Discover Your Island

Adapting to American Culture

Understanding cultural differences between your culture and the dominant U.S. Culture is a key to help your transition to the United States. While learning about a culture is abundant, here are “Ten Tips for Daily Interactions with American Culture” to keep in mind: 
  1. Making Eye Contact: In some cultures, it may be a sign of respect to not make eye contact when speaking to someone of a higher status; however, in the United States, looking someone in the eye when you speak to them is a way to show respect and sincerity.
  2. Waiting in line: As a way to bring sense and order to a lot of public places, Americans wait in line for almost everything: at restaurants to be seated, in the grocery store to pay for groceries, at the bank to talk to the cashier, at the movie theatre to buy your tickets, etc.. It is considered very rude to step ahead of someone that is already waiting in line. You must always wait for your turn.
  3. Making Appointments: Americans prefer organization and systematic order; hence, making appointments to meet doctors, professors, advisors, technicians or administrators is considered “the norm” and shows that you respect others’ time and schedules and provides them to prepare for your meeting.
  4. Asking for Help: If you have difficulty in class, don’t know how to find something, you are lost, you don’t understand what you must do, you want to find a specific item in the store--ask for help. You will learn that the majority of people that you meet are happy to help. If the person you ask tells you that he or she does not know the answer to your question, they may refer to the correct person, or they may tell you to ask someone else.
  5. Shaking Hands: In some countries, bowing or kissing on the cheek, is considered a polite way to greet someone for the first time. In the United States, when you meet someone for the first time, it is polite or customary to shake hand with them. You shake with your right hand with a firm grip that’s not too hard or too soft.
  6. Politeness: Saying words like: “Please” when making a request; “Thank you” whenever you receive help; or even “Sorry” for any inconvenience for others is usually customary. One other thing that you will find common to Texas, or the southern U.S., is that many people will address you as “Ma’am” or “Sir” regardless of how old or young you may be. It’s quite common to hear someone respond with a “Yes, Ma’am,” or “Thank you, sir,” as a way to be polite or respectful.
  7. Giving Compliments: Though not everyone gives and receives compliments on a daily basis, you might find that giving out and receiving compliments often is a way to enhance self-esteem and make others feel good. The key to giving good compliments comes down to the appropriateness, timing, and genuineness.
  8. Being Hygienic: It is customary to shower regularly and to maintain good hygiene habits. These include brushing your teeth using toothpaste every morning, using deodorant daily, washing your clothes and your bedding regularly (at least every other week), maintaining your room/apartment free of debris or spoiled food as this would attract pests (roaches, rodents, etc.), and dressing appropriately for the occasion.
  9. Student Code of Conduct: Texas A&M has a strict code of conduct. In order for the university to protect its educational community and to maintain social discipline among its students and student organizations, all members of the university are entitled to freedom from suffering deliberate hurt, injury, or loss regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity. You can find a copy available online at, or you can pick up a copy from the Office of Student Affairs in University Center, Room 318.
  10. Concerning Safety:
    • Pay attention to your surroundings; try to walk in groups at night; keep your cell phone with you, in case you need to make calls. And remember, if you have an emergency, call 9-1-1.
    • You must be 21 to drink alcohol! In the U.S., you have to be 21 years old or older in order to purchase and consume alcohol. Using a fake ID, or being caught drinking underage, may lead to you being arrested which may affect your academic program or your F-1 status.  If you are of the legal drinking age and you live on campus, you may be cited by the apartment managers and/or Student Affairs, if you have alcohol around or provide alcohol to any roommates, or visitors, who are under the age of 21.
    • Driving while intoxicated is a serious crime. Drinking and driving are never a good combination. If you choose to drink and are too intoxicated to drive, it’s best that you not drive; have a sober, designated driver take you home; or hire a taxi/uber, to get home. Drunk driving, or driving under the influence of drugs, can lead to high fines, jail time, or in some cases injury or death.