The culture shocks of America: The story of a French exchange student


Have you ever heard of something called culture shock? It happens when you are exposed to a whole culture or habits that you aren’t familiar with. If this idea was a bit blurry before for me, it hit me as soon as I landed in the United States for the first time.

“I am no longer in France and I will have to adapt now,” I thought right away.
It is disconcerting, really, and even after three months living here, some habits and customs still confuse me. So, let’s talk about it!

1. The thing that hit me right away was the landscape layout, which really changed from what I was used to. I think that the biggest shock for me is the width of the roads: at least four lanes in the major roads. Where I live in France, only the highways and some big city roads are at this size.
Similarly, the organization of neighborhoods is not the same as in France: there are also a lot of houses organized in communities but it is not frequent. Since I am from the countryside, houses were more spaced. Of course, a lot of movies showed these subdivision-type neighborhoods but I am more of a ‘I have to see it to believe it’ type of person, so I was quite skeptical. Now, I believe it.

2. If something surprised me in a pleasant way, it is the high school schedule: it starts 30 minutes later than I was used to and finishes at 3:22 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. The American educational system is very different from what I was used to all my life. Firstly, the classes in France are organized per grade and not per level (average, honors, AP) like in America, which in my opinion is less accurate. Organizing the classes per level allows students to already gain experience in the field they want to be after. It took me a few days to understand the functioning of the American educational system but it was worth it. Secondly, as I mentioned before, the time spent in class at school in the United States is drastically shorter (an average of 7 hours) compared to France (an average of 9 hours) but a lot of high schoolers stay after school for sports or clubs, which does not exist in France. Since French students finish late, school activities are not something common, especially sports. This resulted in a non-existent school-spirit. It is hard to believe but such events as football games or assemblies are part of American culture.

3. I will finish with this one because it is the most obvious and the most inconvenient in my daily life. Everyone checks the weather daily, including me, but, to be honest, 70 degrees is not a temperature that I will enjoy. Especially when I thought that it was in degrees Celsius. It took me some time to realize that the 70 degrees stood for 70 degrees Fahrenheit. And this also happens every time I hear someone talking about feet and inches. As you may know, the particularity of the United States is that all the measures are different from those which are used in other countries such as meters or Celsius.
These are only a few examples among all the culture shocks I experienced during the past three months and even if it is personal, I believe that some of you will relate.