American Culture

Cultural Student Groups

There are many groups on campus that celebrate the culture of different countries. Often, these groups can be of great use to you before you come to the U.S. If you contact them using the information on CampusLink, they may give you recommendations on items to bring, places to live, or answer questions you have about the U.S.

Do not be afraid to reach out to our office or these student organizations--we only want to help you!

Interacting With Your Peers and Colleagues

The ability to successfully interact with your peers and colleagues and supervisor can greatly impact your stay at UC and enhance your professional and social networks. Please keep in mind that it is acceptable and even desirable in American culture to be proactive and introduce yourself in new social situations. Even with people with higher rank (e.g. deans), it is perfectly acceptable to introduce yourself to him or her before he or she comes to you.



Communication among people is generally direct. People tend to say what they think. Direct eye contact is the norm, and it is taken as a sign of sincerity. Being assertive and standing up for one’s beliefs is also valued. However, the United States is not a culture of negotiating. When people say "no", they mean it and do not expect repeated requests or bargaining. Making many repeated efforts is seen negatively as badgering.

People in the United States are friendly, even to people they do not know well. Americans may strike up a conversation with a stranger on the bus or in a class. They may even share rather personal information with acquaintances they do not know well or ask personal questions. The questions reflect curiosity and interest, but they do not have to be answered. It is acceptable to change the subject politely. People may say, "let’s get together" without meaning anything specific. "How are you?" is often said as a greeting rather than as a question leading to conversation.

Despite a culture of friendliness, becoming a real friend takes time. Many Americans socialize with many people without being close to them. Socializing may be related to a shared interest—such as going to films or playing a sport together. Close relationships, with a stronger commitment and sharing of emotions, often develop over time from shared experiences and a growing sense of enjoying each other’s company and feeling confident about the other person.

Interacting with Professors

In many cultures, there is a great difference in status between students and professors. Students show their respect for their professors by listening quietly. They do not question what the professor says.

In the United States, it is quite acceptable for students to ask questions and to engage in discussions with the professor. In fact, professors view participation in class discussions as a sign of interest in the subject matter.

Class Expectations

During the first class meeting, your professors will inform you of their office hours and when and how they can be reached. If you have a problem with the material presented in class, do not hesitate to see the professor during office hours and ask for help. Even if you do not have a problem, it is a good idea to drop in and talk to your professor. It gives both of you a chance to get to know each other. This may be particularly important if you have trouble understanding the professor, or he/she has trouble understanding you. Often, all it takes is a little time to get used to the other person’s style of speaking.

Speaking & Learning in English

One thing you need to know about studying in the U.S. is that speaking and learning in English will be exhausting and frustrating, particularly in the beginning. Sometimes, international students have to spend much more time than their American counterparts to complete the same assignments. This can lead to stress and a feeling of inferiority.

The most important thing you can do to improve your level of success in the classroom is to improve your English skills. Your English will not improve if the only people you talk to outside the classroom speak your native language. You should try to speak to Americans whenever possible, watch television, listen to the radio, and read newspapers and magazines in English. Interacting with U.S. culture will greatly enhance your ability to understand your colleagues and professors on an academic level.

Federal Holidays

Below provides an overview of American federal holidays. This means that the U.S. Government recognizes and celebrates these holidays. Most businesses, including schools, banks, etc., are close on federal holidays. UC will be closed on all federal holidays.

The following units never close under any circumstances: College of Medicine, Hoxworth Blood Center, University Police, Office of Residence Life/Housing units, utility plants, emergency maintenance operations, any research unit where the integrity of the research must be preserved, and service units that routinely operate on a seven day per week, twenty-four hour per day service schedule.

New Year’s Day - January 1:
Federal holiday for schools, offices and banks. Stores are open. New Year’s Eve, December 31, usually is more important to Americans than New Year’s Day. Everyone gathers with family and friends to celebrate the new year at midnight.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday - Third Monday in January:
Federal holiday that began in 1986. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized and led the civil-rights movement in America during the 1960s.

Memorial Day - Last Monday in May:
Federal holiday. Memorial Day is the day on which Americans remember those who died in military service to their country. Many families visit graves and decorate them with flowers.

Independence Day - July 4:
Federal holiday. Independence Day commemorates the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. The country celebrates with picnics, political speeches, and fireworks.

Labor Day - First Monday in September:
Federal holiday. This holiday was established in recognition of the labor movement’s contribution to the productivity of the country. This day is the last holiday of the summer season.

Thanksgiving Day - Fourth Thursday of November:
Federal holiday. The first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1621 to give thanks for the bountiful harvest and their triumph of survival over the wilderness. Now it is a time when Americans give thanks for the good life they enjoy. They celebrate by getting together with family and friends to enjoy foods like turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

Christmas - December 25:
Federal holiday. Many people regard Christmas as the most important holiday of the year, with the holiday season extending from a few days before Christmas to New Year’s Day. Although its origins are religious in nature, it is a holiday celebrated by almost everyone in the country. Families gather together to exchange gifts and share a traditional dinner. They also typically decorate a Christmas tree.

Other Holidays

Americans celebrate a variety of other holidays, some for religious reasons, some to show thanks to particular people, and some for fun! For more information on American holidays, refer to the cultural handbook.

Culture Shock

UC is a diverse campus, with students, faculty, and staff from many parts of the world. For people of any age and background, being in a new country combines a sense of excitement and anticipation with some fears, loneliness, and doubts--this is culture shock. People often have many questions about how things are done in their new surroundings.

If you are having a hard time adjusting to your new life at UC, the Counseling Center at the University of Cincinnati provides a wide range of assistance, including for cultural adjustment, to all students. No concern is too small or too large. If the counselors can’t be of service, they will help you find the right place for the information or assistance you need.