The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest in area. It consists of 50 states with a federal district capital - Washington, D.C. In the short 200-odd year history since its founding, the United States has achieved remarkable development in many areas. The country possesses some of the most advanced minds in the fields of economics, science, information technology, medicine, politics, and entertainment. Perhaps the advancements made in the field of entertainment has contributed most to making the United States the premier study abroad destination for students worldwide.
Another extremely attractive characteristic of the United States is the availability of education - regardless of race or nationality. The openness of this system helped the US become one of the first countries to welcome large numbers of international students to its high schools and universities. After WWII, the US opened up its schools to students predominantly from the war-ravaged areas of Europe. Students from the Middle East and Asia quickly followed. Currently the US has over 500,000 international students in its many universities.
The United States has a vast geographic land area that is 25 times the size of the United Kingdom and Japan. The climate of the United States varies greatly; where the 100th meridian divides the arid west from the humid east. The difference in temperature between the north and the south is also particularly great. Even though one can swim in the ocean during the winter months in Florida, it often gets colder than 10 degrees below zero in the northern region surrounding the Great Lakes. Unique to the West Coast, there is little difference in temperature throughout the year. The seasons are instead divided between a rainy winter and spring, and a dry summer and autumn. The highest temperature ever recorded in the United States was 56.7 celcius in Death Valley, California. The lowest temperature, - 62.2 celcius, was recorded in 1971 in Prospect Creek, Alaska. In general, late spring through early autumn is a comfortably warm time in most of the states, while late autumn through early spring brings cold weather to the northern two-thirds of the country.
Although many people trace the discovery of America to Columbus's early voyages for the Spanish monarchy, scholars now believe that northern Europeans may have landed on the eastern shores as early as 1000.
Colonization started in earnest in the 16th century with the establishment of the first permanent settlement in Saint Augustine (Florida). Spanish control of the southern regions followed while the French soon thereafter developed strongholds in the northern regions surrounding the St. Lawrence River and eastern Great Lakes. The English settlements focused on the area currently known as New England along the Atlantic seaboard, with the first permanent settlement taking place in Jamestown (Virginia). Religion was also a powerful influence in the minds of those who founded the early settlements. The Plymouth Colony was established by the Pilgrims in what is now known as Massachusetts. The Atlantic colonies were subject to English trading practices/regulations. Throughout the ensuing hundred years, heavy taxation imposed by England became a point of contention among the colonists. War broke out in the 1760s and the United States declared its independence from England in 1776.
Throughout the first half of the 19th century, the US successively expanded its territory, finally reaching the Pacific coast in 1846 when it annexed California. Immigration increased during the second half of the 19th century with arrivals of Scotch-Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians adding to the early population of indigenous Indians, British settlers, and former slaves from Africa. In the early 20th century increasing numbers of central Europeans and Asians also arrived on American soil.
Over the course of the 20th century the United States became the premier global military and economic power. Although not immediately active in the two world wars, US participation did help favorably end these battles. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century a delicate balance was somehow managed in spite of tension and fear of another war with the now-defunct Soviet Union in a period of time referred to as the Cold War. The US prevailed in the last decade of the millennium and enters the 21st century facing new global challenges.
The United States is an urban based society, with more than 75% of the population living in cities with perhaps 50% of the total population based in the suburbs. The largest minority populations are African Americans at 13% and Hispanics at 12% . Asians make up roughly 4% of the population. The concept of Manifest Destiny, America's belief that their settlement would continue to the Pacific Ocean, has greatly influenced its character. The frontier spirit of the 19th century, with open space to the west always allowing for expansion, has shaped the independent and strong personalities of many Americans. Immigrants, many of whom escaped forms of persecution in their home country, arrived in the US with enthusiasm and a commitment to better their lives.
Most students admire American's honesty and frankness. Although outwardly friendly, Americans often value their private time and are not always as open to long periods of socializing. Many Americans believe that, "Time is money," and they try to be as efficient inside of limited durations of time. International students are often surprised by how hard Americans work and how little vacation time they take. Respect of individual rights and freedom is of utmost importance to Americans. Visitors are treated with the same equality as citizens.