The Most Common Culture Shocks When Coming to the US

Moving to the U.S. for the first time can be a daunting experience for many, from sorting out your financial situation to figuring out your visa and immigration requirements. However, once in the country, the experience can be a life-changing one, especially because of the differences you might encounter!

We compiled the biggest culture shocks that international students moving to the U.S. have felt, to give you a flavor of what awaits you when you move there!

Why is Everything so… Big?

From houses to roads to soda sizes in fast food chains, everything seems upscaled in the US. Many students are taken aback by this size difference and the generosity of chefs when it comes to portion control. Keep the upsize in mind when deciding whether to get a small, medium or large but also allow yourself to indulge in those free refills and bottomless milkshakes - it’s not something you get everywhere in the world!

Personal Space truly requires space

A shock to many who are used to displaying their affection through hugs and kisses, Americans like to keep their distance physically speaking. With COVID, this has only increased, and people are more likely to want to stay about a meter away from you when socializing.

As a rule of thumb, avoid kisses on the cheek and don’t be surprised if they do not reciprocate a hug - those things just aren’t commonplace here! Instead, Americans will greet you with a warm handshake and a broad smile and, trust me, that means they like you just as much as a big bear hug!

Is there even an ‘American’ culture?

This has long been the center of debate even for Americans, but the diversity that you will encounter when coming to the States will be shocking. You will see people of all different races, ethnicities, creeds and religions, with their very own particular understanding of just what being an ‘American’ means. The truth is, there is no ‘American’ culture, or at least there are many of them. But it is the diversity of perspectives that makes this country so special! So be ready to experience anything from the familial culture of Louisiana to the upbeat, driven life of New York.

Do they know about my country?

This is sometimes the most interesting conversation to have. Many Americans are yet to leave their country - which is totally normal if you think about the sheer size of the US. This means they might not be as familiar as to where you come from, or things that may be commonplace around the world but just aren’t in the U.S. (think of cricket!). This is an opportunity to be your country’s ambassador - you’ll get to introduce its history, culture, people, and whatever you’re proud of!

Khakis and a Button Down are… Formal?

Yes! The U.S. is arguably one of the least formal countries you’ll find around. This goes from Mark Zuckerberg presenting a new product in a t-shirt, to college students showing up to class in flip-flops or pyjama pants during winter. You’ll often also find this in relationships with figures of authority such as a professor or older family members, who also prefer largely informal conversations. Feel free to experiment with your own clothing. No one is going to judge you for a clash of colors!

And Plenty More!

Your adventure in the US is going to introduce you to plenty more culture shocks, which might feel more of a shock for you depending on your own background. As you make your way to the States, or if you’re already here, feel free to comment your own biggest culture shock below!


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