American Workplace Culture

When I first received the offer from the Center for Career Development, it was followed by a series of schedules, tax documents to fill out, primary information forms, and so on. I began to wonder what it would be like to work in the U.S.

Before I started to work, I first completed tax documents. Completing the documents took a lot more time than I expected as an international student. The guide for international student labor needed to be updated. Luckily, the staff in charge of the tax forms in our Center was so nice and helped me a lot. (Thanks, Pam!) Otherwise, I would have probably lost my job. This happened to one of my Chinese friends. She didn’t receive her Social Security Number on time and lost her first job. Thus, the first thing I learned from the American Workplace Culture is to always be on time. However, after you officially start to work, sometimes supervisors can be understanding and give you an extension due to your work amount. It’s your responsibility to keep in touch with your supervisors and keep them updated.

The first day of work might be exciting and cause you to feel nervous. In my experience at the Center, I had ‘three first days.’ 

The first one was a day of remote training. Our supervisor prepared ice-breaker topics and the chances for us to practice our elevator pitch. The topics were fun. But as an international student who had just been in the States for one year, topics like “what is your favorite candy/cereal brand?” “What does your family eat for Thanksgiving?” can be difficult to answer. Because of the cultural difference, there are gaps in cultural knowledge between staff from different countries. In this training day I could choose not to join the chat if I was not comfortable with sharing, or I could talk about similar things from my own country. Be prepared to share your elevator pitch. This is a brief introduction about you, your background, interests, academics, etc. Always include some interesting and memorable fun facts. I still remember holding my puppy and introducing him to the intern team. Everyone felt happy to meet him, and they do remember who I am because of that introduction.

My second first day was my first day of in-person training. We sat in small groups. It was really exciting to meet all my co-workers in person. I also felt a bit nervous as an international student whose first language is not English. I got lucky because my first group members were outgoing and nice. There was no language problem at all. I was seated in some quiet groups later. A part of American workplace culture is to be yourself. Don’t push yourself too much. It’s normal that you don’t have things in common with some of your co-workers. Be nice to others and comfortable being yourself. Feel free to do some networking with others. American Culture is diverse. You can always connect and work with different people who have cool experiences. Be respectful while listening to others and be confident when sharing your point of view.

My last first day was the first day of formal work in the office. I got our dress code by then. ‘What to wear during work?’ can be tricky. It’s part of the American workplace culture known as the Dress Code. If you are unsure what your particular dress code is in your work environment, contact your supervisor as soon as possible and ask them about it.

When I got my first task, I still remember that my supervisor only provided the basic instruction for the task. She did not ask me to do it in a certain way. Instead, I was given the freedom to perform the task in my way. It’s called “with little supervision”. In the U.S., in some work environments people believe too many rules might limit creativity. After a few days, I had my first meeting with my supervisor. This helped me understand more about the work-life balance in our office. 

As time went on, I became more and more familiar with the atmosphere and the culture in my workplace. It can be difficult for an international student to fit in to a different workplace culture. However, trust yourself, and I believe everything will be alright!

Photo by fauxels:

By Andrea Xia
Andrea Xia