Viewing the world through a different lens

American quirks stick out to international students

By Anush Yepremyan | 9/13/15 11:19pm


When I came to the United States of America for the first time, I was only 14 years old and it was one of my biggest trips ever. I truly fell in love with the country. It seemed as if I was in an absolutely different world and as if I had taken off my monochromatic glasses, which showed the world only in black and white.

When you live in one location, you assume that the life, mentality and cultural values are the same everywhere. However, it is not the case.

The first thing that captured my attention when I came to the U.S. was the big houses with nicely cut green grass and exotic front yards. In Ukraine, most people live in apartments, but they do own them. The houses are considered more of a cottage and luxury item.

Also, in the Ukraine, not every household has a car. They might have one car for the entire family or not have one at all. However, it is not an issue because of well-developed public transportation system.

The second thing that captured my attention was how neighborly people were with strangers. I grew up in a society that valued relationships the most. In other words, you do not talk or smile to strangers until you build a trusting relationship. Once you have built that relationship or trust, the person pretty much becomes part of the family and is treated like a family member. One of my American acquaintances said, “You gain one’s trust and then break it. That is what it is all about.”

Is it? I found it interesting because I like to hear other people’s perspective. I think partially it is due to how we perceive relationships. Some cultures are long-term oriented and some are short-term oriented.

Another difference was how simple people were regardless of their social status, titles or on day-to-day basis. For example, in Europe, it is crucial how you look, what you wear, what kind of car you drive and what kind of phone you have. Unfortunately, like it or not, people do judge by appearance, and the first impression is very important.

You will not believe how often people get new phones in Ukraine or Russia – pretty much constantly once a new one is out. Yes, phone business is blooming. This may sound silly, but some people get loans to buy a phone. Yes, a phone. Have you noticed that when internationals come to the U.S. the first things they purchase are electronics? They are just much cheaper here than back home due to currency fluctuation and etc.

I remember I had a hard time understanding why people would go and rent a movie if they could watch it online for free. See, in Ukraine and Russia, most of the movies are available in the Russian version of Facebook. We have huge copyright issues, what can I say?

This may sound a little bit strange to you, but we do not have garbage disposal in Ukraine. So when I came here for the first time, I was wondering why people had two sinks in their kitchen. Or two washing machines – one for washing and the other one for drying. We usually have one that does all three functions. But that’s due to space. You have big houses so you have the space, and since people in other countries live in apartments, they need to use the space more efficiently.

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