10 habits I've picked up while studying in America

Deciding to study abroad in the States turned out to be the best decision of my life. As an English and history student, I wanted to find a way to boost my CV that was a bit different to the usual internships or work placements.

So for the past year I've abandoned my familiar student lifestyle in Leeds for an exchange year at the University of South Carolina. I have swapped nightclubs for frat parties, my small student house for American dorms and fish and chips for southern fried chicken.

Many of my study abroad friends who ventured to foreign language countries were sceptical about how different social customs would be in America, and how much I would learn. But from the moment I touched down in Columbia, South Carolina, I knew I had an eye-opening adventure ahead of me.

Here are ten lifestyle habits that I've picked up since being on exchange in the Appalachian South.

1. Tipping

In the US, service staff members earn their keep largely through tips, so visiting a restaurant or bar without leaving a generous tip is considered hugely disrespectful. Thanks to this American social custom, I've returned to the UK much more willing to give away those extra few pounds at the end of my meal.

2. Using weekends to travel

With America's endless travelling opportunities just waiting to be explored, I used the weekdays to study hard, and the weekends to pack my bags and tick some more states off my to-see list.

3. Being OK with driving insanely long hours

When I did pack my bags for the weekend, I had to mentally prepare myself for the long car journey ahead. As Americans don't have the same level of public transport resources as British students do, they're much more accustomed to driving long hours across the interstate to get to where they want to be.

4. Planning my social life around sports games

If ever I wasn't travelling at the weekend, I'd be watching live sports. The university football team played in a ground with a capacity just short of Wembley stadium. With free tickets for students, the weekly dose of American football was considered an unmissable social event.

5. Choosing comfort over style

The go-to daily attire in the intense South Carolinian heat and humidity was a nonchalant Nike Shorts ("Norts") and baggy t-shirt combination. It was also immediately apparent that checked shirts (or "flannel shirts") are readily accepted at any social occasion. If in doubt, flannel out.

6. Embracing team spirit

When I first arrived in the US I felt a typical British reluctance towards American patriotism and team spirit. By the end of my year I'd become swept away in the fun, sporting team colours to classes and queuing for photos with the university mascot.

7. Expressing happiness with the word 'blessed'

Perhaps because I studied in the Bible belt, or because Americans embrace upbeat language more readily than we Brits do, but I heard locals express happiness with the word 'blessed' on a daily basis. I even saw a car license plate that read 'Bless3d'. Since returning to England I've caught myself using the word on several occasions.

8. Solving any remotely difficult situation by grabbing frozen yoghurt

Forget grabbing a coffee or putting the kettle on as ways to unwind at the end of the day. The nearest frozen yoghurt café was a regular haunt for students looking for a midweek treat.

9. Speaking up in lectures

As class participation often counts for large percentages of final grades in American institutions, over the past year I've become a lot more vocal about my thoughts during classes. I'm looking forward to seeing how my renewed verbal skills will fit back in to British lectures and seminars in my final year.

10. Going with the flow

This probably says more about the overall experience of being an international exchange student rather than American social customs, but since studying abroad in America I've become a pro at going with the flow. The study abroad experience can be pretty unpredictable at times, so rather than worrying about trying to have a plan for everything, my new favourite phrase is "Let's play it by ear".

(Source: TheGuardian)


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