By studying in the US, you have the opportunity to live and study in a place with such diverse regional cultures that one coast can feel like the polar opposite from the other.

This section will prepare you for the culture shock you will most likely experience while in the US and how to handle it, as well as give you some general cultural differences between the US and UK, including religion and politics.

Culture shock

The key to dealing with culture shock is to remember that this is a natural process that accompanies being in a new country for an extended period of time.

The most important thing is to give yourself time to adjust to your new surroundings, remain positive and not become discouraged.

The UK Council for International Student Affairs has diagram to explain the different stages of culture shock.

Here are a few ways to find support and channel your homesickness into something positive:

  • Represent your country at study abroad fair
  • Talk with your international student adviser
  • Talk with your Resident Adviser
  • Join a club or society you're passionate about
  • Meet with other international students who are probably going through the same thing
  • Visit and familiarise yourself with nearby places of interest

You might even experience reverse culture shock when you return to the UK. There are a few ways you can counter this:

  • Keep a journal of your time abroad and compare your experiences to those in the UK
  • Stay informed of the news at home
  • Keep in contact with people from home, with regular video calls
  • When you return, remember not to overload friends and family with your stories and "when I was in the US..."s - instead, engage with local international groups or other people who have had similar experiences

Cultural differences

While you may not think it at first, there are numerous cultural differences between the US and the UK that you will likely encounter:

  • Tipping: tip 15-20% at restaurants, 5-10% for taxis, 10% for hairdressers, $1-2 per drink and $3-5 per suitcase carried - not tipping is considered the worst of faux pas
  • Personal lives: Americans are very open people and like to share a lot about themselves
  • Humour: sarcasm, satire and surrealism are not common forms of expression (Monty Python and The Mighty Boosh might take some explaining)
  • Local mindsets: due to the county's size, news and culture are focused more locally than globally
  • Values: punctuality, individual responsibility, a high work ethic, and proud patriotism are all valued in the USA far more than the UK - self-deprecation is rare in the US, and laughing at yourself or your country is viewed with suspicion

Religion

The USA was founded on the principle of religious freedom, and is therefore religiously diverse.

While the UK has more non-believers than any particular denomination, religious faith is fairly common and widespread across the US.

In most of the country, your beliefs will be respected no matter what they are and opportunities will be provided for you to engage with your faith or lack thereof.

Certain parts of the US, in rural areas and especially the South, tend to be less religiously diverse. Protestantism is predominant, and religion may be an essential part of the lifestyle. These areas are usually more conservative. Students from these areas may talk openly about their beliefs and can be shocked if you do not share them.

Politics

Don't be afraid to express your political beliefs on campus, but remember to be polite. Americans can be self-critical but will take offence if they think you are insulting the political concept of the USA.

You will notice that Americans become particularly politically minded and patriotic during a presidential election. If you happen to be in America during an election year, ask your American friends to explain the two-party system.

Presidential candidates often tour certain universities to speak to students during the campaign. Consider yourself very lucky if you get a seat at one of these events.