4 Things Study Abroad Students don’t Expect to find in America

Thousands of students from all over the world come to the US to study each year. Some will come for a few weeks over the summer, some will come for a full year, and some will be in the US for their entire college experience.


Regardless of the amount of time spent in the US, international students often find there are a few things they didn’t expect, some positive and some negative. Students who are considering US study should consider the following realities so their adjustment period can go smoothly.

1. Transportation

Students who come from other countries may be using public transportation on a daily basis. Many countries have excellent public transportation that is both efficient and clean; however, the US isn’t one of them. With the exception of cities such as New York and Seattle, most study abroad students will find that the US is pretty much a motor vehicle country. This can be a big issue because purchasing a car for a short time is incredibly expensive. Students who don’t have a car are often left with the option of simply walking or asking for rides from other people. This cuts down the amount of time they have to explore the country when not in the classroom (READ: “7 Reasons to Study Abroad in the UK”).

Tip: If students must rely on public transportation, they should think about going to an urban environment where buses and trains may be available or where they can simply get places by foot. Alternatively, students can arrange for transportation to and from school and then take a long weekend using a short term rental car with some friends. However, it’s important to remember that, in the United States, a person must be 25 years old to rent a car and hold a US driver’s license or an international driver’s license.

2. Meeting locals

Meeting locals is something that nearly every study abroad student is excited about. Why would somebody go to a different country if they didn’t want to meet different types of people? However, some study abroad students here in the US will find that locals are rushing around trying to get their studies done and may already have several friends that they brought from high school. Additionally, locals meet college friends in the first couple weeks of their freshman year while study abroad students generally arrive in their sophomore or junior year, meaning that social groups have already been informed. Additionally, that cool restaurant or coffee shop may be thought of as ‘too touristy’ for local students to enjoy. Many of these issues can make socializing with US students a challenge (READ: “6 Tips for Studying Abroad in Paris”).

Tip: Study abroad students in the US can ask local students to take them to a place where only locals go. That way not only are the local students having fun at a place they enjoy, but the study abroad student gets an idea of day to day life in the US.

3. Meeting people from home (but not the US)

Most international students come to the US expecting to meet American students; this is not always the case. In ESL classes, for example, it’s very common for the majority of students to be from the same country or the same region because the teacher specializes in English language learners from that particular culture or first language. Students who wish to meet Americans will have to venture outside the classroom environment to make local friends.

Tip: Enjoy the comfort of people from your home country. Students who are studying abroad for a summer or a year generally get home sick. Knowing people from the same country can actually help prevent this and allows students to explore the US together.

4. You will see the entire United States of America

The reality of the US is that it’s geographically vast. This is wonderful because people who live here can visit different subcultures, climates, and have different experiences without renewing their passport. However, for study abroad students this means that they probably won’t get a chance to see the entire US while they’re here (CLICK: “Ten Tips on Making the Most our of Your Study Abroad”).

Tip: Pick a region and enjoy it. Students who are coming to study on the West Coast are advised to enjoy the West, learn about the local culture, and see the East Coast on another visit.

Bottom line

Regardless of which state or school international students choose to study at, there are plenty of wonderful things to see in our large and diverse country. Study abroad students will have to be a little more outgoing than they originally thought in order to make friends. They will also have to consider our transportation issues and how much traveling they will do while they’re here. The most important thing is to take home a positive experience, good memories, and new friends.

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