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Although fast food wasn’t as common as some international students may have thought it would be, some Italian students believe that the American diet is unhealthy.

Credit: Lucia Huo , , ,

For some students, coming to Penn is their first taste of the United States, and it’s not exactly what they expected.

“There aren’t as many McDonald’s as I thought there’d be,” Wharton and Engineering freshman Caio Hachem said.

For many international students, the U.S. is starkly different from their home countries. International students make up almost 12 percent of Penn’s student body and come from all across the globe. A lot of them find commonalities in what surprises, disappoints and excites them about America — food and fashion, primarily.

Coming from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Hachem, like many other international students, thought the U.S. would be full of fast food restaurants and obesity.

College freshman Kevin Curry from Padua, Italy — a medieval-style city outside of Venice — agreed, saying a common stereotype about Americans is that they eat McDonald’s every day.

“It doesn’t seem to be true though,” he said.

However, Wharton freshman Othman Alkhayat notes that Americans do eat much more unhealthily than people back home in Geneva.

“At home, I would have a sandwich for lunch but it would be made of fresh ingredients. I wouldn’t have a greasy fast food burger or something. We don’t have that,” he said.

Something else that set America apart from international students’ home countries was a very different sense of what’s appropriate to wear in public. Most of them were shocked by the amount of “athleisure” — athletic gear worn as casual clothing — and extremely casual outfits worn by Penn students.

Alkhayat said, “[American] people are very zany. They wear whatever they want. I never saw people wearing sweatpants at home.”

Wharton freshman Antonia Schmidt said, “The biggest difference is that girls here wear backpacks. In Monaco, only guys do that.” She also points out how students wear socks with Nike Slides and Birkenstocks. “I don’t like it at all,” she said.

Some international students do find pleasure in some American traditions, though. When asked what her favorite part about America was, Schmidt said “Darties [day parties]! We don’t have those in Monaco.”

Alkhayat and Curry both mentioned how odd yet great it is that convenience stores are always open.

“I love the fact that Wawa is open 24/7 and you can get anything there,” Alkhayat said.

Curry said he misses Italian wine, pizza and food in general — he notes that fettuccine alfredo is not actually Italian. But he said he tried fried ice cream for the first time and “it was actually really good.”

In terms of the American people, Alkhayat and Schmidt coincidentally mentioned they were surprised by the friendliness from store employees. Schmidt said, “People are so friendly to everyone. In stores, the staff always asks me about my day.”

Alkhayat said, “In Europe, they usually just say hi, then I pay, and then they say thank you. So two words.”

Although many international students are exposed to American stereotypes that highlight the negative aspects of American culture, some still acknowledge more positive parts. Curry said his favorite part about America is the diversity and “that anyone can accomplish anything.”

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