11 minute read

Are you going to America to study, travel or maybe even live there? I’m American and I have some advice for you! Many of my American friends gave me their advice. Some of my Vietnamese friends who studied in America shared their thoughts too. Keep reading for our advice.

This is what I asked on Facebook:

What would you tell a Vietnamese teenager who is going to America? It’s their first time and they will be there for a year. They will be living with a host family and going to high school. What’s your advice? I’m asking because Bao Nga asked me. She’s 14 and she said, “I have just got a 100% full US government scholarship. It’s a cultural exchange program for 1 year. Would you mind giving me some advice? I want to know about high school, university, scholarships and having a green card one day.”

Here’s the link to my question on Facebook from November, 2023.

I told Bao Nga there are lots of Facebook groups. They’re for Vietnamese students who are studying in America now (or who have recently graduated). You can get a lot of great advice in these groups.

Short and Sweet Advice from Americans

  • Dare to be uncomfortable.
  • Try new foods, meet new people and explore new places.
  • Be open to different cultures.
  • Still be a proud Vietnamese person and let your Vietnamese identity shine.
  • Be careful when driving or riding a bicycle (especially at night or in the rain).
  • Be the first person to smile with strangers and smile back when someone smiles at you.
  • Don’t stare at people.
  • Wait your turn and never cut in line.
  • Talk to people! Don’t be afraid to talk to people because Americans love to talk and we will talk to strangers.
  • Travel! (the US is WAY bigger than foreigners often think).
  • Getting a green card is your key to staying in the US. You can do it by marriage or a job. It all depends on what city or town you will be in.
  • Americans are vastly different in different parts of the country. For example, Americans on the West Coast are generally friendlier than in the North East.
  • If you live in someone’s house, keep your room clean and tidy. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you want to help or need help. I know one of the biggest gaps in Asian and Western culture is to dare to ask questions. Remember whatever you do, ask first!

Tung’s Advice

The American people I met are generally down-to-earth and friendly. Seize any possible opportunity to make friends and mingle with them. You’ll have one more friend and get to know American people, life, and culture much faster and effectively. At school, don’t ever be afraid to ask your teachers/professors. I once emailed my professor claiming that I could not write my paper as succinctly as my American classmates, so mine might run longer than what’s required. The professor happily accepted that. I hope you have a meaningful time and learn tons of new things to expand your mindset and horizon while studying in the US.

Dat’s Advice

What I would like to have known before going to the US for the first time:

Before going to the US for the first time, I wish I had known the importance of the tipping culture, as it’s a significant part of the service industry there. Waiters and waitresses survive on tips! Understanding the diverse and large geography of the country, which affects travel plans, would have been helpful. I also would have liked to know more about the varied cultural norms and regional differences within the US. Additionally, being aware of the complexities of the healthcare system and insurance requirements would have been beneficial. Lastly, a deeper understanding of the local public transportation options in different cities would have made navigation easier.

When living in the US, there are several things to be aware and careful of:

  • Tipping Culture: Not tipping for services is often considered rude. It’s customary to tip around 15-20% in restaurants, for taxis, and other service-based industries.
  • Healthcare Costs: The US healthcare system is very expensive. Ensure you have good travel insurance that covers medical expenses.
  • Laws and Regulations: Laws can vary greatly from state to state. Be aware of local laws, especially those related to alcohol consumption, smoking, and driving.
  • Personal Safety: Like any country, the US has areas that are less safe than others. Research the areas you plan to visit and take standard safety precautions, especially at night.

How to have a good experience in the US:

Having a good experience in the US involves a mix of planning and embracing the diverse culture. Here are some tips.

  • Research and Plan: Understand the geography and climate of the region you’re visiting. The US is vast with varied weather patterns, so pack accordingly.
  • Embrace Local Culture: Each state and city has its own unique culture. Try local foods, participate in community events, and engage with locals to get a genuine experience.
  • Navigate Transportation Wisely: Depending on where you are, public transportation options can vary. In big cities, subways and buses are common, while in others, renting a car might be necessary.

Studying abroad in America as a teenager can be an exciting and transformative experience. Here are some general pieces of advice.

  • Embrace Cultural Differences: The US is a melting pot of cultures. Be open to experiencing and learning from these diverse cultural backgrounds. It helps in broadening your perspective and enhances your overall experience.
  • Stay Open-Minded and Flexible: Things might be different from what you’re used to back home. Be adaptable and open to new ways of doing things, whether it’s academic styles, social norms, or daily living.
  • Manage Your Finances Wisely: Understand the currency and get a grasp of the cost of living in the area you’ll be staying. Budgeting is crucial, as expenses in the US can vary greatly depending on the location.
  • Get Involved in Campus Activities: Engage in clubs, sports, or other extracurricular activities. It’s a great way to make friends, learn new skills, and feel more connected to your school and peers.

Amy’s Advice

I think the most important thing is to get prepared. I got 75% in scholarships back in the day. You need to find out which field that suits you and which major you would like to pursue in future. You have to be determined and stick with your major because looking for and applying for scholarships isn’t easy. Lots of schools will turn you down and that’s not the reason to quit but a lesson and motivation to try even harder. I think it took 3 years in total for IELTS, paperwork, and passing all the rounds. IELTS is the key! I got a 7 and it was already enough for a full scholarship.

Vincent’s Advice

First, I would talk to the family that is hosting you and get to know them. We had a few families who hosted French kids who were in it for the money. Second, the student should get to know any kids living with family first especially if you’re going to the same school. Knowledge in advance is really important. Third, get to know not just language but kids vernacular as well outside the textbooks. Fourth, be careful and step lightly with the woke culture in the US.

Jon’s Advice

Vietnamese people are forward. Many visiting the US for the first time will discover some questions and topics that are normal to discuss in Vietnam, but they’re off limits in the US. Avoid these topics and you should be fine.

  • Politics - avoid political discussions.
  • Religion - don’t ask about someone’s religious beliefs.
  • Personal income / finances - don’t ask about someone’s salary or wealth.
  • Ethnicity - avoid commenting on someone’s ethnicity by asking “where are you from?”.
  • Gender Identity - do not assume or ask questions.
  • Health / weight - do not comment on someone’s weight or appearance.
  • Gun control - avoid this topic.
  • Homelessness and poverty - These are sensitive issues that can lead to uncomfortable conversations.
  • Criticism of the US - Only Americans are allowed to criticize the US.

Tu’s Advice

  • Expect to walk A LOT (for a Vietnamese person).
  • Do not drag your feet while walking.
  • Do not disturb others with your loud Youtube videos / games in common areas like cafes or train/bus stations.
  • Don’t talk when you have food in your mouth.
  • Do not avoid eye contact at all costs. It confuses Westerners.
  • Learn to say: “thank you”, “please” and “sorry”.
  • Don’t skip the line.
  • TIP for a service (even when you’re broke).
  • Study social expectations, in general.
  • Be aware of your surroundings if you’re alone (especially at night).
  • Carry pepper spray or something similar in your purse or backpack. And know how to use it.
  • Don’t get out of your car at a traffic stop if you drive.

Trịnh's Advice

I went to America when I was 13. If I were to do it again, I’d say you should put yourself out there. Make friends with everyone you meet and try everything your school has to offer.

Zoe’s Advice

Vietnamese people have their Vietnamese accent but nobody is going to judge while you speak. Don’t be shy to speak English, and ask for help if you have a hard time understanding what people say. People are super helpful and happy to help newcomers.

  • Make good connections with teachers, faculty, and other students.
  • Make as many friends as possible. Don’t be shy, Americans don’t bite.
  • Join clubs, do volunteer work, put yourself out there to be seen. In high school, you can do Key Club and one club related to your major or hobby. Get involved on campus.
  • Prepare and study for the SAT and ACT exams if you want to apply for college. Prepare a good personal essay that really can speak to who you are and why they should accept you.
  • Go to football or basketball games, cheer your heart out for your school even if you don’t understand a single rule.
  • Have a study-play balance! School ends at 3 PM so you have plenty of time after school for sports, clubs, hanging out with friends and exploring.

Since you are only doing the 1 year exchange visa, it’s likely that you won’t be able to stay until college or get a greencard. That’s far away. But here’s the process if you want to stay after your exchange program.

Option 1 - apply for a F1 visa for study abroad, get 90 days opt after graduate university to find a job, get sponsored by a company to stay in the US and then get a green card (traditional way).

Option 2 - apply for F1 visa, while in college, apply for unskilled worker program EB3, get sponsored and get a green card after 1 year of working for a factory. You can do this at any time during your college (>18 years old).

Option 3 - one of your parents can apply for the EB3 program, and the sponsor company will sponsor your family with a green card. Do this before you hit 21, otherwise you will not be counted as independent. This is the cheapest way possible but will need your parents involved.

My Advice

Getting better at English:

Use these language exchange apps to make American friends:

General advice about America:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions
  • Make friends with lots of Americans
  • Join after school clubs
  • Choose an English nickname and introduce yourself with it (should be easy to say and easy for others to understand)
  • Go to the library in your city to learn about events
  • Talk to the guidance counselor at your school
  • You can make friends by learning a new sport/hobby or how to play an instrument like the guitar or the flute
  • Watch this video, The Endless Possibilities of Studying in the US!
  • Watch more recorded videos from the US Embassy in Hanoi
  • Learn more about studying in America
  • Great website for anyone visiting America
  • Some grant / scholarship money you don’t have to borrow. It’s rewarded to you if you are accepted. Many other students are looking for this money too. You should still apply to as many grants and scholarships as you can.

American high schools:

  • Make audio recording of your classes to review later
  • Take lots of notes (learn how to effectively take notes before going to the US)
  • Start reading a lot now so you’ll be ready for long reading homework in the future
  • Don’t be afraid to talk with your teachers after their lessons
  • Funny movies about American high schools: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, American Pie, Superbad, Napoleon Dynamite, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Juno, Project X

American universities: