An international student’s perspective

As a young boy growing up in India who dreamed of traveling and learning in the wide-open world, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study in America. In my time here, I have often been asked what my impression of the country is. I’d like to share my perspective — and obviously, this list is not comprehensive — of how America is different from what I’ve experienced growing up elsewhere.

First, the work ethic in this country is all about integrity and progress. Rarely have I come across anyone resorting to plagiarism or cheap shortcuts. Progress is defined and measured through performance on clearly outlined objectives.

Second, Americans don’t shy from using the right resources to achieve their objectives. Be it the optimum quality cellphone, iPad, computer, chair, car, printer or whatever else you might require to get the job done, you get those resources. This does lead to wasteful spending at times, but as long as you get your work done, you’re justified in your spending.

Third, Americans have respect for the law. I was pleasantly surprised when at 4 a.m. on a deserted Route 1, the few cars on the road respected traffic signals. These cars’ drivers actually stopped at the red light. I found that fascinating. Elsewhere in the developing world, such occurrences are rare. Beyond that, highest respect for contracts — meaning not breaking the law to suit one’s convenience (marijuana use and underage alcohol consumption are exceptions) — is common practice here, whereas it’s not abroad.

Fourth, Americans have intellectual freedom and utilize a data-based approach. The problem-solving approach in general is to have a hypothesis, gather data and then validate or invalidate that hypothesis. In most of my classes, I was required to hypothesize about a given problem/situation/scenario/set of data — not to stick to others’ formulaic viewpoints — and write papers making an argument for what my hypothesis.

Fifth, building on that, America is a truly democratic society. People from the Occupy Wall Street school of thought may argue otherwise, but the fact that they can make that kind of argument is itself a testament to America’s thriving democracy. If you can debate your side and channel it through the right medium, more often than not, you add value to the debate.

Sixth, for better or worse, Americans value doing their own work. You get your own groceries, fix your own furniture, etc. Perhaps this ethic is derived from the Protestant philosophy of love of labor. Perhaps it’s derived from economics (expensive labor). Perhaps it’s derived from both.

Seventh, in this country, people work hard and play hard. No one will deny you the moral right of partying hard or doing whatever you want within legal bounds — to have a good time so long as you have met your work-related responsibilities.

Eighth, physical fitness is important here. Contrary to many reports, the Americans I know, on average, are not obese. Most of the people I’ve come across are very healthy and give a lot of importance to being fit by working out, running, playing some sports and eating right (measured by caloric intake).

Ninth, Americans have a sense of modesty. In general, people here don’t go around flaunting their achievements. You actually never know what the person sitting next to you, or even one of your friends, has achieved because people prefer keeping a low-profile. 

Tenth, America has a high standard of living. No matter what class of society you’re from, most people have access to food, shelter and health services.

Finally, on a slightly cynical note, America is overcommercialized. I still don’t understand why Americans shop on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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