looked like a zombie apocalypse movie.” – Bihn from Vietnam

5. Loud.

Brick from Anchorman saying, Loud noises!

Sorry, we can’t help ourselves (or our decibels!). “When you ride the Tube in London, if you hear someone speaking loudly, it is usually an American.” – Stephen from England

6. Superficially Friendly?

Kanye West smiling and frowning

Every stranger is just a future friend to Americans. Greeting strangers on the street, clerks thanking customers, and random smiles are common here. “I used to answer the question ‘How are you?’ honestly, then I realized it wasn’t really a question, more like a greeting.” – Maria from Sweden

7. Generous.

Two guys from Parks and Recreation dancing and shuffling money

Aww, you guys! You’re so sweet. “They tip big, they offer you a ride, an umbrella if it’s raining, and a place to sleep if you are backpacking. Americans are among the most generous people in the world, in my opinion” – Jack from Australia

8. People Come in All Shapes & Sizes

Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation saying, I stand behind my decision to avoid salad and other disgusting things.

Not everyone you see looks like a thin Hollywood star (Americans just can’t get enough of the breadsticks at Olive Garden). Some people are tall, some are curvy. Some states focus on fitness, while some focus more on fried foods. With a plethora of options for food and exercise, it all comes down to choices, right?  – Almost anyone

9. Confidence.

Mindy Kaling saying, Its weird being my own role model. I recommend it.

We all have an inner Beyoncé in us. “People here seem to be confident on every subject and in any setting, whether they should be or not.” – Michael from Austria

10. Passionate About Politics.

Matt Damon as a soldier from Saving Private Ryan rolling up in a ball and crying.

Holiday dinners can sometimes turn into debates on this one! International students studying in the U.S. are surprised at the emotional response conversations on politics often take; from guns to abortion to religion to taxes, Americans have strong positions on most topics and often emotional feelings on politics. “I was pressured into taking a position in a political conversation with an American guy, and I regretted it immediately. It seems that political positions here are based on religion and family background much more than debating the merits of the issue.” – Samantha from the UK

From the East Coast to the Midwest to the West Coast, international students studying in the USA will come face to face with unexpected customs and traditions wherever they go. Not to worry, Americans want to learn about them too. Oh, and yes, Americans ARE obsessed with TV shows, movies, music, and all things entertainment and pop culture.

Chris Evans as Captain America saying, I understood that reference.

Are you studying in the USA? If so, what has surprised you the most? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! And if not...

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