StudentUniverse Travel Blog

The 16 Things I Didn't Expect As An International Student Coming to the US

As you start the journey of moving completely out of your comfort zone to a new country, be ready for surprises: both good and unexpected. This article will help prepare you for some of the unexpected ones and ease the transition.

When I packed my bags and made the decision to come to the US to study, I was expecting culture shock, a lot of it. No matter how much research I did on the culture, the day I got here, it surely was a shock. A good one, nonetheless. I’ve heard that culture shock has four phases: the honeymoon phase where all one can feel is euphoria, the frustration phase where all the good surprises start to wear out, followed by adjustment and ultimately an acceptance of the culture.

Here are a few revelations you will have when you first arrive in the US:

  1. Food portions are the size of Titanic, no kidding. When you order your first meal at a Cheesecake Factory, you will feel like you have been missing out on all the meals you ate before that point. While portion sizes are big, the economical thing to do is get what you cannot finish ‘to go’ and eat it the next day. Trust me, on a college budget, every dollar will start to matter.
  2. You thought you were a Football or Cricket fan? Wait till you see American obsession with sports! The biggest fans in the US are of National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL) and College football/basketball. Yes, get used to all the sports abbreviations and yes, college sports is a BIG deal.
  3. If you are a wanderlust, good news! Students travel for less. Americans work hard and  enjoy every long weekend during the year! Except weekends, there are many short holidays during the year such as, Memorial Day weekend (May), Labor Day weekend (September), Columbus Day weekend (October) and Thanksgiving break (November). Start planning your trips early and you can get some amazing deals! Student specific travel sites like StudentUniverse are here to help you save money traveling as a student. So why spend breaks bored on campus when you can see the world?
  4. Your accent will definitely be noticed. Whether you have a stereotypical accent of the country where you’re from or whether you manage to sound just like any other American, people will notice your accent and comment about it! (Feel special)
  5. These boots are made for walking. Depending on which country you’re from, get used to toning those calf muscles because you will surely be walking a lot.
  6. Not every city is like New York and Chicago. Its such a stereotype to think every city in the US is the American dream city of New York. To your surprise, if you’re at a campus university, you are likely to be in the suburb of a city!
  7. Wait till you turn 21. Whether your home country has a ‘legal’ drinking age or not, unfortunately, you can drive before you can legally drink in the US.
  8. Driving tests are HARD. Getting a driving licence here is like giving a three credit exam, only much harder. First of all, they drive on the opposite side of the road and to make it worse, driving classes are expensive.
  9. 15 minutes early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable. So whether or not you’re a punctual person, get excited to work on your time management skills because you will need it here!
  10. “How are you” does not mean you need to share your life story. This is just the way people greet each other. An extended way of saying Hi. Don’t get carried away!
  11. Everything is Cheap! Yes, it is, if you look in the right places. Factory outlets will become your best friend. These are retail stores that sell items on discount because they are either a surplus or out of season. Regular stores also have ‘seasonal’ discounts throughout the year. You will not be happy with yourself if you see the item you bought for full price on 50% off after a few weeks.
  12. Grade Expectations.  Well, if you thought getting a 70% was amazing back home, you are going to suffer quite a setback. 60% is the passing grade on average at universities; work hard and then do whatever you like.
  13. You will be over ethnic restaurants in the first 6 months. No matter how much you miss home food, restaurants will never be able to replace it no matter how much they try. Tip: Learn to cook.
  14. Brush up your pop-culture knowledge. Never had an interest in Hollywood movies/ Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian? Start now. Pop culture is a significant part of discussions, especially with young college students.
  15. Currency conversion will be a mental calculation until it finally stops. If mathematics was never your strong suit, it will now become one. Converting everything into your home currency will be very natural, you will be surprised at how cheap soda is ($1.50 on average) and shocked at how expensive water is ($2 on average). Gradually, you will learn to adapt!
  16. SWAG: Stuff we all get. Get excited because you are in for a treat. Attending many events at college will automatically equate to free goodies and food. If accepting ‘free’ things is awkward in your culture, you might think twice once you get here.

If you do make the decision to come to the the US, my biggest advice would be to embrace it with open arms and make the most of your experience!