Social and Culture

Campus groups and activities

There are many campus activities outside of school work. They provide great ways to meet other students. Getting involved will help you practice English.

These groups are very diverse. There are extracurriculars for:

  • Sport teams
    • Playing against other classmates
    • Playing against other schools
  • Theatre
    • Auditioning for plays and musicals
    • Improvisational comedy troupes
  • Music groups
    • Instrumental
    • Vocal
  • Publications
    • Writing for the school newspaper
    • Working on the school yearbook
  • Volunteer work
    • Raising money for charities and social causes
    • Donating time to help charities and social causes
Academic Clubs

There are also many academic clubs on campus. These groups focus on areas of study. They are a great way to:

  • Meet students with the same academic interests
  • Find help with school work
  • Find a group or partner to study with
  • Attend a special:
    • Conference
    • Lecture
    • Symposium
    • Workshop

There is an academic group for nearly every subject. Graduate students also have academic groups. Some common subjects include:

  • Business
  • Literature
  • Mathematics
  • Philosophy
  • Science
  • Architecture
  • Arts
Language and Culture

There are also groups for language and culture. These are a good place to meet other students from your country. They’re also a way to learn about other backgrounds.

Maybe you want to learn more about life in Germany. There might be a German Culture Club.

You might want to discuss your own country’s politics. There are also clubs for that.

These are good places to discuss controversial issues. Language and culture clubs will give you a place to talk about them.

You can join these groups when you arrive on campus. They will have information available in the student union. You might find out later that you don’t have time for some. But, you should still join them early.

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Student unions/centers

Don’t let the word “union” fool you. A student union is a place for students to hang out together. It is a place to study, socialize and eat. It has nothing to do with labor collectives or political groups.

The student union is also a place for special events. There might be:

  • Guest lectures
  • Rallies and protests
  • Concerts
  • Parties

The student union might also have a shop. You can usually find things like:

  • Toiletries
    • Toilet paper
    • Toothpaste
    • Shaving razors
  • Snacks
    • Cereal
    • Granola bars
    • Potato chips
  • School apparel

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On-campus dining options

Some larger universities have many dining options in the union and around campus dining halls. There might be several food vendors.

You can always pay cash to eat in the union. Your meal plan might include food from the union. Find out when you sign up for a meal plan.

Off-campus dining options

American culture is full of food. Of course, we need food to live. But food is also used to socialize and celebrate.

There are many dining options available. You’ll want to learn about on-campus meals. You can learn more about them when you enroll.

To celebrate or socialize, people like to eat off-campus. In bigger cities, there will be more options. Wherever you are, the local newspaper should have restaurant listings.

You can also look for restaurants online. There are websites built just for this search. Here are some websites to help you find restaurants:

Restaurant culture/guide


You might want to go to a very popular restaurant. It can be hard to get a table at these restaurants. They are very busy. They might not be able to seat you right away.

This can be avoided with a reservation. This is when you call a restaurant to reserve a table. When you call, they will ask you for this information:

  • What time would you like to come in?
  • How many people will be at your table?
  • Do you need any special accommodations?
    • A person in a wheelchair?
    • Children or babies?

Sometimes, you can make a reservation online. Here are some websites for restaurant reservations.

Gratuity and Tipping

In most American restaurants, your check will not include gratuity. This can change if you have a large group. When the check arrives, see if it includes a tip. Ask your server if you’re unsure.

It is considered rude not to leave a tip. The standard amount is 15% of the check’s total. For outstanding service, people leave an 18% or 20% tip.

For example:

  • The total bill is $45.
    • 15% tip is $6.75. The total amount you leave is $51.75.
    • 18% tip is $8.10. The total amount you leave is $53.10.
    • 20% tip $9.00. The total amount you leave is $54.

At the Restaurant


Before you go to the restaurant, find out if there is a dress code. Most chain restaurants do not have a dress code.

You can always call the restaurant and ask. The dress code is sometimes on the restaurant’s website.

All restaurants require a shirt and shoes. Here are some common dress codes:

  • Casual: Jeans are fine. You can wear the same clothes you wear to class.
  • Business casual: Nicer jeans are fine. Wear them with a nice shirt and shoes. You can also wear office attire.
  • Formal: Fine attire only. Men should wear a suit and tie. Ladies should wear nice dresses.


Most American restaurants have free refills for non-alcoholic drinks. If you order one and finish it, your glass will be refilled for free. This applies to drinks like:

  • Soda
  • Iced tea
  • Juice
  • Non-bottled water

Alcoholic beverages are not refilled for free. For these, you pay for every:

  • Glass or bottle of beer.
  • Glass or bottle of wine.
  • Mixed drink or cocktail.

If you order bottled water, you will have to pay for every bottle you order.

Water and soda is always served with ice. If you do not like ice in your drink, tell the server.

Cooking for Yourself

It’s nice to have a home-cooked meal. If you have a kitchen, it’s easy to do that.

Cooking can seem daunting. But it can actually be quick and relaxing.

There are many books with recipes for quick meals. They will help you prepare nutritious food, fast. Some of these books include:

You will need fresh food. For good cooking and health, here are some essentials:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs
    • Basil
    • Parsley
    • Cilantro
    • Lean meat and fish
      • Chicken
      • Turkey
      • Flour
      • Sugar
      • Eggs
      • Milk

You can buy food at the supermarket. A supermarket is a very large grocery store. There are many ways to get there. If you are in a bigger city, you might be able to walk. If you don’t have a car, a bus or shuttle might go there.

You might have special diet restrictions. Most grocery stores have a section for specialty foods. In this section, you can find:

  • Ethnic foods
  • Vegetarian and vegan items
  • Organic food
  • Diabetic-friendly foods
  • Gluten-free foods
  • Dairy-free foods

You might live near a neighborhood market. It’s always nice to support a local business. But if you need a lot of options, try a large supermarket.

There are many supermarket chains in the U.S. They vary by region. Your campus is probably near one of these chains:

Visit the websites of these stores. They will have a list of locations. They might also have coupons online. Coupons provide discounts on certain items. They help you save money when you shop for groceries.

Supermarkets offer more than just food. They also sell:

  • Household items
    • Cleaning supplies
    • Bathroom items
      • Toilet paper
      • Soap
      • Toothpaste
      • Kitchen items
        • Paper towels
        • Paper plates
        • Plastic utensils
        • Dish soap
        • Light bulbs
        • Batteries
        • Laundry supplies
        • Medication (sometimes they have a pharmacy)
        • Magazines
        • Pet food

Look around the supermarket. Explore different sections. See what is sold. This will help you navigate your next visit.

You’ll probably need some other kitchen supplies, too:

  • Pots and pans
  • Kitchen towels
  • Cutting board
  • Cutting knives
  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Eating utensils
    • Forks
    • Knives
    • Spoons

If you can’t get to the supermarket, try a convenience store. These are smaller stores that sell items like:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Microwavable food

Some of these stores include:

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There are also places on campus for religion. Again, the classroom is not a good place to discuss religious issues. But there are student groups where you can.

There is usually a place on campus for any religion or worship. There are also social clubs for religious groups. There might be parties for Jewish students to meet each other. There are also special lectures and services for other faiths.

These groups have celebrations for religious holidays. They might have a special Easter dinner. Muslim groups might hold a feast for Eid al-Adha.

Class might not be canceled for some religious holidays. If you do not feel comfortable going to class on that day, speak with your professor. Explain your background to them. They will help you catch up on lessons you miss. Your classmates can help, too.

You can also practice religion off-campus. Your city or town will likely have:

  • Churches
  • Mosques
  • Synagogues

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Eventually, you’ll get to know your campus well. You’ll figure out the different activities and groups it offers. But as we’ve discussed, you’ll want to venture off-campus for entertainment. Most U.S. cities and towns near college campuses offer much entertainment.

TIP: Most local newspapers offer listings of things to do on Thursday each week. People find this convenient as they make plans for the weekend. If you are searching online you can enter “things to do” and the name of your city to find local activities anytime.

Sporting Events

In the U.S., you’ll notice that people love sports. On campus, many people play team sports. But, there are many professional sports teams throughout the U.S., too.

Attending professional sports games is a very exciting activity. There are many large arenas and stadiums where professional teams play sports, like baseball, basketball and football. Going to see a game in these arenas is quite an experience. In addition to watching the sport itself, you can do many other things:

  • Eat & drink. Food of all kinds is offered at these games. It can be very expensive, but it gives a good glimpse at the favorite American diet. Some of the post popular foods and drinks sold at games are:
    • Beer
    • Hot dogs
    • Peanuts
    • Pizza
    • Sodas and soft drinks
  • Socialize. Attending a game is a fun thing to do with other people. But, there are many other people around, too. You might end up starting a conversation with other sports fans sitting near you.

In order to attend these games, you must buy tickets. These tickets can be purchased:

  • At the game venue (also called the arena’s “Box Office”)
  • By telephone
  • On the Internet

For very popular sports teams, it might be difficult to buy tickets at face value. That is, many longtime fans buy tickets far in advance from the team’s box office. If you find the box office is sold out, there are other places to buy tickets, but they will cost more. These places are called ticket brokers. Some ticket brokers are:


One of the best parts of the college experience is nightlife. Your campus probably has parties and social activities most nights. But, if you venture off-campus, you’ll find even more.

We’ve already covered off-campus dining and restaurants. That is always an option. But, there’s more to do and see in your neighborhood and beyond.

Bars and Nightclubs

In the U.S., there is a difference between bars and nightclubs. Bars are more general nightlife destinations. They all serve beer and wine. Most also serve hard alcohol and spirits. Some bars also serve food, but it’s usually a small menu.

Nightlife venues that offer more than just food and drinks are called nightclubs. Nightclubs offer additional entertainment, like a live band, a disc jockey (DJ) and dancing.

Many nightclubs will host parties for special events and holidays, like Halloween. In fact, some nightclubs host special “International Nights” featuring music from other countries.

Some nightclubs have a dress code with requirements like:

  • No athletic attire (clothes and shoes you would wear to do exercise or play sports)
  • No torn or tattered clothing
  • No hiking or work boots
  • No jeans or denim

Dress codes vary according to each nightclub. Before you go, call the nightclub, or visit the nightclub’s website to learn about its dress code.

Finally, most nightclubs will have a cover charge, which is a fee (usually between $5 and $15) collected at the entrance. Cover charges help the club pay entertainment costs, like the band and the DJ. Sometimes, the cover charge will include a free drink or two.

Finally, any bar or nightclub that serves alcohol is probably limited to people age 21 and over. Before you go out for the evening, make sure you bring identification that shows:

  • Your photo
  • Your birth date (the year you were born)

Usually, you can use a passport or driver’s license to prove your age at a bar or nightclub. If you are under 21 years old or do not have a photo identification card you might not be allowed to enter some clubs.


Earlier, we talked about ticket brokers who sell tickets to sporting events. Many of these brokers also sell tickets to concerts. Suppose you always loved the music of a U.S. singer or band. Now that you live in the U.S., you might have the chance to see them perform in person.

Very famous bands and singers charge high prices for tickets to their concerts. If you’re a big enough fan, it might be worth the cost. However, you might also want to explore local musical artists. There are bands, singers and musicians all over the U.S., in big cities and small towns. But most of them aren’t famous.

There are lesser-known bands of all genres, including:

  • Blues
  • Jazz
  • Rap and Hip-Hop
  • Rock
  • Techno

These artists usually perform at smaller nightclubs, cafés, and theatres, sometimes for free. You can discover these artists and their upcoming shows in your town’s local newspapers and magazines. This information is also on websites like:


When all else fails, you can always go see a movie. There are cinemas (usually called movie theaters) all over the U.S. Most of them play U.S. movies, usually starring American actors.

In some U.S. cities and towns, there are also independent theaters. Independent theaters play lesser-known movies, many of them made in other countries and other languages. You might find an independent theater showing a movie from your home country!

You can find out which movies are playing by calling the movie theater. You can also call to find out what time they’re playing. Movie theater phone numbers can be found in your local phone book.

There are also many websites where you can find out which movies are playing nearby and at what time. Some of these websites are:

To go see a movie, you must buy tickets. You can buy tickets at the movie theater or online.

There are also many food and drinks sold at the movie theater for you to enjoy while you watch a movie. These include:

  • Candy
  • Popcorn
  • Soda and soft drinks

In the U.S., each movie is given a rating: G, PG, PG-13 or R. The movie’s rating indicates how appropriate it is for certain age groups.

  • When going to see a movie with small children, G and PG movies are the most appropriate.
  • For teenagers, GPG and PG-13 movies are usually fine.
  • R-rated movies are recommended for people age 17 and over due to the more adult topics and images in the films.

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