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One of the most exciting and most challenging things about studying abroad is learning about the culture and laws of your temporary home. On this page, we’ve collected some links, suggestions, and resources for learning about life in the United States and how it may be different from life in China. Additional resources can be found on the International Student Services website: https://www.plu.edu/iss/life-at-plu/us-culture/.

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What's different between your culture and American culture?

Tips from the ABC Program Student Coordinator and PLU international students

In China, we are used to the idea of collectivism, such as working in groups and making close contact with others through constant meeting at meals or casual events. However, in the US, individualism is more common, which promotes the value of independence and self-reliance as a priority. They also believe that a person’s accomplishments matter more than age, tradition, or family background.

For more information, check out: https://healthypsych.com/individualist-or-collectivist-how-culture-influences-behavior/

Being on-time is a sign of respect that shows you value the other person’s time. Similarly, when there is an agenda or schedule for a meeting or activity, people generally expect you to follow it. This is also true for working on projects and assignments in groups, where other students may feel disrespected or complain if a member does not turn in their assigned pieces when agreed.

Giving gifts is not as common in the United States as in China, but it is still considered polite or acceptable in many situations. If someone invites you to their home, it may be appropriate to bring something small (flowers, a bottle of wine, or another small token). Otherwise, gifts are mostly given to close family and friends on certain occasions: birthdays, Christmas/Hanukkah, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.

In China, when we receive gifts, we often give a gift of equal value to the person in return. In the US, people may not always give something of equal value. They may give something of greater or lesser value, take you out to dinner, or not return a gift at all. They may not consider this rude or want to offend you, but have a different way of thinking about gifts.

Like most places, cultural stereotypes exist and misunderstandings can happen in the US. People may have stereotypes about you as Chinese students and you may have stereotypes about others. These can cause misunderstandings or problems, but we hope your good judgement and communication skills will help you handle these situations if they come up.

The tips and links on this page should help you understand some of the differences in culture between the US and China, which will help you navigate many miscommunications. If you have more questions about this or encounter anything you need to talk about, though, feel free to talk to Alex, Saralyn, Dr. Foy, and PLU’s ISS Center.

Be aware of the laws that are different from those in China:

  • Legal drinking for alcohol in the US is 21 years old
  • Sexual interaction (verbal or physical) with another person (spouse, partner, or stranger) without their permission is called sexual misconduct, and laws in the US are clearer and stricter than in China. The US recognizes that anyone can commit or be the recipient of sexual misconduct (it is not just something men do to women). Engaging in sexual misconduct can result in legal action and/or consequences from PLU. It’s important to make sure that you understand PLU’s policies on sexual misconduct and how to get permission from others. If you have any questions, you can ask the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the Center for Gender Equity, or your ABC Program staff.
  • Smoking is legal in the US but it is illegal in many places to smoke inside bars, restaurants, stores, etc.

As international students coming to United States to study/practice English while also learning about the culture and literature, my best advice is to you is to remember one thing – don’t be afraid of speaking/communicating with the domestic students or local residents.

As preparation for this study away to US, we know that you practiced and worked hard on improving your English skills in every perspective – and that you want to continue improving while you are here. However, this improvement will not happen unless practice frequently with people who speak English. PLU has a great environment and friendly community where you can improve your language skills, so we strongly encourage you to speak up with others. Don’t be afraid to get laughed at or confuse other people because we can puzzle out the meaning of your conversation.

You also have many resources to assist you. For instance, the ISS Center, Saralyn, Dr. Foy, myself, and the rest of PLU’s students are willing to help you throughout the academic semester.


Be adventurous!! Plan out your own version of traveling around US during the holidays in order to learn/explore more about US culture. It will give you a lot of time to practice your English!