The United States is called a melting pot for a very good reason. With its 50 states, each like their own country because of their unique climates, food, and cultural activities, America has something for everybody. Studying abroad in the U.S. can mean learning about any number of possible disciplines in about any surrounding. Study in the mountains, a big city, small town, along the coast, or in a desert all while also learning English.
Geography & Demographics
Universities hold a high belief in diversity and offer all students the chance to learn. It is no wonder that 40 percent of American citizens can trace their ancestry to someone who came came through Ellis Island, the famous port where 12 million people from all parts of the world came to seek a new life in the land of opportunity. That belief is held today as many come to learn, work, and live in the world’s economic, academic, and cultural superpower. From the Californian coast to the Rocky Mountains to the Statue of Liberty, international students will find an abundance of opportunities to learn about American history, arts and culture.
America’s 50 states, 48 of which are on the mainland, make up the bulk of North America in between Canada and Mexico. Hawaii is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean and Alaska is off the northwestern corner of Canada connecting itself to the farthest tips of Russia. It is the fourth largest country and has the third largest population with 52 metropolitan areas that each have over one million people.
The Rocky Mountains that span across British Columbia in Canada all the way down south to New Mexico hold everything from hiking and camping to snowboarding and ice fishing. The southern states are well known for their hospitality, authentic American food, and traditional ways of life. Farther to the east are many of the metropolitan areas as well as where most of early American history can be traced. New York city has the largest population at just over 19 million people.
Weather can be pretty unpredictable in any state, but some areas have constant patterns:
Pacific Northwest (WA, ORE, Northern CA) - It is rainy most of the time, but because people who live here are used to it, not many locals use umbrellas especially in Oregon and they call it “Liquid Sunshine.” Winter doesn’t see much snow except in the mountains and summers are cool and breezy.
Colorado - The high altitude means dry summers and snow filled winters. Wearing layers and keeping an umbrella, sunscreen, and a sweatshirt close by is common. Drink plenty of water to avoid altitude sickness.
South - It’s very humid in summer and winter but sees little snow. There are some big rainstorms, but that doesn’t stop the locals from going about their business.
Most areas have all four seasons but some are more extreme than others. The best time to study abroad in America is during the spring semester for the western and northern parts of the country and the fall semester for the southern and eastern areas so as to avoid extreme weather conditions.
Food & Culture
When it comes to food, it is almost guaranteed that if there isn’t a restaurant that has food from every corner of the earth, the grocery stores will have the ingredients. In America, especially in urban areas like Chicago and New York City, there is a high demand for exotic flavors which means there are many options for eating out. Food is served in large portions, so it is common to take leftovers home in a to go box and refills for non-alcoholic drinks are free at most establishments. The legal drinking age is 21 and it is strictly enforced especially in college towns, though a lot of bars will welcome patrons under 21 inside the bar before a certain time as long as they do not order alcohol.
About half the country identifies as Christian, while the other half is comprised of Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu. It seems every type of religion is practiced in America and new belief systems are being born. In Portland, Oregon, there is even a 24 hour Church of Elvis!
English is the main language with Spanish and Chinese following, but most every language and culture is represented somewhere. However, there are different dialects, accents, idioms, and slang that vary between the states. The most well known accents are in the south, Boston, Minnesota and the Dakotas, and New York City. All courses, unless foreign language courses, are taught in English. Most programs will require an English proficiency test for acceptance in the program.
In America, one item can be called many different things depending on who you talk to. A couch can be a sofa or a futon. In the south, especially Texas, when ordering non-alcoholic drinks at a restaurant, any type of soda is automatically a Coke. Then, the waiter or waitress will ask what kind of Coke (Fanta, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, etc). In other parts of the country, it is called a soda or a pop.
Currency is made of the U.S. dollar and cents. One dollar is comprised of 100 cents. There are four coins: penny (1 cent), nickel (5 cents), dime (10 cents), and quarter (25 cents). Bills are in one, five, ten, 20, 50, and 100 dollar increments. Food and clothing are relatively inexpensive compared to Europe, even organic food.
Things to Do
Festivals celebrate food, nationalities, arts, and ways of life in every state. South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX and Lollapalooza in Chicago, IL are two of the biggest music festivals in the country while the winter X Games attract many extreme sports fans to Aspen, CO. Americans love to celebrate.
American football, basketball, baseball, and hockey are the more popular spectator sports both at the professional and collegiate level. Many universities will have intramural sport teams for students in softball, basketball, volleyball, water polo, soccer, and many more. It is easy to get involved in recreational athletics.
Studying in the U.S.A.
International visitors coming into the United States who intend to study at an accredited university for any length of time will require a student visa. After acceptance to the university, international students will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Information System with a fee and an I-20 form. Students also have to attend a US Embassy/Consulate for a visa interview with all the necessary documents. The requirements change for each country and are likely to change so be sure to research the requirements for your homeland.
International students usually stay in a shared dorm on campus. There is usually one other person in the dorm room and either a shared bathroom with the room next door or a community bathroom in the hall. Some universities have specific international student apartments on or close to campus. International students have access to the university’s international offices as well as any of the advisors for the major.
In college towns and urban areas, many amenities are within walking distance. Some universities have a partnership with local transportation and offer free bus and subway for students with an ID from the university. The student ID will also allow access to home university sporting events for free and discounts at many locations such as: restaurants, shops, and movie theaters.