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Understanding American cultural values through proverbs

Thinking about studying abroad in the United States? One way to prepare yourself for the experience is to understand the American culture through commonly used proverbs.
Understanding cultural aspects through proverbs is an effective tool for exploring cultural aspects of living in a foreign country. Through comparing local proverbs with the similar proverbs of your native language, you can understand more about life in the country you are moving to. This activity will help you with better intercultural communication as you make your transition to your destination.
When you will be speaking with your new friends on campus, you will need to employ intercultural communication and will need to connect to a different value system. At first, it may be challenging to understand each other, and to build strong and deep relationships.

Let’s have a look at some popular American proverbs that will provide some insights into common American perceptions:
  • Genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.
  • No pain, no gain.
  •  Keep your nose to the grindstone and your shoulder to the wheel.
Commentary: working hard is highly valued is America and receives exceptional recognition.
  • Where you are going is much more important than where you have been.
  • A change is as good as a rest.
Commentary: Americans associate changes with development, growth, improvement and progress. The ability to keep up with changes requires one to take an “out of the box” and flexible approach towards solving problems, as can be derived from these proverbs:
  • The proof is in the pudding.
  •  There are many ways to skin the cat.

Americans typically tend to a competitive, especially in sports, but not only:  
  • Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.     
  • No one remembers who was in the second place.
Americans generally believe that one controls his/her own destiny:
  • You can’t keep a good man down.
  • Who says you can’t have it all?
  • The sky is the limit.
Self-reliance is also part of American culture, which is generally quite individualistic:
  • Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.
  • Toot your own horn.
  • If you want a job done right, do it yourself.

As you can see, among Americans, energy, enterprise, optimistic attitude towards change, and the ability to effectively solve problems are highly valued. When you will start your study abroad program in the United States, understanding these values and keeping them in mind will be of a great help for your cultural acclimation.

Once you move abroad you will experience these cultural aspects firsthand, until then, studying and preparing yourself will make the transition much easier.

If you want advice on student life in America and need a mentor to guide you through the process, please visit


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