Skip to main content

The Citizen

OPINION: Foreign students weigh in on American culture

We asked a group of mid-career students from different parts of the world what they find most surprising and/or interesting about Americans and American culture.  We asked them to be very direct, which spurred an interesting and colorful conversation.  The views expressed are meant to inspire dialogue and openness within the Harvard Kennedy School community.


Overall, they observed the following:

•·         At HKS, there is a culture of complaining about things that seem rather trivial (e.g., HKS cafeteria food and size).  Being at HKS is ‘heaven’ and directing energy to solve serious issues, such as poverty alleviation, human rights abuses, and discrimination would be more worthwhile.

•·         The pervasive culture of entrepreneurship is inspiring.  When there is a problem in the United States, people tend to take matters into their own hands.

•·         There is a widespread lack knowledge about most countries; limited and outdated views of life outside of the United States; and at times, very condescending expressions or points of view by American students.  However, the (pleasant) surprise is that most American students at HKS seem willing to learn more about different cultures.

•·         There is an openness and hospitality of American students in inviting foreign students to partake in American or Boston-specific cultural events (e.g., Red Sox games, museum visits, cookouts, family gatherings, etc.) and to explain all the nuances.

•·         Students interrupt professors mid-lecture to ask questions.  This is strange and is seen as rude in other cultures. Some are accustomed to waiting until the professor has finished lecturing and then asking questions.