3 American culture hacks for international students and professionals

Being in the US can be an incredible experience. There are lots of job opportunities and places to visit. It has incredible diversity and overall there’s quite a bit of personal freedom here that might be surprising to new visitors. However it can also be daunting for international people. The culture is confusing and it’s not always how you imagined it based on TV shows and movies. That’s why I’ve put together this list of 3 American culture hacks for international students and professionals.

(Another skill that my clients ask about is how to talk more easily with their American counterparts. This is a recent blog I wrote on that topic: https://omnienglishpro.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2694&action=edit)

Show your value

Show your value and be more assertive. The US is an aggressive culture compared to some others, especially in East Asia. Humility and passivity don’t work as well here because most Americans aren’t humble or passive. Humility especially is an attractive quality but it will hurt your job and promotion chances. Be prepared to say what you’re good at and talk about your accomplishments. Keep a log of your achievements and work victories for future job interviews or when asking for a promotion. This may feel awkward at first but it will help your future progress.

Contribute actively

Ask questions of your professors, co-workers, and supervisors and then add your contribution or opinion. In the US, curiosity is highly valued. You might think that asking questions is uncomfortable or will make you look foolish. This is not the case. In fact, it’s the opposite. Confirming that you understood something correctly in a work meeting shows that you care about the task and the context of the work. Asking a deeper question about an assumption or some background will add value for your team and they’ll appreciate you. And then providing your insights shows your desire to contribute and make the project successful. If you stay quiet and don’t ask or contribute, people may think you don’t care or don’t have a real interest in outcomes.  Start opening up little by little and sharing your ideas and questions. The results will be positive, I assure you.

Take initiative

This follows up on the first two points. In the US, don’t wait to be told what to do or which direction to go in. It often comes as a shock to international students and workers when they discover that they’re expected to be very independent. Your boss or professor won’t necessarily tell you what to do or how to do it in detail. In fact, many companies expect their employees to be able to thrive in ambiguity and in loosely-defined terrain, using ambiguity as a space in which to innovate. So you might not get clear and definitive directions, which can be disorienting if you come from a different cultural background. The expectation in the US is that you will be guided by your own expertise and insights. And that you will be creative and explore new areas, initiate your own projects, and follow up on ideas that you have. Of course this is why the US is successful in innovation but it can scary if you’re not used to it. And the extent depends on the industry. So start learning to explore new areas on your own and think of what initiatives you can take – then share then with your team or with other students. You might find you enjoy the freedom and autonomy!

For some more insights on business culture differences in the US, check out this blog: https://www.commisceo-global.com/blog/10-common-cultural-differences-working-with-americans



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