Living in the U.S.

Living in USA
Living in USA

 

 

 


 

 

1. Beginning Your U.S. Education

First Days at the University

The first few days at your U.S. college or university can be a truly exciting time. There will be many new students on campus like you, all dealing with feelings of anticipation mixed with a certain amount of worry regarding how the first few months of study will go. During those first days, you may find yourself very busy getting organized and settling in. Your priorities may include letting your family at home know that you have arrived safely, becoming familiar with the college campus, meeting new people, deciding on your academic program, and completing all administrative requirements so that your registration and enrollment are in order.

New student orientation programs offer a perfect opportunity to accomplish all of these tasks, to attend campus social events planned especially for new students, and to help ease the transition to a new place.

Despite the excitement, it is not at all unusual for students to feel a certain degree of loneliness, homesickness, or anxiety during their first year. U.S. universities offer many sources of help and counsel, but the responsibility for seeking assistance lies with you, the student. In other words, if you need help, it is up to you to seek it out among the many resources the educational institution offers.

The Academic Year

For most colleges and universities, the academic year begins in late August or early September and ends in May or June. The “semester” system divides the academic year into two equal terms of approximately 16 weeks each. For schools on a “quarter” system, the academic year is divided into three equal terms of approximately 11 weeks each. Usually, there is also a fourth summer quarter. The “trimester” system has equal terms of approximately 16 weeks each, including a summer term.

Most students take the summer off, and international students are generally not required to study during the summer. Some students, however, choose to go to summer school and earn credits, which may help them complete their degree work more quickly than is normally required.

The Academic Program

Undergraduate programs in U.S. colleges or universities are designed to give students a fairly broad educational background, with an emphasis called a “major.” A major is the subject in which you will concentrate your studies for a degree. You will take many classes in your major, especially in your junior (third) and senior (fourth) years. In some cases, you may also be allowed to take a “minor,” which is a secondary field in which you want to concentrate.

Although you may find it unusual, it is quite normal in the United States for undergraduate students to begin studying for the bachelor’s degree without knowing what subject they will choose for a major. During the first two years, undergraduates usually take a variety of courses from different academic departments to fulfill what are often termed “general education requirements.” As a result, even those students who do “declare” or choose a major when they first enroll often decide later to change to another major that seems more interesting or is more suitable to their career goals. Most, if not all, coursework taken during this general education period will count toward graduation requirements. Usually, a student must select a major by the end of the sophomore (second) year. See Undergraduate Study for detailed information.

At the graduate level, study is specialized. You will spend most of your time in the department in which you are doing your degree work, although there may be some flexibility for taking courses in other areas of interest. See Graduate Study and Specialized Professional Study for detailed information.

The Academic Adviser

When you enter a university or college, you will usually be assigned an academic adviser who may be a member of the faculty or a member of the university staff. Your academic adviser will help you select your classes and plan your program, and he or she may also monitor your progress. You are free to seek advice from other faculty members as well. Your college or university will provide you with information about academic advising.

Before you meet with your academic adviser, however, it may be helpful to design a tentative program plan based on your own needs and desires. Know what the degree requirements are or, if you are not certain, prepare a list of questions. Study the university catalog, departmental course schedules, and the printed schedule, which lists all the courses being offered during the term and the days and times these courses will meet. Note that not all courses must be taken in a particular order; there is usually some flexibility in designing your program.

At the first meeting with your academic adviser, you may wish to discuss both your short-term and long-range professional plans: that is, what you hope to do during your program and after you finish your academic studies. You should discuss the tentative program plan that you have drawn up for the semester and possible adjustments to it. You may also wish to discuss opportunities for field experience and other activities that might enrich your educational experience. This information will be useful as your academic adviser helps you decide about various “elective” courses (courses you choose rather than those you are required to take). If you do not speak up, you will not benefit as much as you could from the knowledge and experience of your academic adviser.

Many international students think they should not express their opinion to their academic adviser, since this may be perceived as inappropriate behavior or a sign of disrespect in their own cultures. However, in American culture, it is considered appropriate behavior to speak up and voice your opinion freely. The role of the adviser is to help you make your own decisions, not to make decisions for you. On most campuses, your academic adviser is responsible for approving your plan of study and the number of courses you will take during each semester or quarter. Remember that taking a full course load (usually 12 to 15 credit hours for undergraduates and nine to 12 credit hours for graduates) is required in order for your nonimmigrant student visa to remain valid.

Using your personal plan and his or her knowledge of the school’s requirements, your academic adviser will help you decide upon a study plan based upon your goals and the requirements for a degree. During the academic year, you should make appointments with your academic adviser at regular intervals (a good time is just prior to the next semester registration period) in order to review your progress.

The Course Registration

Registration procedures are different at each educational institution. Exact procedures will be outlined in orientation sessions or in orientation materials given to you. If you do not understand these procedures, ask your academic department or program for clarification and help. Actual course registration may be managed on-line via computer, by phone, or by visiting an office or general registration area.

Plan your schedule early. It may take a great deal of thinking, consulting, arranging, and rearranging. It is a good idea to have two or three possible schedules written out by registration day. Having more than one schedule is helpful if some courses you want are “closed,” that is, filled by the maximum number of students.

During the registration period, you will probably need to complete payment arrangements for the semester, obtain your university identification (ID) card, and submit any health or medical forms. Some schools will require that all tuition and fees be paid at the beginning of each semester, others may let you pay in installments. Contact the college or university bursar’s office for information on these procedures.

Campus and Department Orientation
Orientation programs for new students are offered at virtually every college and university throughout the United States. The program itself may take on many forms and cover different topics, but the purpose is the same: to ease your transition to a new place. Sometimes there will be a campus or department orientation program and a separate program especially designed for international students, scheduled so as not to be in conflict with each other. At some schools these programs may be mandatory, but whether mandatory or optional, they are important and valuable opportunities for you, even if this is not your first visit to the United States. Frequently, orientation programs provide information that won’t be as easily obtained later on.

Some campus-based orientation programs may require that you pay a fee. In general, the fee covers the costs of program materials, refreshments, staff support, and other expenses. You may be asked to pay the fee ahead of time or find it included as part of your total student bill.

You may have the opportunity to participate in an orientation program about U.S. colleges and universities while you are still in your home country. If such a program is available to you, by all means participate. These programs frequently have specific relevance for students from your country. Campus-based orientation programs, even when not mandatory, provide the best possible introduction to your U.S. institution and can help relieve much of the anxiety you may have about being in a new place.

Some of the things you might do at a typical campus or department orientation program include:

  • meet other students to establish friendships and reduce possible loneliness or anxiety;
  • learn your school’s expectations for your intellectual and personal growth;
  • become familiar with your new school and the local community;
  • move into your on-campus or off-campus residence;
  • speak with professors and academic advisers regarding course placement and selection;
  • obtain training in the use of the campus library and computer services, including electronic mail;
  • register for courses.

At an orientation program for international students, you might:

  • meet other students from your own country and from around the world;
  • receive information about important U.S. Immigration regulations with which you must comply;
  • obtain a U.S. Social Security Number (needed for U.S. bank accounts and for employment, including on-campus employment);
  • have your passport and visa documents copied; have your visa documents signed;
  • learn about the U.S. system of higher education and how to be successful in that system;
  • obtain advice on personal safety, health and accident insurance, and wellness;
  • take a guided tour of the local area and open a bank account;
  • sit for an English proficiency examination;
  • learn about U.S. culture and social and personal relationships in the United States;
  • receive information on services and programs provided by the school for international students.

Professors

The social code of behavior between students and professors is not as precisely defined in the United States as it might be in other countries. While some professors adhere to more traditional methods, others will come to class wearing jeans and sports shirts and insist that you call them by their first names. Here are a few pointers to help you deal with professors:

  • Always address teachers as “Professor” or “Doctor” unless instructed otherwise. If the teacher desires to be called something else, he or she will usually tell you. Do not be shocked to hear students calling professors by their first names. This is especially common among graduate students, since they develop a closer professional relationship with their teachers than undergraduate students do.
  • Professors in the United States hold office hours, usually several times a week, when they are available for consultation. It is an opportunity used by many students to discuss projects, to review material covered in class, or simply to exchange ideas on a given topic. Most professors are willing to meet students for these purposes, and they can be very helpful. Take advantage of the availability of office hours. These informal meetings could prove to be a turning point in your understanding of a subject and in your relationship with a professor. Professors usually take notice of students who show interest by participating in class and by visiting during office hours. If you cannot be available during a certain professor’s office hours, he or she will generally give you the chance to schedule meetings at other times.
  • Much of the professor’s impression of you will be based on your level of class participation. Be prepared for each class. Demonstrate interest in class, speak up, ask questions, and respond to others’ comments. However, make sure your participation is not simply to be noticed, but that it contributes constructively and positively to the class.
  • At the undergraduate level, many Teaching Assistants (TAs) work with professors and often teach partial or full courses. These TAs are usually graduate students from the department. You should not call them “Professor” but rather “Mr.” or “Ms.” or, if they ask you to, by their first name.

Study Skills

It is common for students to think that they already know how to be a successful student, that if they do the readings and study hard, they’ll get good grades. But different teaching methods (in some cases a different language, different academic backgrounds, and a different campus culture) can reshape your ability to be successful.

Most colleges and universities will offer a variety of free, short-term classes that will help you be a successful student. Topics may include utilizing your school’s library resources to write a research paper, navigating the Internet for academic purposes, developing good study skills, and practicing effective time management. If English is not your first language, your grades may be improved by a visit to the university writing center, by taking an ESL course, or by joining an informal English conversation group. There are also excellent study-skills Web sites on the Internet.

The Honor Code
Most colleges and universities in the United States have established honor codes or statements of rules students are expected to follow in their academic work. These rules relate primarily to academic honesty and originality as they are defined by U.S. educational institutions. Many international students have discovered that U.S. academic rules are much different from the ones they followed at home.

U.S. educational institutions take these rules very seriously, and ignorance of the rules usually is not accepted as an excuse for breaking them. Even if a particular academic practice is accepted in your country or is part of your culture, it will not be an acceptable explanation for violating the rules at a U.S. college or university.

The university honor code, or the university code of conduct, is usually distributed to new students at the very beginning of the semester and is frequently a topic for discussion during new student orientation.

If you have any questions about what to do regarding any of these issues, talk to your instructor, your academic adviser, or the international student adviser. There is a U.S. idiom that applies here: “It is better to be safe than sorry.”

Cheating
Cheating is considered to be a failure of honesty in U.S. colleges and universities. It means getting unauthorized help on an assignment, quiz, or examination. You must not receive from anyone, nor give to anyone, any information, answers, or help during an examination or any kind of test. You must not take notes or books to the examination if this is forbidden, and you must not refer to any books or notes while you are taking the test unless you are instructed otherwise. Sometimes students who speak a foreign language during an examination are perceived by others to be cheating, even though they may simply be asking a fellow student in their native language for a piece of paper or an eraser. You should be aware of this and try to avoid suspicion.

Plagiarism
Plagiarism is another kind of cheating. It is the failure to do your own original work in written assignments. Instead, you use someone else’s words or ideas as though they were your own, without crediting the source. Plagiarism is considered literary and intellectual theft and is vigorously condemned in academic work. When quoting words or ideas from books, magazines, Web sites, recordings, films, or other sources of information, always make sure you give appropriate credit to the author in your text. Many U.S. universities have specific guidelines to follow when quoting an author and some of them publish guides for papers. Make sure you are aware of the university policies on quoting words and ideas to avoid being accused of plagiarism.


 

 

2. Finding Housing

One of the most important things you will have to take care of before you start your studies in the United States is finding a place to live. This is an important decision since it will be one of your biggest expenses and will affect your personal and academic adjustment. Everyone is happiest and most productive in surroundings that are comfortable to them.

Temporary Accommodations

You may arrive at your school in advance of the date when you can move into your permanent housing, or you may need to look for housing. There are a number of choices when temporary, overnight accommodations are required. The most expensive are hotels and motels, but some “budget” motel chains can be quite reasonable. Other options include the local YMCA or YWCA, youth hostels, and international houses. At some schools, university residences may be available, or you may be able to stay with a local family or current student. It is always best to check with the international student adviser in advance for information on overnight housing options.

Campus Housing

Almost all U.S. colleges and universities provide their students with the option to live in residence halls or dormitories (also called “dorms”). These are usually for single students, not for married couples or families, and are situated on or close to the campus. It is a great place to meet U.S. students and make new friends rapidly. Dormitory rooms are equipped with basic furniture, and many dormitories in the United States also have a cafeteria. In some dorms there may be a kitchen for those who would rather cook for themselves. Dormitories usually have common rooms where students can get together to watch television, play games, or simply be with friends. Supervisors, often called “residence advisers” or “resident directors,” often live in dormitories to keep an eye on safety and cleanliness and to make sure the rules are observed. Most of the time, these residence advisers are students themselves, employed by the university. The residence adviser can also be a great source of information and support throughout the academic year.

Usually there is a great demand for residence hall space, and it might not be easy to get a room. As soon as you receive your acceptance letter from your chosen school, return the housing application. An advance deposit may be required. At some colleges and universities, dormitory rooms are so much in demand that a lottery is held to determine who will be granted space.

Some campus housing closes for holidays, vacations, and break periods; others may be open year-round. If you require campus housing during vacations and holiday periods, be sure to inquire well in advance regarding availability. Also check with your international student adviser regarding the possibility of a homestay or off-campus housing options

Many rooms in dormitories are shared with one or more roommates. Many universities require first year students to share a room. Your roommate will be someone of the same sex, whom you will not know. Be prepared to live with someone who could be very different from you. Roommate arrangements often lead to life-long friendships, but on rare occasions roommates can prove mismatched. If you have problems in your living arrangements with your roommate, do not hesitate to contact your residence adviser or anyone else in charge of housing at your university to discuss the situation. In extreme cases, it is possible to change rooms or roommates.

Dormitory rooms usually do not have a private bath or toilet. Instead, residents share large “community” bathrooms, which are separate for men and women. In the United States, a bathroom includes a toilet, a sink, and a bathtub or a shower.

Generally, students living in a dormitory have to follow a set of rules to ensure smooth community living. There are rules to control the noise level, the cleanliness, the number of visitors, and other aspects of living. These rules can vary from building to building to cater to different student tastes. For example, some dormitories might be designated as “24-hour quiet” buildings for students who prefer a more studious lifestyle, while some others might not have strict noise regulations for students who have a more spirited lifestyle. Make sure you are familiar with the rules before you move into a residence hall to avoid unnecessary discomfort or misunderstandings.

Examples of typical campus housing

Coed residence halls: Coed dormitories have both men and women living in the same building. For some international students, this might be a new and very different concept, but it works very well on U.S. campuses. However, male and female students do not share rooms. Sometimes men and women live on different floors or in separate suites, which are small apartments that contain several sleeping rooms, a common living area, and one or two bathrooms.

Single-sex residence halls: These dormitories are for those who prefer to live in an all-male or all-female environment. Universities may set aside a residence or at least part of a residence building that houses women and men separately.

University apartments: Some universities operate apartment houses on campus. Apartments are always in high demand. Usually priority is given to upper-level undergraduate and graduate students and to students who are married.

Fraternity and sorority houses: Fraternities (for men) and sororities (for women) are close-knit social organizations of undergraduate men and women who live in a house operated by the organization. Fraternity and sorority houses may be either on- or off-campus. There is emphasis on social activity in fraternities and sororities. New members are chosen through various means during a period called “rush week.” Rush week is often held the week before classes begin. Living in a fraternity or sorority house may be restricted to upper-level students.

Married student housing: At some universities certain apartments or houses are owned and operated by the university exclusively for married students and families. Usually, only a limited number of units are available. These houses and apartments are usually furnished. The demand for these units is very high. Married students should inquire as early as possible about the availability of these houses or apartments.

“Before I left for the USA, I knew that as a first-year student I would have to live in the university dormitory in a shared room. I was afraid that life in the dormitories would be too loud and would not help my studies. I also did not like the idea of having to share my room with a complete stranger! I contacted the international student adviser in my university to ask for advice, and he wrote to me that the university offered what he called ’24-hour quiet’ floors for students who wanted to live in a more quiet and studious environment. I eventually got a single room on a 24-hour quiet floor. It was strange at first to share my room with another person, but I soon got used to it. My roommate and I eventually became good friends. Living on campus also had many advantages, for example, being able to get up later in the morning for class! Of course, as in any living arrangement, there were some times when the residence was not so quiet or studious, but we had a residence adviser who made sure the rules were observed. I do not regret taking the decision to live in residence. It made me enjoy my time in the United States even more!”

– Christina, Sweden

Off-Campus Housing

If you cannot find accommodation in university dormitories, you may have to look for housing off-campus. In particular, students with families may need to look off-campus. While university-subsidized housing is often less expensive than housing off-campus in large U.S. cities, that is not always the case in smaller cities and towns. Types of accommodation include furnished and unfurnished apartments and houses, privately operated dormitories, cooperative residence halls, and rented rooms in private homes.

To find off-campus housing, ask the university’s housing office or consult the classified advertising section (also called “want ads” or “classifieds”) of the local newspaper. Many U.S. newspapers are now on the World Wide Web so you may be able to explore off-campus housing opportunities while you are still at home. Check campus bulletin boards for notices of students who are looking for roommates to share an apartment. Seek the help of someone who knows the community or ask the international student adviser for suggestions.

In general, the amount you spend for housing should be limited to one-third or one-fourth of the total amount you have planned to spend on living expenses. If the cost is one-half of your budget, you may be spending too much. If the costs are unusually inexpensive, it is possible that your living quarters are substandard. U.S. Cities have local housing rules, called “ordinances” or “housing codes,” that specify certain standards that must be met to ensure that houses and buildings are safe and sanitary.

Making arrangements for housing off-campus can be quite challenging. For example, if you do not have a car, location is important. If an apartment is farther than walking distance from the campus, it may prove to be inconvenient unless it is close to public transportation. Gas, electricity, and telephone services, known as “utilities,” usually are not included in the rent and must be paid by you, the tenant, each month. You must make payment arrangements directly with each of the utility companies. Get an estimate of monthly utility bills from the utility company or previous tenants before you sign a lease. Heating can be expensive in colder parts of the country, and gas and electric bills should be taken into account in determining monthly costs. Heating, electricity, and telephone can add from $75 to $200 or more (much more if you make long-distance or international telephone calls) to the rent each month. Water and garbage collection costs are usually included in the rent.

Sharing an apartment with a roommate can keep costs down. If you do not know anyone to room with, it is appropriate to ask another student who is also looking for a roommate to consider sharing an apartment with you. Often students advertise for roommates. If you respond to one of these ads, you will probably be asked to visit for a personal interview. These interviews are an excellent way to determine if it would be a mutually agreeable arrangement to room together. Never room with someone until you have discussed issues such as smoking, study habits, cleaning arrangements, parties, overnight guests, food, cost sharing, and so on.

If you decide that you want to live alone or if you have a family, bring someone who is familiar with the local community and with rental procedures with you when you go apartment hunting.

When you find an apartment you want to rent, you must enter into an agreement with the landlord. This is called a “rental agreement” or a “lease.” A lease is a contract that legally commits the renter (the lessee) to rent a specific apartment or house for a specified length of time. It also commits the landlord (the lessor) to rent that house or apartment to the lessee for that specified period of time. Do not rent an apartment with a lease unless you plan to stay the entire time period stated on the lease.

Many landlords require payment of the first and last months’ rent before the tenants move in. This is known as “advance rent.” It ensures that the tenant notifies the landlord at least 30 days before moving out. Many landlords also require a security deposit (also called a “cleaning deposit”), which usually equals one month’s rent. This is the landlord’s assurance that the renter will do no damage and that the apartment will be in good condition when the tenant leaves. If the tenant leaves the apartment in good condition, the landlord returns the security deposit. You should obtain a receipt for the security deposit as proof of payment.

Before you sign the lease agreement, go through the apartment with the landlord or manager and make a list of imperfections that you should not be held responsible for when you move out. Examples include nail holes where pictures were hung by a previous tenant, chipped tiles, damaged woodwork, or soiled spots on the carpet.

It is important that you understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and your landlord’s obligations. Before you sign the rental agreement, ask about rules and restrictions. Your responsibilities include paying your rent on time, keeping the apartment clean, repairing damage you cause, and telling the landlord if something does not work. You must not disturb the peace, that is, you must not be excessively noisy, and you must comply with the terms of your rental agreement. The landlord’s obligations include repair and maintenance of the apartment. The landlord must not interfere with your use of the apartment, nor enter the apartment without your permission, nor remove any of your property. The landlord must notify you if the building where your apartment is located has been sold.

Only accept rental agreements in writing, with all the terms and conditions set forth in detail. Before signing any kind of rental agreement, be sure that you understand it clearly and completely. It is quite acceptable to ask the landlord if you can take it away for a few minutes to examine it carefully. You do not have to sign it immediately. If you have any doubts, consult with the appropriate office at your college or university. Many schools offer advice to students planning to live off-campus. As a tenant (renter), you should be given a copy of the rental agreement.

Off-Campus Dormitories
Sometimes there are privately owned dormitory complexes near the campus. These are designated for students and are run like university dormitories, but privately owned. Usually the costs are comparable to living in an on-campus dormitory.

Cooperative Residence Halls (“Co-Ops”)
A co-op is usually a large house in which a group of students lives together, sharing the costs and chores. Residents take turns cooking meals and work together to clean the house and take care of outside maintenance. Because they are generally less expensive, rooms in co-ops may be difficult to find.

Rooming Houses
These are dwellings in which rooms are rented usually to individuals, but occasionally to two roommates. Cooking facilities are often provided. It is probably cheapest to live in such a room, but sometimes there are problems with human relations (sharing the bathroom, kitchen, and so on). If you consider rooming in a house, be selective and ask many questions.

Living With a U.S. Family
Sometimes international student advisers have listings of families in the community who would like to have an international student live in their home. Sometimes the family expects the student to perform certain services, like baby-sitting or household chores, in exchange for free or reduced rent. Living with a family can be a warm and enriching experience, but consider the family and the arrangements carefully and be sure that you understand what is expected of you. Check with the international student adviser to determine if services are expected in exchange for room and board. This might be considered employment by the U.S. Government and therefore subject to certain regulations.

“I was on a two-year study program in the USA, and I spent my first year living in the university dormitory. Even if I enjoyed living on campus, I wanted to have something a bit more private and personal in my second year of study. With two friends I had met in my faculty, we decided to rent an apartment near campus. We went to the university’s housing services, where they keep a list of available housing off-campus. By looking through this list, we eventually found a three-room apartment, which suited our needs. We divided the costs by three, which ended up being almost the same price as living in residence. The only problem was that I had to take public transportation for 20 minutes to and from school every day. We also had very little furniture, since we could not afford full kitchen or living room sets, for example. We bought beds, a table, a few chairs, and an old sofa in garage sales and discount stores. It was fine for our needs! We sold most of it to friends at the end of the year. I enjoyed having a place of my own which I could call home, even if it did require more commitment and responsibility.”
Shareen, Tanzania

Cafeteria and Meal Plans

Most dormitories at U.S. colleges and universities are equipped with cooking facilities. However, for those who do not have the time or facilities to cook for themselves, there is the option of cafeteria dining. Most dormitories have a cafeteria within the building or nearby that offers low-cost food to students. Often students can sign up for one of a variety of meal plans by which they can pay ahead for the food they will consume. Depending on your tastes and financial situation, you might find these meal plans convenient, cheap, and easily accessible. Some universities require that all students living in a dormitory sign up for a meal plan. Cafeterias are open during scheduled hours and usually offer a variety of foods, including vegetarian selections for those who do not eat meat. Meal plans are sometimes available to students living off-campus as well, which is a great convenience for students who may eat as many as two meals a day on-campus. If you plan to live in an apartment and do not wish to cook or if you enjoy the social aspect of eating in the cafeteria, consider trying out your school’s meal plan. Cafeterias are generally closed during holidays and vacation periods.


 

 

3. Practical Information for Everyday Living

Money Matters

Establishing a Bank Account
One of the first things you should do after you arrive in the United States is establish a bank account. It is not a good idea to carry large sums of cash or to keep it in your room. Most banks have main offices in the center of a city or town. Smaller offices, called “branches,” are usually found in other parts of a city or town and in the suburbs. Even if your bank does not have a branch nearby, you often can find automated bank machines to serve your needs. Banks generally are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. On Fridays, many banks stay open a few hours later. Many banks, but not all, are also open on Saturdays, often from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Your international student adviser can suggest which banks are convenient to campus.

Remember that banks are private businesses. They are all different and each one wants to get your business. You should check with several banks to determine which bank offers the best services for your needs. When you are ready to open a bank account, go to the “New Accounts” department at the bank you have chosen. A bank officer will help you to open an account by explaining the different kinds of accounts available and the costs and services of each one. You should plan to open both a savings account and a checking (current) account at the same bank, simply because it will be more convenient for you. For example, if you have a savings account and a checking account in the same bank, you can easily transfer funds from one to the other. Interest rates on savings and checking accounts vary from bank to bank. Investigate and compare various banks and their rates of interests on checking and savings accounts before you decide where to open an account. Internet banks are an alternative option to traditional banks and are another possibility to explore. The best source of information for these will be on the Internet itself.

Checking Accounts
Checking accounts (called current accounts in many countries) are a way to keep your money safe and still allow easy access to it. Checks are an easy way to pay bills, especially by mail. Never send cash through the mail.

Automatic Tellers and 24-Hour Banking
Almost all American banks now offer banking privileges 24 hours a day through “automatic teller machines” or ATMs. When you open an account at a bank, you will be issued a bankcard and a personal identification number (PIN). You will be able to use this card in your bank’s ATM to access your account and make transactions. This will enable you to do such things as withdraw and deposit money, transfer funds, and obtain your balance 24 hours a day. Generally, you can also use your bankcard in other banks’ ATMs for a small service fee charged against your account, but only for cash withdrawals. Banks often impose limits on amounts that can be withdrawn from the ATM in one day, usually between $200 and $400.

It is now possible in the United States to conduct most of your monetary transactions using only your bankcard. Many stores have systems that permit you to use your bankcard instead of cash to pay for merchandise. In this way, the money is deducted directly from your bank account. Since you are not using cash when paying with your bankcard, however, you should keep track of your account to make sure you are not overspending. It is a good idea to carry a small amount of cash with you at all times anyway, since the automated banking system can break down.

Having a bankcard is very convenient, since it can be used all over the United States and even in other countries connected to the same banking system. Bankcards from other countries can also be used in the United States as long as they function on one of the banking networks used in the United States. Before leaving home, ask your bank if you can use your home country’s bankcard in the United States. This is especially useful if, in case of emergency, you need to rapidly get money from home.

Most ATMs also accept credit cards. If you have a credit card but do not use it in ATMs yet, ask the bank that has issued your credit card to allocate a PIN to it. Then you will be able to use your credit card in ATMs. Note, however, that this transaction may be considered a “cash advance” and therefore your credit card company may immediately begin to charge you interest. In some cases, the interest rates for a cash advance may be higher than for credit card purchases.

Personal Checks
Checks that you write are called “personal” checks. You can use checks instead of money in most stores or businesses in the United States. Usually, you will be asked to present two pieces of identification, including at least one with a photo, before you can use a personal check to make purchases or to obtain cash.

Two-party Checks
Checks written by someone else in payment to you are called “two-party” checks. To cash or deposit such a check, you must first endorse (sign) it. Only endorse the check when you are ready to use it since it becomes negotiable (that is, it can be redeemed for cash) as soon as it is signed. To endorse a check, turn it over and, on the back across the narrow width, write your name exactly as it is written on the check. This is the bank’s or merchant’s way of making sure that you really are the person to whom the check was written and the person who should receive the money, either in cash or deposited to your bank account.

Cashier’s Checks
A cashier’s check is a check written for you by your bank. You give the bank the money (or it is taken from your account), and the clerk prepares a cashier’s check. Your bank will probably charge a small fee for this service. Usually, cashier’s checks are written for large amounts to transfer money from one place to another. A cashier’s check is easier to cash than a personal check, and it is safer than carrying a large amount of cash. You do not have to cash a cashier’s check at a branch of your bank; it can be cashed at any bank or business that will accept it.

Overdrafts
When you write a check for more money than you have in the bank, you create an “overdraft.” For each overdrawn check, the bank will charge you a fine of $10 to $25 or more. The bank will also return your check, unpaid, to the person or business to which you wrote the check. If the payee is a store or business, that payee may also charge you $5 to $20 for the trouble the bad check has caused: and they may not accept your checks again. It can be very expensive if you fail to keep an accurate, check-by-check record of your account. It is also illegal to issue a “bad” check (a check for which there is not sufficient money in the checking account) on purpose.

Savings Accounts
If you plan on bringing enough money with you for the entire school year, or even most of the money you will need, you should consider opening a savings account. A savings account usually offers a higher rate of interest than an interest-bearing checking account and allows you to make withdrawals to cover your living expenses. You can withdraw the money in cash or, especially for large amounts, in the form of a “certified” (bank) check. Compare rates offered by several banks to find the best terms and benefits for the type of account you will hold.

Safety Deposit Boxes
Most banks maintain small locked boxes that may be rented by the month or by the year. The contents of the box are known only to the person who holds the key; the bank does not have access, except in case of death. A safety deposit box is a good place to keep valuables such as passports, jewelry, foreign currency you do not want to exchange, and legal papers.

Credit Cards and “Buying on Credit”
The use of credit cards is widespread in the United States. Banks, credit card companies, gas companies, department stores, and other organizations issue credit cards, which can be used to make purchases. Statements are mailed to credit card holders once a month. If the amount due is not paid within a specified number of days, a “finance charge” is added to the bill. Applications for credit cards are available in many banks and stores. Information requested includes the applicant’s source and amount of income, length of residence at the present address, and bank information. Many companies that issue credit cards require applicants to have a specific minimum income.

As a student, you may find it difficult at first to obtain a credit card. However, many credit card companies also offer special student credit cards, subject to certain conditions. Not having a credit card can make daily life somewhat more difficult. For example, if you are on a trip and need cash, you can obtain a cash advance from any bank that honors the specific type of credit card you hold. Finance charges, however, often begin from the day you receive the cash advance.

Whether you use a credit card or sign a contract to purchase something on credit, be careful not to build up too much debt. Credit buying is often necessary; for example, for the purchase of a car: but be sure you understand the terms of the loan agreement. You may have to pay high interest rates, sometimes as much as 21 percent.

One way to avoid building up too much debt is to delay obtaining a credit card or making large purchases involving long-term debt for the first few months you are in the United States. Instead, make your initial purchases by cash or by check. At the same time, keep careful records of your expenditures. Do this the first two or three months you are in the United States. By doing so, you will know exactly how much it costs to live and study in your city. You will then be in a good position to know when to use or not to use a credit card and how much debt you can actually support. Every four or five months thereafter, you should monitor your expenditures again to make sure that you are not spending too much or building up too much debt.

Tipping

In the United States, tips (gratuities) are not automatically added to bills, as is customary in some other countries. Even if tipping remains a personal choice, it is usually expected when certain services are provided. You should be aware that the people who commonly receive tips are paid a wage that is lower than those who do not receive tips. They depend upon tips for a significant part, sometimes the majority, of their income. The average tip is usually 15 percent, but it can vary depending on the extent and the quality of the service provided.

Eating Out: The expected tip in a restaurant is 15 or 20 percent in a good restaurant with excellent service. You should leave your tip on the table for the waiter or waitress as you leave. If you pay with a credit card, you can add the tip to the credit card charges before you total the bill. The restaurant then gives that amount in cash to your server. If you sit at a counter in a restaurant, the tip is usually smaller; 10 to 15 percent is sufficient. In a fast-food restaurant, the bill is paid when the food is ordered and no tip is expected. In a cafeteria or a self-service restaurant, you pay the cashier after having chosen your meal and, again, no tip is expected.

Taxi Drivers: It is customary to give 10 to 15 percent of the total fare.

Airport and Hotel Porters: It is customary to give $1.00 for each bag.

Barbers, Hairdressers, and Beauticians: They usually are tipped 10 to 15 percent of the bill.

Valet Parking: The attendant should usually receive $1.00 to $2.00.

NEVER OFFER A TIP to public officials, police officers, or government employees. This is against the law in the United States. There is no need to tip hotel desk clerks, bus drivers, theater ushers, salespeople, flight attendants, or gas station attendants.

Health and Wellness

Adjusting to Your New Home
When traveling abroad, you always have to be ready for extreme or unfamiliar conditions. You might have an upset stomach or other digestive problems in the first few days as your body gets adapted to the climate and the food. It is even common to catch a cold. You may also have trouble adapting to the altitude if you are going to a mountainous area. Even the most seasoned travelers and the fittest athletes have to deal with these problems when they leave their country. These discomforts can, however, be controlled. Here are a few tips to help you adjust.

  • Take it easy for the first few days or a week. Your body will need to rest if it is to adapt to local conditions.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Wash your hands often and avoid rubbing your eyes in order not to come in contact and be infected with various viruses.
  • Medication for headaches, colds, upset stomach, minor injuries, and other ailments is readily available in the United States. It is not always advisable to bring medication from home into the United States since some restrictions apply. The pharmacist at any drugstore can assist you in finding medication for your needs.
  • If you are going to a warm area, wear a hat on sunny days to avoid sunstroke, use sunscreen to protect your skin against sunburn, and drink a lot of liquids (nonalcoholic and without caffeine) to prevent dehydration.
  • Contact your international student adviser to find the location of the nearest medical clinic. Most universities maintain a health clinic on campus.

Campus Health Clinics
Most colleges and universities in the United States have a clinic, an infirmary, or some other form of health care service for students, though usually not for their families. The “health fee” the student pays each term goes toward providing such services. Therefore, the services provided are often free or offered at a greatly reduced cost. Usually, however, university health services are limited to minor and emergency care. In case of a serious health problem, the university normally refers the student to a medical facility in the community, and the student, or his or her insurance, pays the costs. Your college or university should send you materials that discuss health care services and fees involved. If you do not receive such material, be sure to write and ask your international student adviser for this information before you leave your home country.

Family Medical Care
If you are traveling with your spouse and/or family, you will need to find another source for medical care. Care for the family is available from doctors in private medical practice or through community medical clinics. It is a good idea to establish a relationship with a doctor shortly after you arrive in the United States so you will have ready access to medical care if you, your spouse, or your children should become ill.

Family doctors (also called “primary care physicians” or “general practitioners”) provide medical care for the whole family, as well as deliver babies. Many doctors specialize in family-related areas. For example, obstetricians specialize in prenatal care and deliver babies. Often, an obstetrician is also a gynecologist, a specialist who treats women. Pediatricians care for infants and children. Family doctors often refer patients to specialists for treatment of particular conditions. Ask friends, the student health service, or the international student adviser for recommendations of doctors in your community. When you telephone for an appointment, ask how much the doctor charges for services. Make sure you know which medical services your health insurance covers and which it does not.

Personal Safety

Unfortunately, as everywhere else in the world, there is crime in the United States. You should be especially careful until you know the campus and are familiar with the community. Every town has unsafe areas, and you should find out where these are as soon as possible. Every college and university employs police officers or security personnel to help keep the campus safe. If you are not given security guidelines during your orientation program, go to your international student adviser or the campus security office for information. Ask about safety on your campus and in the community and what you should do to ensure your personal safety. Remember that good judgment, precaution, and common sense can significantly reduce chances of having an unpleasant and possibly harmful experience.

Basic safety rules include the following:

  • In some areas it is not safe to walk alone at night. Always ask someone to accompany you if you are unsure about going somewhere on your own. Some universities offer accompaniment services for people who have to walk home after classes or from the library in the evening. Ask your international student adviser if your university offers such services.
  • When you leave your dormitory room, apartment, or automobile, make certain that all doors and windows are locked. Never leave valuables, especially cash or credit cards, sitting in the open, even if the door is locked.
  • Do not carry large amounts of cash with you or wear jewelry of great value.
  • Never accept a ride from a stranger. Do not hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers.
  • Be careful with your purse or wallet, especially in crowded metropolitan areas where there are purse-snatchers and pickpockets. Other attractive personal property, such as cameras, stereos, computers, and bicycles, should be locked in a safe place when you are not around. Be careful with your belongings.
  • If a robber threatens you at home or on the street, try not to resist unless you feel that your life is in danger and you must fight or run away. Do not fight back as this might provoke your attacker to cause you harm. Remain calm and observe as much as possible about the robber. Report this crime to the police right away and give your best description of the attacker.

For more information on campus safety and security, see http://campussafety.org/.

Clubs and Sports

Clubs
Clubs are an excellent way to meet people who share your interests, to make friends, to learn new things, and to have fun. There are student organizations for almost every interest and purpose, from the academic to the purely social. Usually you can get a list of campus clubs and organizations from the International Students Office or from your university’s Web page. If you are interested in the activities of a certain club, attend a meeting. If there are many international students at the university, there will undoubtedly be an international club.

Cultural Activities
You will find many cultural activities on a university campus. Events such as plays, concerts, films, lectures, and art exhibitions are advertised in school publications and on bulletin boards on campus. If the university is located in or near a metropolitan area, you will find many more opportunities advertised in the entertainment and arts section of the city’s newspaper.

Sports
Sports are a favorite pastime in the United States. Many people regularly engage in individual sports, such as tennis, jogging, swimming, and skiing, or in team sports like baseball, soccer, ice hockey, and volleyball. Cities often have organized sports tournaments for amateurs.

Almost all colleges and universities have intercollegiate football, baseball, basketball, swimming, and other teams that compete with teams from other schools. These teams often compete at a very high level and attract a large crowd of student supporters and other fans. Even if you are unfamiliar with U.S. sports, you should attend at least one sporting event. It is a lot of fun simply to be part of the crowd. Ask someone to explain the action to you. The spirit and excitement of the games are a large part of campus life.

Most colleges and universities also offer intramural sporting teams or competitions, where all teams are made up of your fellow students. Intramural sports are usually at a less competitive level than the intercollegiate teams and are often open to anyone with an interest in the sport. This can be a great way to meet people, to exercise, and to help reduce the stress of your studies.

Arrangements for Dependents Who May Join You

Schools for Children
In the United States, education is the responsibility of each state. All states require that children attend school from age six to 16 years, or in some states, until they graduate from high school. Most schools also have a kindergarten program for five-year-olds. By U.S. federal law, public schools must provide education from kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) free of charge to all students, both U.S. citizens and noncitizens who meet the residency rules established by the individual school district. However, there is one exception. A specific federal statute bars public schools that teach kindergarten through 8th grade (K-8) from issuing I-20 forms to students who wish to obtain F-1 visas to enroll. However, dependents of adult F-1 visa holders (dependents usually hold F-2 visas) ARE eligible to enroll in these public schools.

Private day schools charge tuition. Boarding schools charge tuition, plus room and board. Be sure to bring copies of your children’s birth certificates in order to enroll them in school. It is also a good idea to bring transcripts for the last year or two of your children’s education, as they may assist the school to appropriately place your children in their new classes. Talk to the international student adviser about how you can enroll your children in school.

Child Care
Various possibilities exist for full-time or part-time child care. Below are some examples.

Home Day Care: Many women and teenage girls accept jobs as “baby-sitters” (or “child minders”), usually caring for infants and preschool children (five years old and under). Sometimes baby-sitters come to the family’s home to watch the children; sometimes a parent takes the children to the baby-sitter’s home. Sometimes they will care for school-age children before or after school as well. Fees vary.

Day Care Centers: Day care centers may be public centers, run by churches, or privately owned. Day care centers usually take children who are preschool age (though not always infants) and sometimes they require that the children be toilet-trained. Some day care centers also take school-age children whose parents are at work before or after the child gets out of school. The parent drops off and picks up the child at the center. Sometimes the day care center works with the local school system to organize bus service to the school. Some day care centers require parents to give time to help care for the children one or two mornings or afternoons per week. Fees vary for this type of child care, but note that day care centers are usually quite expensive in large cities and metropolitan areas.

Nursery Schools or Preschools: These private schools are generally open for children three to five years of age. Most schools hold classes from two to five days a week, usually in the mornings or in the afternoons. Besides play activities, children are prepared to enter kindergarten, usually the first year of schooling in the United States.

Activities for Spouses
If you are the spouse of an international student, you will most likely find that keeping busy will help you adjust to your new home and to be happier there. Though you probably will not be allowed to work, you may find that this is an opportunity to discover new interests, improve your English, or take a few courses that you never quite seem to find time for. The international student adviser may suggest some of the following options:

School Parents’ Clubs: Most schools have a Parent-Teacher Association, or PTA, that plays different roles depending upon the school. During the week, the local school may appreciate your assistance in the library, in the school office, or in a classroom. When you register your child for school, ask about details.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Classes: Universities or international centers, local adult education centers, community colleges, or local community volunteer programs often offer ESL classes. If you are just learning English or simply want to become more comfortable with one or more aspects of the language, this can be the perfect opportunity to improve your language skills. For more information, see Short-term Study.

Academic Courses: You may be qualified to apply for admission as a regular, special, or “auditing” student at the college or university that your spouse attends. An auditing student is one who takes class for no credit. Ask about tuition costs.

Other Courses and Recreation: Most colleges and universities and some counties or metropolitan areas offer continuing education courses that do not award academic credit. The courses provide instruction in a wide range of subjects, from understanding computers to working on cars to cooking. Ask the international student adviser if there are such programs in your community.

Volunteer Work: Hospitals, schools, day care centers, and other public agencies welcome volunteers’ unpaid assistance. Opportunities are available in many fields. The yellow pages of the telephone book often has listings under “Volunteer Services” or “Social Service Organizations.” Otherwise, the university may have a volunteer office, which will be happy to help place you even though you are not a student. Alternatively, try searching on the Internet.

Clubs and Organizations: Many people enjoy clubs and organizations that focus on a common interest, such as gardening, cooking, music, drama, knitting, card playing, or exercise. Ask the international student adviser or someone at the public library for a list of such organizations.


 

 

4. Adjusting to a New Environment

Language Problems

Speaking a foreign language in a classroom is one thing, but living in a society where you have to use this language on a daily basis is completely different. Here are some language problems you may encounter while in the United States:

  • You might not understand the local accent right away. Regional accents vary greatly in the United States. In a group of people from all corners of the United States, Americans can usually easily pick out who is from Boston, New York, the Midwest, or the South, just by the way they speak. Give yourself time to get used to the local accent, and in time you will probably find yourself speaking in the same way.
  • Americans might not understand you right away. You will also have your own accent and you might use a different vocabulary. Try to speak slowly at first to make sure you are understood. Do not be shy to ask others to speak slowly if you have trouble understanding them.
  • Americans use a lot of slang and jargon in their speech. Their language is very colorful and full of imagery and it might take some time to completely understand it.
  • Humor, wit, and sarcasm are an integral part of American English. Some international students have trouble adapting to this informal style of conversation or understanding whether the person they are speaking with is being serious or not. This, however, should be interpreted as a mark of friendliness rather than a show of disrespect.
  • You might not know all of the abbreviations and technical terms used in your study program or workplace. Terms such as “poli sci” for political science, “dorms” for dormitories, or “TA” for teaching assistant, are just a few examples of campus slang you will encounter. The abbreviation is often the first syllable of the word or, if two or more words are together, their initials. If you do not understand a word or an abbreviation, simply ask the meaning.

Give yourself time to adapt to the language and do not hesitate to ask people to repeat what they have said, speak slowly, or explain what they mean. It would be wise to carry a small dictionary with you in case of emergency. Most importantly, do not be afraid to make mistakes. This will all be part of your learning experience

Culture Shock

Culture shock is the process of adjusting to a new country and a new culture, which may be dramatically different from your own. You no longer see the familiar signs and faces of home. Climate, food, and landscapes, as well as people and their ways all seem strange to you. Your English may not be as good as you expected. You may suffer, to an unexpected degree, from the pressures of U.S. academic life and the fast pace of life.

If you feel this way, do not panic. Culture shock is a normal reaction. As you become adjusted to U.S. culture and attitudes and begin to know your way around, you will start to adapt to and understand your new surroundings and way of life.

International students experience culture shock in varying degrees; some hardly notice it at all, while others find it terribly difficult to adapt. There are usually four stages of culture shock that you will experience.

The “Honeymoon” Stage
The first few weeks in your new home will be very exciting. Everything will be new and interesting, and you will likely be so busy getting settled and starting classes that you may hardly notice that you miss home.

Irritability and Hostility
As you begin to realize that you are not on vacation and that this is where you live, you might experience anger and hostility. Sometimes you may feel hostile toward Americans and their way of doing things, and even trivial irritations may cause hostility to flare.

Understanding and Adjustment
In time you will come to better understand your new environment and will find, maybe even unconsciously, that you are adjusting to your new home. You will experience less frequent feelings of hostility and irritability.

Integration and Acceptance
Finally, you will find that you have come to feel that, at least on some level, you consider your university or college and your new town, your home. You will have made friends and will feel that your community accepts you just as you have accepted it.

The length and intensity of each stage depends upon the individual, but no one escapes it completely. The important thing to remember is that you are not the only one experiencing these feelings. Many others before you have gone through it, and there are others all around you who are dealing with culture shock. Below are some of the common symptoms of culture shock and some suggestions to help you get over these hurdles.

Homesickness
You miss your homeland, your family, and your friends. You frequently think of home, call or write letters to your family and friends often, and maybe even cry a lot.

It is good to keep in contact with home, but do not let this get in the way of meeting new friends and enjoying your new home. Make an effort to meet new people, in your residence hall, in class, and through the international student center. You might also want to join a committee, interest group, or sports team on campus or in your city. Find one thing with which you are comfortable: for example, music, food, or an activity; and make this the starting point toward making yourself feel at home in America.

Hostility
Minor irritations make you unusually angry, and you feel life in the United States is the cause of your problem. You feel your expectations have not been met.

It takes time to get used to life in a foreign country and many things need to be relearned. Be patient and ask questions when you feel you do not understand. Maybe your expectations were too high or too low, and you need to readjust your perception of what it means to live and study in the United States. Talk to your international student adviser and try to find ways around the problems that are angering you.

Dependence
You become dependent on fellow nationals, friends, or your international student adviser and feel you cannot achieve anything by yourself. You are scared of doing things by yourself without somebody else’s help or approval.

It is good to have people you can depend on for the first few days. However, at the same time, you should gradually take on the challenges and “do it yourself.” It is all right to make mistakes and to learn from them. You should also try to make various types of friends, not just your fellow nationals, to fully take advantage of your American educational experience.

Loss of self-confidence
You feel everything you do is wrong, that nobody understands you, that you have trouble making friends. You start to question the way you dress and think because you are afraid not to fit in.

If you feel everything you do is wrong, ask for feedback from someone you can trust, such as a friend or your international student adviser. What may be wrong is not how others perceive you, but how you perceive yourself. You should not be worried about the way you look, act, or think. The United States is a very diverse country and Americans are used to people with different looks or ways of behaving. Most important, do not lose your sense of humor.

Values shock
You might find yourself facing situations that are not accepted in your culture and have trouble getting accustomed to them. For example, relationships between men and women, the informality of American life, political or religious attitudes, or the social behavior of Americans may seem amoral or unacceptable to you.

Look for information on the things that surprise you or make you feel uncomfortable, and try to remain flexible, respectful, and open-minded. This can be a great occasion to learn more about topics that might be less popular or taboo in your country. Try to enjoy the new cultural diversity and the various cultural points of view. It might be helpful to talk to someone from the same culture or religion who has been living in the United States for a while to discuss how this person has dealt with values shock.

Other strategies to cope with the stress of culture shock include:

  • Make sure you know what to expect before you arrive. Carefully read this guide and other books and magazines on the United States to find out more about American life and customs. It would be a good idea also to read up a bit on U.S. history to find out more about American people, their government, their national heroes, their holidays, and so on. This will help you orient yourself physically and mentally when you arrive in the United States.
  • Eat well, sleep well, and take good care of yourself.
  • Exercise is a great way to alleviate stress and tension. Join a sports club or pursue some outdoor activities.
  • Find some time to walk around your new neighborhood. This might help you develop a sense of home as you find the local stores, parks, activity centers, and so on. Try to carry a small map of the city with you so you will not get needlessly lost very often.
  • Keep in touch with family and friends to tell them about your experiences.
    Take some time to relax. Listen to music, read a book not related to your studies, and go to bed early once in a while.
  • Do not lose your sense of humor. Laugh at your mistakes rather than getting depressed about them.

“I had a lot of trouble at first getting adapted to living in the USA. What frustrated me most was that I did not know how even the simplest things worked! For example, I had never used an American-style washing machine before and ended up ruining some of my best clothing. It took me a long time also to get used to the American bank system, since I had never used automated teller machines or personal checks. Other simple things like temperatures and measurements, for example, were difficult to understand because Americans do not use the metric system like in my country. Sometimes I felt like a real idiot, and that made me quite depressed. But after a while, I could do all these things without even thinking about it. I guess I just had to give myself a bit of time to learn.”

– Diana, Bulgaria

If an Emergency Occurs at Home

Although it is not probable, it is possible that while you are in the United States, a medical, financial, or family problem could arise at home, and you will need to decide how to respond to it.

Fortunately, e-mail and the telephone usually make communications with home relatively easy. Consult with your family or friends to find out the seriousness of the problem before you decide too hastily what you should do. Here are a few things to consider in such situations:

Academic Issues: If you decide to leave, make sure your academic work will not suffer. You should meet with your academic adviser, the international student adviser, and (for master’s and doctoral students) your thesis director. If you miss a significant amount of work, a professor may grant you an “incomplete” as a final grade, meaning that you will have a chance to make up the work in the next semester. You might also be allowed to drop some classes, but in that case you would not get a grade or credit for the work done.

Financial Issues: First of all, a trip back home might be expensive and could seriously impact your budget, especially if it is during peak seasons. Secondly, if you leave for a long period, your tuition as well as the status of scholarships and grants might be affected. If you need to depart for an extended period, make sure to contact your university’s financial aid office to discuss your situation. Your international student adviser can help you consider your options and can also help you deal with the university’s administration.

Reentry Into the United States: Whenever you leave the country, you should check with your international student adviser to make sure you have the appropriate visa and documents to reenter the United States. If your visa expires while you are gone, if you had a single-entry visa, or if you are away for an extended period, you might need to reapply at your local U.S. embassy for a valid student visa.

Family Issues: Sometimes families are reluctant to inform students living abroad of emergencies at home in order not to burden them. But not knowing fully what is going on at home can be frustrating for an international student. You and your family should discuss this issue before you leave to define what you will expect from each other during your stay in the United States.

You Are Not Alone: If an emergency situation does arise, you can expect to receive support from your international student adviser, school officials, and friends. They are there to listen to you, and they can be helpful as you decide what to do.

Getting Involved in the Community

There are many community organizations and no two are alike. Some offer short-term loan funds, others have special holiday hospitality programs, and still others operate “speakers’ bureaus,” which arrange visits by international students to local schools and organizations. A community group affiliated with your campus may offer training courses for spouses, language classes, and even a “meet-and-greet” program for new arrivals. The important point to remember is that these organizations were formed to help international students and their families, and they are almost always made up of volunteers. They want to meet you and your dependents and assist you in any way they can. If you need any of their services, do not hesitate to use them. Below are just two of the many types of programs you can participate in or join.

Host Family Programs
These programs match a U.S. family with an international student for the purpose of friendship and culture sharing. Many students believe that host families provide housing, but this is not usually the case. Rather, the program arranges for students to visit a family’s home for meals, especially during special occasions such as the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. Sometimes, if the relationship becomes close, a student may visit his or her host family much more often. Typically, a host family program offers the opportunity for friendship with a family and for learning about U.S. family life and culture, as well as a chance to share your culture with that family. If your community offers a host family program, you should certainly consider participating in it.

Clothing Banks
Some community programs organize “clothing banks,” a collection of used clothing donated by people who want to assist newcomers to this country. Many of these banks exist in the northern areas of the United States where the cold winter climate requires heavy clothing that some international students may not have when they arrive. Since this type of clothing can be very expensive, such banks serve a useful purpose, especially for students with little extra money.


 

 

5. Society and Culture in the United States

Americans

You certainly have heard stories, good or bad, about American people. You also probably have preconceived ideas from having met Americans before or from films and television programs that color your impression of what Americans are and what they do. However, American society is enormously diverse and complex and cannot be reduced only to a few stories or stereotypes. Important differences exist between geographical regions, between rural and urban areas, and between social classes. In addition, the presence of millions of immigrants who came to the United States from all corners of the world with their own culture and values adds even more variety and flavor to American life.

The characteristics described below represent that image of U.S. society that is thought of as being “typically American.”

Individuality
Probably above everything else, Americans consider themselves individuals. There are strong family ties and strong loyalties to groups, but individuality and individual rights are most important. If this seems like a selfish attitude, it also leads Americans to an honest respect for other individuals and an insistence on human equality.

Related to this respect for individuality are American traits of independence and self-reliance. From an early age, children are taught to “stand on their own two feet,” an idiom meaning to be independent. You may be surprised to learn that most U.S. students choose their own classes, select their own majors, follow their own careers, arrange their own marriages, and so on, instead of adhering to the wishes of their parents.

Honesty and frankness are two more aspects of American individuality, and they are more important to Americans than personal honor or “saving face.” Americans may seem blunt at times, and in polite conversations they may bring up topics and issues that you find embarrassing, controversial, or even offensive. Americans are quick to get to the point and do not spend much time on social niceties. This directness encourages Americans to talk over disagreements and to try to patch up misunderstandings themselves, rather than ask a third party to mediate disputes.

Again, “individuality” is the key word when describing Americans, whether it is their personalities or their style of dress. Generally though, Americans like to dress and entertain informally and treat each other in a very informal way, even when there is a great difference in age or social standing. Students and professors often call each other by their first names. International students may consider this informality disrespectful, even rude, but it is part of American culture. Although there are times when Americans are respectful of, and even sentimental about, tradition, in general there is little concern for set social rules.

Competitiveness
Americans place a high value on achievement and this leads them to constantly compete against each other. You will find friendly, and not-so-friendly, competition everywhere. The American style of friendly joking or banter, of “getting in the last word,” and the quick and witty reply are subtle forms of competition. Although such behavior is natural to Americans, some international students might find it overbearing and disagreeable.

Americans can also be obsessed with records of achievement in sports, in business, or even in more mundane things. Books and movies, for example, are sometimes judged not so much on quality but on how many copies are sold or on how many dollars of profit are realized. In the university as well, emphasis is placed on achievement, on grades, and on one’s grade point average (GPA).

On the other hand, even if Americans are often competitive, they also have a good sense of teamwork and of cooperating with others to achieve a specific goal.

Measuring Success
Americans are often accused of being materialistic and driven to succeed. How much money a person has, how much profit a business deal makes, or how many material goods an individual accumulates is often their definition of success. This goes back to American competitiveness. Most Americans keep some kind of appointment calendar and live according to schedules. They always strive to be on time for appointments. To international students, American students seem to always be in a hurry, and this often makes them appear rude. However, this attitude makes Americans efficient, and they usually are able to get many things done, in part, by following their schedules.

Many Americans, however, do not agree with this definition of success; they enjoy life’s simple pleasures and are neither overly ambitious nor aggressive. Many Americans are materially successful and still have time to appreciate the cultural, spiritual, and human aspects of life.

Social Customs

Greetings

  • “How do you do,” “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” and “Good evening” are formal greetings; usually people will usually simply say “Hi” or “Hello.”
  • Upon meeting each other for the first time, men always shake hands, firmly. Women often shake hands with people they meet, but it is not universal. Upon leaving, Americans will usually say “Good-bye” or simply “Bye.” More expressive salutations include “Have a nice day,” “Nice to see you,” or “See you later.”
  • Good friends, family members, or people in a romantic relationship might give each other a hug or even kiss upon meeting one another. This kind of greeting is reserved only for people who know each other very well and share a very close relationship.
  • Remember that social customs might vary in different parts of the country and between younger and older people.

Use of Names

  • First names are more readily used in the United States than in other countries. It is almost always acceptable to use the first name of someone of approximately your same age or younger as soon as you meet the person.
  • You should say “Mr.” (for men) or “Ms.” (for women) and the person’s last name when talking to people in positions of authority, your professors, or your elders, unless they ask you to call them by their first name.
  • Some American women prefer to be called “Ms.” (pronounced “mizz”) rather than “Miss” or “Mrs.” This is a neutral form of address that can be used for married and unmarried women and can be useful if you do not know the marital status of the woman you are talking or writing to.
  • It is not the custom in the United States to use “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Miss,” or “Ms.” with a first or given name. For example, if you meet someone whose name is Larry Jones, you would say “Mr. Jones” and not “Mr. Larry.”
  • The use of nicknames is fairly common in the United States. Being called by a nickname is not uncomplimentary if done in good taste, and is often considered as a sign of acceptance and affection.
  • Do not be shy to ask people how they would like you to call them and to say what you would like them to call you. This will make introductions easier.

Friendliness and Friendships
Americans are reputed to be friendly people. It is not uncommon for Americans to be informal and casual, even with perfect strangers. When in the United States, do not be surprised if somebody you do not know says “Hi!” to you for no reason. However, there is a difference between friendliness and friendships. As in any culture, it takes time for friendships and close relationships to form.

Americans’ friendships tend to be shorter and more casual than friendships among people from some other cultures. It is not uncommon for Americans to have only one close friendship during their lifetime and to consider other friends to be merely social acquaintances. This attitude probably has something to do with American mobility and the fact that Americans do not like to be dependent on other people. They tend to compartmentalize friendships, having “friends at work,” “friends on the basketball team,” and “family friends,” for example. Here are some other characteristics of Americans’ behavior in social situations:

  • Americans might refer to acquaintances or people they meet in class as “friends.” However, there are different levels of friendship, and even if they call these people friends, they do not always have close emotional ties to them.
  • In the United States, people often will ask, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” when you meet them. These are usually polite phrases more than personal questions, and they do not always expect an honest answer. If you are well acquainted with this person, you might say how you truly are feeling. If not, the accepted response is usually “Fine, thank you. How are you?” even if you are not feeling very well.
  • Americans often communicate with touch, by putting a hand on somebody’s shoulder to express warmth of feeling, by giving a nudge to express humor, or a pat on the back to express reassurance. Often they will hug when meeting. These friendly gestures are common and should not be interpreted as intrusive or disrespectful.
  • Even if Americans tend to touch each other more often than in some other cultures, they usually maintain a relatively large physical distance between one another during conversations or social meetings. Everybody has a different “comfort zone” around them; do not be offended if an American takes a step back as you approach him or her in a conversation.
  • Men and women often have long-term platonic relationships, which can surprise some foreign visitors. People of the opposite sex might go to the movies, a restaurant, a concert, or other event together without ever being romantically involved.
  • Americans generally enjoy welcoming people into their homes and are pleased if you accept their hospitality. Do not hesitate or feel uncomfortable to accept invitations, even if you cannot reciprocate; they know you are away from home and will not expect you to do so.
  • Participating in campus life is a good way to make friends. Every university offers various organizations, committees, sports clubs, academic societies, religious groups, and other activities where everyone with an interest can take part.

As in any culture, it takes time to make good friends. Just be patient, try to meet as many people as possible, and with time you may form friendships while in the United States that could last a lifetime.

Because the United States is a highly active society, full of movement and change, people always seem to be on the go. In this highly charged atmosphere, Americans can sometimes seem brusque or impatient. They want to get to know you as quickly as possible and then move on to something else. Sometimes, early on, they will ask you questions that you may feel are very personal. No insult is intended; the questions usually grow out of their genuine interest or curiosity and their impatience to get to the heart of the matter. And the same goes for you. If you do not understand certain American behavior or you want to know more about what makes Americans “tick,” do not hesitate to ask them questions about themselves. Americans are usually eager to explain all about their country or anything American in which you might be interested. So much so in fact, that you may become tired of listening. Americans also tend to be uncomfortable with silence during a conversation. They would rather talk about the weather or the latest sports scores, for example, than deal with silence.

On the other hand, do not expect Americans to be knowledgeable about international geography or world affairs unless something directly involves the United States. Because the United States is geographically distant from many other nations, some Americans tend not to be aware of what goes on in other parts of the world.

Social Invitations

  • Americans tend to be very polite people. This is often expressed in conversations. It is common for an American to end a conversation by saying: “Let’s get together sometime,” “Come by for a visit when you have a chance,” or “Let’s meet for coffee.” However, these invitations are usually not intended to be taken literally. An invitation is not firm unless a time and place is set.
  • If you have accepted an invitation or if a meeting has been set, Americans usually expect you to arrive at the agreed location at the right time. It is considered impolite to accept an invitation and not show up or to arrive more than 10 to 20 minutes late. Americans tend to be quite punctual. If you have to cancel an appointment or know that you will not be able to be on time, you should call your friend or host to cancel or reschedule.
  • If you are invited to a person’s home for a party or dinner, it would be a good idea to ask if this will be a formal, semiformal, or casual occasion, since the way you dress can be considered important for certain events.
  • When formally invited to someone’s home, it is considerate to bring a gift to your host. Common gifts are a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or flowers. No gift is expected when friends visit each other casually.
  • Thank your host or hostess when you leave. It is considerate to send a thank you note as well or to telephone your thanks the following day.

Dating and Relationships
For many international students, American dating and relationship rituals can be one of the most difficult things to understand. Unlike many other cultures, American culture does not have an accepted pattern of behavior that regulates romantic relationships. While not universally true, you may find the following general comments useful.

  • Men and women generally treat each other as equals and in an informal, casual way. There is often friendly teasing between men and women.
  • Traditionally, men ask women on dates, but it is considered acceptable for a woman to ask a man out.
  • Expenses on a date are sometimes paid by one person or sometimes split between the two. The man will usually offer to pay but will usually not protest if the woman offers to pay in part.
  • Going on a date in American society is to express the desire to get to know the other person better. It does not assume any kind of sexual involvement. It is unacceptable (and in some cases even criminal) to impose one’s sexual desires on another person. Make sure you respect the other person’s wishes and, likewise, make sure you are not forced to do something you do not want to do.
  • Homosexual relationships, even if not widespread, are commonplace in the United States. While many people are still uncomfortable with gays (homosexual men) or lesbians (homosexual women), it is usually not accepted to discriminate or make derogatory comments against them. If you are gay or lesbian, you will be able to find organizations, newspapers, and magazines targeted to you in most American cities and on some university campuses. If you are not homosexual and somebody of the same sex expresses an interest, do not be offended; just decline politely.
  • Remember that every situation is different and must be approached with consideration for the other person’s standards, values, and sensitivities. Remember as well that HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases are present in the United States, and you should always take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from infection.

“I was an MBA student in the USA and I lived in the university’s coed dormitory. In my culture, usually, if a woman talks to a man, it is a sign of romantic interest. Therefore, in the first few days of school, I found it strange that so many women were talking to me and I was under the impression that some women on my dormitory floor were interested in me. To return their politeness, I would buy them flowers or offer small gifts, as is done in my country. However, I was quite surprised to see that these same women now seemed uncomfortable around me. One was even quite offended and told me to leave her alone. Eventually I talked to the residence adviser on my floor to see what I was doing wrong, and he explained to me the way men and women usually interact in the USA. I was quite relieved to hear that nothing was wrong with me, but rather with the way I was interpreting my conversations with women. Even though I did not find the love of my life while I was in the USA, I still made many good female friends afterwards with whom I still maintain contact.”
Nawuma, Republic of Togo

Personal Hygiene
Every culture has accepted standards when it comes to personal hygiene. Foreign visitors should therefore be aware of what Americans consider appropriate and proper hygiene practices. For some, American standards might seem exaggerated, unnatural, or even offensive. However, if you want to fit in more easily, you will want to adopt the practices that prevail in the United States, even though doing so might not be easy. Here are a few tips and suggestions:

  • As a general rule, Americans usually consider that the odors that the human body naturally produces: the odors of perspiration or breath, for example, are unpleasant. Americans usually wash with soap at least once a day to control body odors and brush their teeth with toothpaste at least in the morning and evening. In addition, they use underarm deodorant/antiperspirant to control perspiration odors, and they wash their hair as often as necessary to keep it from becoming oily.
  • While the practice is not universal, many people use perfume, cologne, mouthwash, and other scented products to give themselves an odor that others will presumably find pleasant. However, Americans generally do not like others to use “too much” of a scented product. Too much means that the smell is discernible from more than a meter or two away.
  • Most American women, though not all, shave the hair from their underarms and their lower legs. Women also wear varying amounts of makeup on their faces. The amount of makeup considered acceptable is based solely on personal tastes and preferences. However, some women do not shave their body hair or wear any makeup at all, and they still fit in, without problem, in American society. It is a matter of personal choice.
  • Clothing should not emit bodily odors. The American practice is to wash clothing that has taken on the smell of the wearer’s perspiration before it is worn again.
  • The basic idea is that you should be clean. Makeup, perfume, and cologne are not necessary for social acceptance, but cleanliness is definitely expected.

Sports, Recreation and Entertainment

The United States offers limitless opportunities for sports, recreation, and entertainment. Cities large and small offer numerous indoor and outdoor opportunities. Almost every city or town in the United States with college and university students will likely offer those students ways to kick back, run around, and have a good time.

Sports and activities
Sports make up a considerable portion of the United States economy and culture. People can be found anywhere in the United States who are interested in participating in almost any sport. The most popular sports in the United States are arguably baseball, American football, basketball, and hockey. Football (called soccer in the United States) is very popular in secondary schools, colleges, and universities, but is still in the process of becoming a popular professional sport. Rugby and cricket are also popular intramural collegiate sports.

Recreation and Entertainment
Students less interested in competitive sports are certainly not left without entertainment. The United States claims the most successful cinema industry in the world, and if a town or city has a college or university, then it likely has a movie theater. Movie tickets usually cost between USD2 and USD15, depending on where you are in the country and how long the movie has been released.

Most colleges and universities arrange a great deal of on-campus programming for their students’ enjoyment. Comedians, musical groups, theater troupes, guest lecturers, actors, actresses, writers, poets, playwrights, stunt teams, and even traveling massage therapy clinics are regular guests at American institutions of higher learning.

An Active Social Life
American institutions of higher learning have high expectations for their students. However, college and university faculty realize that students need to take a break from studying and enjoy themselves, as well. Students at American colleges and universities can engage in any number of competitive and intramural sports through their universities, play at a local gym or park, organize their own sports leagues, or enjoy the local community and surroundings. The myriad opportunities for sports, recreation, and entertainment mean students are never without “something to do” and can engage in an active and vital social life with friends and peers.


 

 

6. Glossary of Terms

Academic adviser : A member of a college faculty who helps and advises students solely on academic matters.

Academic year : The period of formal instruction, usually September to May; may be divided into terms of varying lengths: semesters, trimesters, or quarters.

Accreditation : Approval of colleges and universities by nationally recognized professional associations or regional accrediting bodies.

Add/Drop : A process at the beginning of the term whereby students can delete or add classes with an instructor’s permission.

Advance registration : A process of choosing classes in advance of other students.

Affidavit of support : An official document proving a promise of funding from an individual or organization.

Assistantship : A study grant of financial assistance to a graduate student that is offered in return for certain services in teaching or laboratory supervision as a teaching assistant, or for services in research as a research assistant.

Audit : To take a class without receiving credit toward a degree.

Baccalaureate degree : The degree of “bachelor” conferred upon graduates of most U.S. colleges and universities.

Bachelor’s degree : Degree awarded upon completion of approximately four years of full-time study in the liberal arts and sciences or professional subjects. It is a prerequisite to study in a graduate program.

Bulletin : A publication created each year by a university or college that contains the details of academic majors offered and the requirements for completing them. Usually includes a listing and description of every class the institution offers.

Campus : The land on which the buildings of a college or university are located.

Class rank : A number or ratio indicating a student’s academic standing in his or her graduating class. A student who ranks first in a class of 100 students would report his or her class rank as 1/100, while a student ranking last would report 100/100. Class rank may also be expressed in percentiles (for example, the top 25 percent, the lower 50 percent).

Coed : A college or university that admits both men and women; also refers to a dormitory that houses both men and women.

College : A postsecondary institution that provides undergraduate education and, in some cases, master’s level degrees. College, in a separate sense, is a division of a university; for example, College of Business.

College catalog : An official publication giving information about a university’s academic programs, facilities, entrance requirements, and student life.

Conditional admission : An acceptance to a college or university that is dependent upon the individual completing coursework or meeting specified criteria prior to enrollment.

Core requirements : Mandatory courses required for completion of a degree.

Course : Regularly scheduled class sessions of one to five hours (or more) per week during a term. A degree program is made up of a specified number of required and elective courses and varies from institution to institution.

Course load : The number of courses or credits taken in a specific term.

Credits : Units institutions use to record the completion of courses (with passing grades) that are required for an academic degree. The catalog of a college or university defines the number and kinds of credits that are required for the university’s degrees and states the value of each course offered in terms of “credit hours” or “units.”

Culture shock : The mental shock of adjusting to a new country and a new culture, which may be dramatically different from your own.

Dean : Director or highest authority within a certain professional school or college of a university.

Degree : Diploma or title conferred by a college, university, or professional school upon completion of a prescribed program of studies.

Department : Administrative subdivision of a school, college, or university through which instruction in a certain field of study is given (such as English department or history department).

Dissertation : Thesis written on an original topic of research, usually presented as one of the final requirements for a doctoral degree(Ph.D.).

Doctorate (Ph.D.) : The highest academic degree conferred by a university to students who have completed at least three years of graduate study beyond the bachelor’s and/or master’s degree and who have demonstrated their academic ability in oral and written examinations and through original research presented in the form of a dissertation.

Dormitories : Housing facilities on the campus of a college or university reserved for students. A typical dormitory would include student rooms, bathrooms, common rooms, and possibly a cafeteria.

Drop : See “Withdrawal.”

Electives : Courses that students may choose to take for credit toward their intended degree, as distinguished from courses that they are required to take.

English as a Second Language (ESL) : A course used to teach English to students whose first language is not English.

Extracurricular activities : Nonacademic activities undertaken outside university courses.

Faculty : The members of the teaching staff, and occasionally the administrative staff, of an educational institution. The faculty is responsible for designing the plans of study offered by the institution.

Fees : An amount charged by universities, in addition to tuition, to cover costs of institutional services.

Fellowship : A form of financial assistance, usually awarded to a graduate student. Generally, no service is required of the student in return.

Financial aid :  A general term that includes all types of money, loans, and work-study programs offered to a student to help pay tuition, fees, and living expenses.

Freshman : A first-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Full-time student : A student who is enrolled at a university and is taking at least the minimum number of credits (often 12) to meet the university’s requirement for a full course load.

Grade Point Average (GPA) : A system of recording achievement based on a numerical average of the grades attained in each course.

Graduate : A student who has completed a course of study, either at the secondary or university level. A graduate program at a university is a study course for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree.

Gran : A form of financial aid.

Incomplete : A designation given in lieu of a grade for a course that has not been completed (with permission). The student will be given a specified period for completion of the coursework, after which an “F” (a failing grade) will result.

Independent study : Official coursework undertaken outside a classroom setting. It will usually be monitored by an instructor.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) : The U.S. government body that oversees the collection of income taxes.

International student adviser (ISA) : The person at a university who is in charge of providing information and guidance to international students in such areas as government regulations, visas, academic regulations, social customs, language, financial or housing problems, travel plans, insurance, and legal matters.

Internship : Placement of a student in a work environment in order to acquire professional experience.

Junior : A third-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Language requirement : A requirement of some graduate programs that students must show basic reading and writing proficiency in one other language besides their own to receive their degree.

Lease : A legal document to show an agreement between the owner (landlord) and the renter of an apartment or other property.

Lecture : Common method of instruction in college and university courses; a professor lectures in classes of 20 to several hundred students. Lectures may be supplemented with regular small group discussions led by teaching assistants.

Liberal arts : A term referring to academic studies of subjects in the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences. Also called “liberal arts and sciences” or “arts and sciences.”

Loan : A sum of money lent to an individual (or organization) with an agreement to repay the money, possibly with interest.

Maintenance : Refers to the expenses of attending a university, including room (living quarters) and board (meals), books, clothing, laundry, local transportation, and incidentals.

Major : The subject in which a student wishes to concentrate.

Major professor/thesis adviser : For research degrees, the professor who works closely with a student in planning and choosing a research plan, in conducting the research, and in presenting the results. The major professor serves as the head of a committee of faculty members who review progress and results.

Master’s degree : Degree awarded upon completion of academic requirements that usually include a minimum of one year’s study beyond the bachelor’s degree.

Midterm exam : An exam administered after half the academic term has passed that covers all class material studied until that point.

Minor : A subject in which the student takes the second greatest concentration of courses.

Nonresident : A student who does not meet the residence requirements of the state. Tuition fees and admission policies may differ for residents and nonresidents. International students are usually classified as nonresidents, and there is little possibility of changing to resident status at a later date for tuition purposes.

Notarization : The certification of a document (or a statement or signature) as authentic and true by a public official (known in the United States as a “notary public”) or a lawyer who is also a commissioner of oaths.

Part-time student : A student who is enrolled at a university but is not taking the minimum number of credits (often 12) to meet the university’s requirement for a full course load.

Placement test : An examination used to test a student’s academic ability in a certain field so that he or she may be placed in the appropriate courses in that field. In some cases, a student may be given academic credit based on the results of a placement test.

Plagiarism : The use of another person’s words or ideas as your own.

Postdoctorate : Studies designed for those who have completed a doctoral degree (Ph.D.).

Prerequisite : Program or course that a student is required to complete before being permitted to enroll in a more advanced program or course.

Registration : Process through which students select courses to be taken during a quarter, semester, or trimester.

Resident assistant (RA) : A person who assists the residence hall director in campus dormitories and is usually the first point of contact for students with problems or queries regarding dorm life. RAs are usually students at the college who receive free accommodation and other benefits in return for their services.

Reverse culture shock : The culture shock an individual experiences upon returning to their home country after living abroad.

Scholarship : A study grant of financial aid, usually given at the undergraduate level, that may take the form of a waiver of tuition and/or fees.

Semester : Period of study lasting approximately 15 to 16 weeks or one-half the academic year.

Senior : A fourth-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Social Security Number : A number issued to people by the U.S. government for payroll deductions for old age, survivors, and disability insurance. Anyone who works regularly must obtain a Social Security Number. Many institutions use this number as the student identification number.

Sophomore : A second-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Special student : A student at a college or university who is not enrolled as a candidate for a degree. Also may be referred to as a nondegree, nonmatriculating, or visiting student.

Teaching Assistant (TA) : A graduate student who acts as instructor for an undergraduate course in his or her field, in return for some form of financial aid from the university.

Thesis : A written work containing the results of research on a specific topic prepared by a candidate for a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Transcript : A certified copy (see “Notarization”) of a student’s educational record.

Trimester : Period of study consisting of approximately three equal terms of 16 weeks during the academic year.

Tuition : The money an institution charges for instruction and training (does not include the cost of books).

Undergraduate studies : Two-year or four-year programs at a college or university, undertaken after secondary school graduation and leading to the associate or bachelor’s degree.

University : A large postsecondary institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Withdrawal : The administrative procedure of dropping a course or leaving a university.

Zip code : A series of numbers in mailing addresses that designate postal delivery districts in the United States.