What is American culture? There is no single answer to this question. The reason is because the United States of America is a diverse land. Covering more than 9.6 million square kilometers, the U.S. is home to more than 311 million people. While there are values that unite Americans, you will find that a large, urban area like Los Angeles, California has a very different culture and way of life than a small town like Oxford, Mississippi. When nearly three thousand miles separate people on the west coast from those on the east coast, there are sure to be differences! Continue reading for more cultural information what to expect when you arrive in the United States.
Be Prepared to Adjust:
- Research your location in the U.S. to get a feel for the culture, cost, and climate.
- Most people face culture shock upon arrival. This is normal!
- Allow time to adjust and miss family and friends.
- It is COLD in the winter and HOT in the summer! Learn more about the climate of where you will be living.
Culture Shock Advice:
- The program is what you make of it… Get involved! Ask your supervisors and peers about volunteer opportunities in the community.
- Be independent, but seek help if you need it.
- Keep a journal/diary/scrapbook of your memories. This will be something great to share with your family when you return to your home country. This could be hand written or online via a blog or social media.
- Reach out to fellow international participants via Facebook, Twitter or Instragram using #AAG! You can find information on local events here (link to interactive map page).
The J-1 Work/Travel program is a cultural exchange program. AAG highly encourages you to participate in as many cultural exchange opportunities as possible, below are just a few simple ideas to get you started. Throughout the course of your program AAG will provide you with opportunities and ideas for experiencing American culture.
- Try different types of American food.
- Celebrate a U.S. holiday.
- Participate in or watch a sport you have never played.
- Participate in community events.
- Volunteer in your community.
- Attend a local music event or art show.
- Listen to American music on the radio.
We have a lot of holidays and events in the U.S. that we want you to take advantage of and enjoy while you’re here!
Labor Day Labor Day is the first Monday of September. This holiday honors the nation’s working people, typically with parades. For most Americans it marks the end of the summer vacation season and the start of the school year.
Columbus Day Columbus Day is a celebrated on the second Monday in October. The day commemorates October 12, 1492, when Italian navigator Christopher Columbus landed in the New World. The holiday was first proclaimed in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Veterans Day Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11. This holiday was originally called Armistice Day and established to honor Americans who had served in World War I. It now honors veterans of all wars in which the U.S. has fought. Veterans’ organizations hold parades, and the president places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Thanksgiving Day Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims held a three-day feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Many regard this event as the nation’s first Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving feast became a national tradition and almost always includes some of the foods served at the first feast: roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and pumpkin pie.
Christmas Day Christmas Day is a celebrated on December 25. Christmas is a Christian holiday marking the birth of the Christ Child. Decorating houses and yards with lights, putting up Christmas trees, giving gifts, and sending greeting cards have become holiday traditions even for many non-Christian Americans. Find tips to help celebrate.
Flag Day Flag Day, celebrated June 14, has been a presidentially proclaimed observance since 1916. Although Flag Day is not a federal holiday, Americans are encouraged to display the flag outside their homes and businesses on this day to honor the history and heritage the American flag represents.
Father’s Day Father’s Day celebrates fathers every third Sunday of June. Father’s Day began in 1909 in Spokane, Washington, when a daughter requested a special day to honor her father, a Civil War veteran who raised his children after his wife died. The first presidential proclamation honoring fathers was issued in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson.
Patriot Day September 11, 2001, was a defining moment in American history. On that day, terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners to strike targets in the United States. Nearly 3,000 people died as a consequence of the attacks. Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance is observed on September 11 in honor of the victims of these attacks.
Halloween Halloween is celebrated on October 31. On Halloween, American children dress up in funny or scary costumes and go “trick or treating” by knocking on doors in their neighborhood. The neighbors are expected to respond by giving them small gifts of candy or money.
Pearl Harbor Day Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is December 7. In 1994, Congress designated this national observance to honor the more than 2,400 military service personnel who died on this date in 1941, during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by Japanese forces. The attack on Pearl Harbor caused the United States to enter World War II.
ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS
Various ethnic and religious groups in America celebrate days with special meaning to them even though these are not national holidays. For example, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter, Jews observe their high holy days in September, Muslims celebrate Ramadan, and African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa. There are many other religious and ethnic celebrations in the United States.
• Individualism: Americans stress individualism. Each person is responsible for himself or herself. As a result, there is less reliance on family members as you find in other nations. You are expected to find a solution to problems or seek out someone who can help.
• Equality: Americans believe strongly in the equality of all people. The U.S. has “equal opportunity” laws prohibiting the discrimination of individuals on things such as race, nationality, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, or disability.
• Competition: Americans believe that competition brings out the best. In school and at work, competition between individuals causes them to strive for the best. Schools honor those students who do best and companies will honor the workers who work the hardest. As a result, competing against others, even against friends, is normal.
• Value of Time: Americans are very time conscious and believe that time is precious. As a result, promptness is very important. If you have an appointment or meeting, you should plan on arriving 5 minutes early. Being late, even for good reasons, often minimizes the likelihood of you getting what you desire. There is a common saying “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. To be late is to be dead”. Another common saying is “Time is money”.
• Being Direct and Honest: Honesty is of great importance, even if you are bringing bad news. Being indirect when sharing bad news will frustrate Americans.
• Privacy: As they say in the U.S., “mind your own business”. Most Americans do not want advice or assistance unless they ask. On a larger scale, Americans demand that businesses respect their privacy.
• Personal Space and Touch: Standing within an American’s personal space will cause them to feel uncomfortable. How close is too close? Studies have found that most prefer to keep a distance of 19 inches (48 cm) between people. That is about one arm’s length distance. Because of this space distance, physical touch is rarely appropriate for your initial interactions with someone.
• Cleanliness: Any form of body odor will be a problem as you get to know Americans. Simply bathing daily and wearing deodorant will prevent you from having this obstacle to friendships in the U.S.
• Eye Contact: When speaking to someone, making direct eye contact is a sign of respect and honesty. Avoiding eye contact makes you look like you are not interested in what someone is saying. If you are talking and not looking at the person to whom you are speaking, they may think you are not telling the truth.