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Top 5 Most Surprising Things about Canada and the US to International Students

Written by ESLI
Published on 2018-08-09
Top 5 Most Surprising Things about Canada and the US to International Students
It is no secret that travel to a different country can be confusing as you try to understand their customs. International students all over the US and Canada talk about what was most surprising or confusing to them, so we have compiled the five most common surprises here.
1. It isn’t like it is in the movies. Most college students at our schools are focused on their studies, and don’t spend all their time at parties. It is not all red Solo cups and drinking games or getting so drunk that they are rushed to the hospital. This does happen sometimes, particularly at so-called “party schools,” but our schools are not party schools. You can expect well-behaved students—and some parties, if you want one!

2. Speaking of students who are well-behaved, another major surprise is how casually students dress for class. Even the most serious students may turn up in torn jeans, shorts (sometimes VERY short!), or even pajamas. It is not completely unusual to even have students who do not wear shoes. Some students will also show up for class in business suits and ties! How you dress is a matter of your own personal style, and this is especially true of women. Some women come to class in hijab, others in their pajamas or very short skirts. This is especially true in an international classroom like ESLI, so be prepared!

3. Everyone has a car. Okay, not EVERYONE, but almost everyone. Unlike many countries in Europe and other parts of the world, our cities are spread out over wide areas, and we often need a vehicle to get around. In cities, the public transportation options are very good, but buses often do not run overnight, or they do not go to the places we want to go. Americans and Canadians will drive 20-30 miles or more to get from home to work, and not think much of it. We do not walk or ride bikes as much as other countries’ citizens do, which brings me to my next big surprise.

4. We don’t walk a lot or ride bikes, though this is slowly changing. But we do value physical fitness, and are willing to spend an hour or two in gyms and fitness centers. We walk and run on treadmills or on indoor tracks, sweat like crazy on weight machines, join Zumba, kick-boxing, and yoga classes, and otherwise spend a great deal of money on fitness. We have products like shakes for before working out and after working out and for days when we’re not working out. International students are often confused by this, because we could just go outside and walk!

5. One of the biggest surprises is our food culture, particularly restaurant practices. The biggest source of confusion is tipping our servers. Servers do not make much money in the US, so we add an extra something—usually 20% of the bill—to give the server in reward for excellent service. Another shock is that our portions are large. It is very common to be unable to finish a meal and take what’s left home to finish as another meal later.  We eat earlier than many countries, and spend less time sitting at the table.  Our biggest meal is dinner, and is eaten around 6 p.m. And if you are used to eating a large lunch and then taking a nap or relaxing after for much of the afternoon—we eat a smaller lunch and keep right on working after. Many people eat their lunch at their desk while they are working!

There are a number of other cultural surprises for international visitors and students, but these are some of the biggest. It is important to remember that we are not like the movies make it seem, and we don’t usually fit the stereotypes held by other nations, just like our students usually do not fit the stereotypes of their countries, either. Keep an open mind, be willing to learn, and you will enjoy learning to fit into the culture in Canada and the US!



ESLI Centers in the United States are accredited by CEA.