Studying in the United States can be an enormously eye-opening experience for a teen who has spent most or all of their formative years immersed in the culture of their home country. But for many incoming exchange students, their first experiences in America are certainly not their first interaction with American culture. After all, one of the United States\u2019 biggest exports is culture itself \u2014 most often in the form of movies, music, art, and even style! Understandably, many students arrive in the United States with some very interesting misconceptions about American culture, informed first and foremost by movies and music. These are just some of the most common misconceptions incoming exchange students have about the United States, and the truth behind them. Misconception #1: Every American has visited every major city and tourist destination in the continental US. For many students unfamiliar with the geography and sheer scale of the United States \u2014 specifically those that come from smaller countries that are sometimes even smaller than the average American state \u2014 it is virtually inconceivable that Americans have not visited Disneyland, New York City, Hollywood, or any other world-famous American attraction within their lifetimes. Debbie Splean, a host mom in a smaller midwestern town, had this experience with a few of her students. \u201c just couldn\u2019t image we haven\u2019t visited New York City, Chicago, LA, Washington DC and both Disney\u2019s,\u201d she laughs. \u201cThey can\u2019t imagine that it\u2019s too far to go in at least a day!\u201d Host mom Tanya Montgomery had the same realization with her exchange students, who would routinely request to visit \u201cnearby\u201d tourist attractions. \u201c was surprised that we weren\u2019t able to travel quickly across the country,\u201d she muses. \u201cHe kept asking to go places , and we\u2019d have to say \u2018well, that\u2019s a three-day drive!\u2019\u201d The reality: The United States is the third largest country in the world, geographically-speaking \u2014 coming in behind Canada and Russia at number two and number one, respectively. Most Americans opt to fly domestically rather than driving long distances between states, so remember this when asking your host family about visiting \u201cnearby\u201d tourist destinations! Misconception #3: American high schools are wrought with cliques, stereotypes and rigid social hierarchies. Many popular American movies targeted at teens globally depict American high-schoolers as cogs in a rigid social system built around jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, and theatre oddballs. Many students arrive to the United States fearing merciless bullies in their schools, or with grandiose ideas of joining the football team and immediately becoming one of the coolest kids in school. Of course, this is often the furthest thing from the truth \u2014 especially in small towns where students often study together for many years, and easily blend in with many different social circles at school. That said, many international exchange students are excited to discover that football games, cheerleaders, school theatre productions and themed school dances really are the norm! The reality: No two American high schools are the same, and many students are surprised to discover that plenty of \u201cAmerican traditions\u201d depicted in teen movies are outdated or flat out untrue. Luckily, some of the more exciting and less damaging aspects of American high school culture are common in many schools throughout the country \u2014 and plenty of international exchange students get the chance to live out their dreams of becoming a cheerleader, a football player or the lead in a school play! Misconception #3: Most, if not all, American families own at least one firearm. It\u2019s true that the United States does have very different rules and regulations around owning and operating firearms, but many exchange students mistakenly believe that just about every family owns at least one gun. This is often a misconception that comes first from students\u2019 interaction with sensational news headlines, as well as movies that depict the general population owning and even openly carrying firearms where ever they go! The reality: Of course, the reality is that relatively few families actually own a gun (less than a third of all American households have a firearm) and those that do are generally located in more rural areas that routinely use firearms for hunting and protection from surrounding wildlife. While this misconception is largely harmless, if your student is concerned about safety around firearms, consider sitting down to talk about those concerns so you can help iron out any misunderstandings. Remember: ISE exchange students are not permitted to handle or operate a firearm under any circumstances during their time in the US. Misconception #4: All Americans love fast food, and eat it all the time. It makes sense that exchange students would believe this odd misconception about American culture \u2014 after all, the entire concept of fast food did originate in the US. That said, fast food is hardly a food group in most American households, and not all American families are enamored with quick eats! Just take it from host mom Lina Cohen, who hosted a Brazilian student who insisted on giving a McDonald\u2019s meal a fair shake. \u201c thought that McDonald\u2019s is a decent restaurant and that we eat there all the time,\u201d she remembers. \u201cWhen met with our repulsed response, he demanded to go check it for himself. He said it was awful, and he believes us now!\u201d That said, cooking at home is less common among American families than many other developed countries, with only 27 percent of Americans reporting that they cook at home every day. So while the assumption that all Americans default to the McDonald\u2019s drive-thru when it\u2019s dinnertime is plainly false, international students may find our food culture very different from their home country. The reality: Although only 27 percent of Americans cook at home every day, Americans do prepare suppers at home less frequently than many other cultures. This is why it\u2019s always a good idea to use food as a way to share culture and understanding with a host family. If you are hosting a student, encourage them to bring along family recipes or prepare dinner at home a few times per month! Misconception #5: Americans living in Western states prefer boots and cowboy hats to jeans and sneakers. Perhaps influenced by iconic Western films depicting wide-open fields, grazing cattle and rough-and-tumble cowboys donning Stetsons, many exchange students arrive to the US surprised to find most Americans sans-cowboy hat. This is especially true for students living with families in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and other states in the southwest! Students are often surprised and perhaps a bit bummed out to discover that most Americans prefer jeans, sneakers and baseball caps \u2014 and that most cowboy hats are reserved for rodeos and ranches. The reality: While most Americans don\u2019t even own a cowboy hat or pair of boots, much less wear them daily, Americans do have a unique sense of style that many other cultures find amusing. In fact, Americans are often described as exceptionally casual dressers by other cultures, and many students find our unique brand of \u201cathleisure-wear\u201d very strange! At the end of the day, one of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad (or hosting a student from another country) is talking about some of the misconceptions surrounding American culture. What are some of the funniest misconceptions you\u2019ve had or heard about American culture? 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