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Hacking American culture as an international student

Traveling to a new place can be stressful. Traveling to a new country and adapting to its culture is something entirely different. As an international student, there are a few things you will need to know about adapting to American culture. Acclimating to American culture is all a matter of perception, you just have to notice the subtle or not so subtle cues. Be sure that you do not let one bad interaction deter you from continuing to interact with people. Communication is key when it comes to adapting to a new culture, especially American culture.

Interaction with the public
Americans are not as straightforward you may be used to. When asking for directions or just saying hello to someone, Americans are either engaging or distant. If someone ignores you it is best to leave them be and ask someone new. Additionally, if you are in a conversation with someone and they keep looking or edging away from you that is a sign that they do not want to talk, they are just trying to be polite. Conversely, if they do not fidget or move away they really do want to talk. Some Americans will say or ask you something when they really just want to be polite. They do not necessarily want to engage in a long conversation. If someone engages you, it is possible they are just being nice. In situations such as those, look at their behaviors just as before. Lack of eye contact, not seeming to be paying attention or other behaviors of that nature.

When you study abroad do not be afraid to talk to people. Interacting with people is the best way to learn about cultural differences and making new friends or acquaintances. Firsthand experience is the best way to acclimate. Most people will be nice depending on where you are, however not everyone will be nice, but do not think too much of that. Just move on and keep you head up high. People interact in different ways depending on your location. People in Chicago may be more engaging than say someone from New York City. With time, you will find the group of friends that you will be able to relate to. Most likely, a mix of international and American students.

Common phrases
Americans tend to use many slang words that may not be used by their literal definition, instead they are used to express excitement or displeasure. Here are a few examples of words that may be misconstrued or confusing, words you may hear often.
Awesome - this word is used very often and it is used simply to express excitement. An example would be, “That concert was awesome! You have to go see it.”
Cool - cool can be used to describe the temperature or, like awesome, this word can also be used to express excitement, but in a different way than awesome. Cool is used more nonchalantly. An example would be, “You wanna go to that party tomorrow, should be awesome?”  “Cool! I’d love to go!”  
Beat - aside from in competition this word is used as a replacement for tired. “I was up ‘till three in the morning. I’m beat.”
Hang out - to hang out is to spend time with or it can also mean the place where you like to spend your free time. “You wanna hang out? I usually hang out at the mall but, we can go wherever you want to.”  
Ripped - someone who is in good shape is considered ripped. “Dude you’re ripped! What, do you work out ten times a day?”  
Ripped off - ripped is different than ripped off. To be ripped off is to have gotten a bad deal or in some cases robbed. “You got ripped off - that’s nowhere near worth one hundred dollars.”
Geek - these last two words can be playfully used if used on a friend, but be careful. Geek is used as an insult to someone who is smart or antisocial. “Dude, you are such a geek!”, if talking to a close friend geek is okay, and in some scenarios, such as when talking to tech people, geek can be a compliment.
Loser - this word is used as an insult. “Dude, you are such a loser!”

Remember that when it comes to acclimating in America social interactions can be your best friend, but you need to be careful with the words you use and be aware of the words that others use and their meaning. Body language is also important whether you are talking to a friend or a stranger, so pay attention. You will have no problem adjusting during your studies abroad, as long as you know what to look for and keep an open mind, understanding that it will take some time until you fully understand the new culture. With this understanding, your transition will be smooth and you will have an awesome time in America.

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