What surprises German students in the USA?

What does the USA look like through German eyes?

Every year thousands of German teenagers come to the USA as exchange students. And every year, thousands of American families have fun watching these teens discover American culture. What culture shocks might surprise and baffle them?

School Spirit

Pep rallies and other displays of school spirit are a fun, exciting surprise for students from Germany (and many other countries). School back home revolves around academics and more academics. School spirit is an American invention many German teenagers wish they could take back home with them.

Two cheerleaders cheering with pom poms

School Buses

Many students from Germany fall in love with the little things, like taking the bus to school. While American kids take this for granted, some teens from Germany might feel like actors in a Netflix series. Getting on the bus, finding a seat, riding all the way to school and back, it doesn’t get much better than that.

teenagers boarding a yellow schoolbus

Class Schedules

Students from Germany are enthralled with their classes in the USA. After years of strict academics, they get to experience an American-style class schedule complete with electives. This is something they write home about!

Teenagers in a high school lab class


As if school spirit, yellow school buses and exciting classes weren’t enough, German students are delighted to participate in after-school activities like sports and clubs. Many are quite culture shocked to find that an American teen’s social life can literally revolve around school and school-sponsored activities and events.

teenager girl acting on stage

American Holidays

Students from Germany are wowed by American holidays and how exuberantly we celebrate them. Invite a German student to carve pumpkins, prepare for Thanksgiving dinner or set up the Christmas tree…One student (below) reports that his American host family had 15 Christmas trees – which he helped decorate. 


American Food

What surprises German students about American food? On one hand, these teens are eager to place an order at In&Out Burger and other famous names they’ve seen in movies and on Netflix. On the other hand, some young Germans are concerned about eating just a little less meat to save the planet. This can be another culture shock to explore!

jumbo cheeseburger with onions lettuce and tomatoes


German parents encourage a style of critical thinking, debating and direct communication that can take Americans by surprise - at first. From a German point of view, American host parents expect a bit more diplomacy. Learning to communicate differently is just part of the exciting adventure of living in the USA.

smiling teenage girl with parents in background

House Rules

Exchange students from around the world are surprised to discover that rules for teens are different in the USA. Germans are particularly puzzled by "early" curfews and limits for technology use. Quickly they learn that once they park their phones, a new world of possibilities opens up to them!

sticky note with the question know the rules?


American host families are encouraged to keep exchange students in common areas as they adapt to a very new and different life. And some families ask students to keep their bedroom door open during daytime hours. This can baffle German teens at first because many are used retiring to their room for a bit of privacy after a busy day at school.

hand opening a door


What is polite? What is impolite? German teens – like all exchange students – must come to terms with the fact that etiquette is different in every country and every culture. Students from Germany are often perplexed when Americans so politely offer constructive criticism along with a string of praise to cushion the blow. But with a little help, they can quickly adapt to our customs...

card with inscription be polite


German teenagers need to learn how to ask for a ride in the USA, and this is a big surprise. Back home they use public transportation or maybe even a bicycle. In the USA they learn to carpool, ask for rides and especially get parents' permission before accepting a ride.

teenage girl smiling from drivers seat in car 


German teens’ eyes grow wide as they try to take in the largeness of everything in the USA. Compared to Germany, everything is extra, extra large in the USA: superstores like Walmart, Best Buy and Costco, roads, vehicles, boxes of cereal, soft drinks, and even the portions at restaurants.

xxl sign-1

Informality and Friendliness

From a German perspective, it seems like everyone – even cashiers – is so friendly and informal in the USA. This can be both surprising and refreshing as teens try to fit in and figure things out in the USA.

smiling cashier waving


A German YouTuber living and studying in the USA says she is surprised at how independent her American friends are. In Germany she feels more interdependence. Most surprising of all? American friends sometimes drop off the map for a while and then reappear out of nowhere, as if nothing happened. In Germany, she muses, that would require an explanation at the very least.

teenagers in a circle lying on the ground smiling


By German standards, Americans are over-the-top enthusiasts. According to one student, while Germans might say something is "good" or "fine", Americans will surely describe it as “awesome” or “amazing”. The question is: does our American enthusiasm rub off on our German visitors? Is it contagious perhaps? Hopefully so!

teenage girl cheering to show enthusiasm

Would you like to see the USA - and your life - through German eyes? Host an exchange student from Germany and see every aspect of your ordinary, everyday life very differently. Live, laugh and learn together!

For more information, click here. And check out our hosting FAQ

Also, don't miss our recipes for German treats!



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