top of page

Five Cultural Surprises for International Students in the U.S.

By Dr. Linh Phung

Eduling International

Every year, hundreds of thousands of international students arrive in the U.S. for their studies. Being in a new country is exciting and thrilling and also full of surprises. Here are five of the many surprises that international students have shared with me over the years. Let’s hear them in today’s tiny lesson.

1. American people say hi to everyone. Many students are taken aback when being greeted by strangers on campus or on the street. When you run into people, they may look you in the eye, smile, and say “Hi” or “How are you?” When that happens, you may wonder how you should respond.

Usually, when you walk on campus or on the street, you share a physical space. When your eyes happen to meet, people acknowledge your existence by saying “Hi” or “How are you?” All you have to do is to say “Hi” or “How are you?” back and walk on. You don’t need to stop and engage in a conversation unless it’s someone you know, and you want to stop for a chat. Other equivalent greetings include: How is it going? How are you doing? Young people and friends may also say “What’s up?” or “Sup?”

2. People hold the door open for you. This is new to many students. If you’re heading to the same building, and there’s one door ahead, the person reaching that door may hold it open for you so that you can enter before the door is closed. This is a nice gesture, and all you have to do is to say “Thank you.” The other person may respond “You’re welcome” or “uhum” without stopping.

3. People don’t take shoes off in the dorm room or in their house. Many international students from Asian countries such as Vietnam or Japan are surprised by this habit. Many houses in the U.S. have hard floors or carpeted floors or a combination of those. People want to protect their feet from the floors, not the other way around. Inside the house, sometimes people just wear socks, slippers, or other indoor footwear. When they have guests, they may insist that guests keep their shoes on. People don’t often walk around their house with their bare feet.

4. People often take a shower in the morning rather than a bath in the evening. Many Japanese students are surprised by this because they enjoy taking a long bath in the evening to relax. Being in a colder climate and with air conditioners almost everywhere, people in the U.S. usually don’t feel the need to take a bath or a shower in the evening before going to bed. These differences sometimes puzzle newcomers in the U.S.

5. Desserts are so sweet in the U.S. This is true, and I don’t have an explanation for it. However, after a while, you’re used to the variety of desserts here, and the sweetness can be quite delightful.

As you can see, habits and ways of living are different in different cultures. Observe, be open-minded, and adjust, and you’ll be able to enjoy your experience more in any new environment. What are your surprises when you travel?

You can listen to this tiny lesson on the Eduling Speak app. Download there app here.

About Dr. Linh Phung: Dr. Linh Phung has been teaching English in the U.S. for over 12 years. She's also a researcher and book author. Together with her team, she created the Eduling Speak app to develop students' real communication and English language skills.

More info:


bottom of page