Get to Know Your Culture
Before you leave on the plane, you need to know about the culture in your host country. Even after your arrival in the host country, you may want to brush up on your knowledge of your host country. Visit the U.S. State Department (or you can visit the Student version of the US Department of State) to read consular information sheets about your host country. It would be wise to know about local customs, dos-and-don'ts, and even political figures.
Culture Shock/Reverse Culture Shock
After you have stayed in the host country for a time, you may experience culture shock. To learn about what culture shock is and how to recognize symptoms, follow the link to our Culture Shock page.
People from other cultures often have a negative stereotype of Americans. These stereotypes are often based on our pop culture, such as our TV shows and music. Some common thoughts about Americans are:
Americans are disrespectful because...
- Their greetings are short and casual
- They seldom address people by their titles
- The call almost everyone by their first name
- They immediately ask if you are married and how many children you have
- They do not walk you to your car or to the bus stop when you leave their house after a visit
- They prefer to entertain guests at home rather than at a restaurant
- They are loud
- They are all rich
- They do not care about the environment
Americans are too direct, too blunt...
- They will tell you the truth even if it may not be what you want to hear
Americans are not modest...
- They will often acknowledge a compliment by saying "thank you" - a man will even admit to having an attractive spouse
Americans are law abiding...
- They will stand meekly in line to buy a ticket, board a bus or cash a check; drivers will stop for a stop sign out in the country when there are no other cars in sight.
The "Ugly American"
This term comes from the title of a book published in the early 70's, and it has stuck. Watch out because it can be applied to you if you are not careful. You can avoid being identified as an Ugly American if you:
- Avoid temptations to tell people that Americans do things better.
- Try hard to be a person who shares, and who is inclusive in relationships.
- Be genuinely interested in your host country and its people.
- Do not talk excessively about your possessions, or your family and friends.
- Do not demand special treatment because you are an American. Your American rights do not travel abroad with you.
- Do not drink alcohol to excess.
- Do not tell your host country's citizens how much they are behind the United States - technology, politically, socially, economically...even if you think you have the evidence to back it up. Try to be objective, open, and thoughtful when you enter into conversations and debates.
- Do not be obvious or loud about your patriotism.
- Do not throw your money around, and be aware of what is considered excessive spending - Pay special attention to how much (if at all) locals tip wait staff. The American norm of 15% can be considered not only unnecessary, but sometimes even insulting. Also, remember that in many cultures, bartering (such as in open-air markets) is not only encouraged, but expected. Familiarize yourselves with native practices, and try hard to follow their example.
-Adapted from Australian Education Office's pre-departure guide