Being a US American Abroad Resources

What's up with Culture? An interactive web site that provides training and resources to equip you with the skills, attitudes, and behaviors you need in order to function in your new and unfamiliar environment.

The Values Americans Live By, by L. Robert Kohls, is a good place to start researching your own culture and learn what implications this may have for your experiences abroad.

The Lies Students Tell Abroad, by Amy Elizabeth Smith, discussing the way U.S. American students abroad choose represent their nationality.

Power Distance You can see your host country's level of power distance.

Being a U.S. American Abroad


There are both positive and negative stereotypes of U.S. citizens you may encounter abroad including things like: life every where in the U.S. is just as it appears on the t.v. show "the O.C." and everyone carries a gun. We encourage you to do some research to learn a bit more about being a U.S. American living and studying in another country.

Remember that as a Brandeis student, you are representing the university and your nation. Some of the things you may want to consider about how to comport yourself include:

Politeness: Learn how to be polite in the local cultural context.  While in the US it may be polite to smile in most interactions, in some cultures a smile may communicate flirtatious behavior rather than politeness.  While abroad be prepared to keep a relatively formal manner in social settings. Formal greetings may be used frequently so have one prepared before you go. In general, use formal expressions and verb conjugations until you understand the nuances of when and with whom it is appropriate to be more casual.

Humor: Humor can be difficult to translate between languages and cultures. Americans have a unique way of “joking” in the sense that we are often “kidding” in a sarcastic tone. This type of sarcasm may not exist in other countries so be careful as to how your jokes are perceived. Never translate jokes directly and always keep in mind that the meaning of your joke will most often be taken literally by your listeners.

Physical contact: Be observant of the different stages of a relationship and the amount of physical contact associated with them while you are abroad. For example, a simple pat on the back or a big hug could prove very uncomfortable for the receiver if the context is inappropriate. Conversely, in some places it is typical to kiss one-another on the cheek as a greeting (an action that most U.S. Americans find awkward at first). Take special note of social and personal space, as people in different cultures tend to have different perceptions of how close to stand while talking and saying hello or goodbye.

Personal Questions: As U.S. Americans, we often engage in small talk that revolves around what we do, and the subject of the conversation is ourselves. However, in some cultures, this is seen as impolite. In other cultures, you may find that it is appropriate to ask very personal questions and you may be asked about personal details that make you uncomfortable.

Drinking and Drunkenness: Be advised that although in many countries social drinking is common, drunkenness is rarely viewed as amusing and in most cases is seen as intolerable and insulting. Know the law, local customs, and your own personal limits so as to not perpetuate the stereotype that young U.S. students are loud, drunk, and obnoxious.

Classroom Behavior: In a U.S. classroom setting it is common to actively participate during class.  Students are expected to voice their thoughts and opinions, which sometimes challenge the professor.  This behavior is not always acceptable abroad where the power distance between the faculty and the student can be greater.  The classroom abroad can be a more formal setting than you may be used to.  For example, students may be less disruptive (no eating, drinking or talking) and wear more formal attire (no sweatpants or T-shirts).  There are some countries where classroom doors are locked at the time class starts so you can not arrive late.  In other places, you may find the exact opposite to these examples.

Your Identity: As a resident or citizen of the U.S. you are surrounded by many different cultural groups.  When describing yourself to others you might describe your heritage or religious affiliation.  It is important to have a grounded sense of your identity prior to traveling abroad so you can better process your experience and surroundings.  This can be done by keeping a journal about who you are and what makes you you prior to departure, while abroad and after you return home.