10 Surprising Things about the U.S. I've Come Across While Studying Abroad in Illinois

November 3, 2019

Having watched a ton of American movies and TV shows and visited the U.S. once before, I didn’t expect to run into many surprises on my study abroad semester, but the first month has already proved me wrong. Living a somewhat regular student life here at Lake Forest College has taught me things I don’t think I otherwise would have noticed, had I just gone to another vacation in the middle of a million other tourists. Here are ten things (big and small) that I’ve been surprised by so far!

1. Education Style

I did know it would differ to some extent from what I’m used to, but for example, the intensive nature of all courses still took me by surprise. Every piece of homework and level of participation on each class contribute to the final grade, whereas typically the final exam and/or possibly a few assignments have determined my grades back in Finland. The amount of homework and number of assignments can sometimes be overwhelming but is also meant to spread out the workload of each course evenly.

2. Friendliness

People always hold doors open (someone actually apologized me for not doing so when they didn’t see me), at least six people I had never talked to before have complimented my outfit, and when someone sneezes in class, you’ll hear a bunch of people say “bless you”. Help and support is always available, even from strangers.

3. Temperatures

As a northern state of the U.S., I thought the weather of Illinois to be somewhat like what I’m used to, maybe slightly warmer. I never thought it could get up to almost 30°C (86 °F) at the beginning of October! On the other hand, people use AC a lot which has made me want to wear a jacket indoors but take it off when going outside.

4. Public Restrooms

  • Gaps between the door and the wall in bathroom stalls and all the space between the bottom of the door and the floor.
  • Self-flushing toilets. What.
  • No lids on the toilet seats. Drops of water will get sprinkled on the floor so remember to take a step back when flushing.

5. No Waste Sorting

It is a bit of a disappointment to me that there is no wasting sorting in the school cafeteria, as it would benefit the environment if at least biowaste was separated from the rest.

6. Sports are Huge

I guess this should go without saying, but I was still surprised how big a part it takes in the culture, conversations, classes even.

7. …and so is Beyoncé

She just comes up a lot.

8. Everyone seems to know the lyrics to Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” by heart.

I’ve got to practice my lip sync skills more.

9. Water is always served ice cold.

Like brain-freeze icy.

10. People don’t use WhatsApp!

Being owned by Facebook, I found it surprising that out of all people, Americans seem to use WhatsApp very rarely.

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