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 Living in the U.S. 

The best source for information, advice, and support about living in the United States is the international office at the college you will be attending. This office will be able to provide you with the answers you need or refer you to a person or office that can. It is also a good idea to purchase a travel guide for the region of the United States where you will be living. Such books offer general information about living in the United States and detailed information about specific regions and states.

Housing

You should plan to make housing arrangements through your college before you arrive. There are several options for consideration, whether you choose to live on or off campus.

Dormitories

More than 250 U.S. community colleges have campus dormitories (dorms)—buildings with rooms for students attending that college. Living in a dorm allows you to interact with fellow students and experience the camaraderie that is typical of college life. Most dorms provide meals in a common dining hall so that you can eat with other students and do not have to cook. Depending on the college, dorms may be all female, all male, or coed (female and male students living in the same building). If you have a preference for a particular type of dorm, inform your college’s international office and note your preference on the housing request form. Dorms usually consist of single rooms, shared rooms, or suites (bedrooms joined by a common living area). Bathrooms in dorms are often shared with other students. If you are admitted to a college that has dorms and you prefer to be housed in one, contact your college as soon as possible to request dorm housing. If it is unclear how to make the request, the international office can guide you.

Homestays

Homestay arrangements are designed to provide a rich intercultural experience. Living with a host family will provide you with excellent opportunities to practice English and experience U.S. life and culture firsthand. Many community colleges arrange homestays for a semester, a year, or other time period. Some host families provide meals, family activities, and transportation to the college. Host families often treat students as family members and spend time showing them around the local community.

Apartments

Apartments near the college campus provide you with opportunities to live on your own or with other students. Living with other students is a good way to make new friends and share expenses for rent and utilities. The college’s international office may keep a bulletin board with announcements of available apartments and other students who seek roommates. You can e-mail the college in advance of your departure so you can contact potential roommates before arriving. There are two types of apartments for rent:

  • Furnished apartments include essential furniture such as beds, sofas, chairs, and tables.
  • Unfurnished apartments may have only kitchen appliances, such as a refrigerator and stove.

Rooms for Rent

Your college’s international office may maintain a list of families and individuals in the local community who rent bedrooms in their homes. Usually, these rentals offer kitchen privileges. When choosing a room to rent, you should find out how far the home is from the college and make the necessary arrangements for transportation to and from the campus.

Managing Your Money

U.S. Currency

Paper money (also referred to as bills or cash) is all the same size and mostly green in color. Common U.S. denominations are $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. Larger denominations are not circulated.

Checking and Savings Accounts

It is a good idea to open a checking account to pay bills such as rent and utilities. You can deposit cash or traveler’s checks to open and maintain the account or have money wired from a bank in your home country for an additional fee. You can deposit and withdraw money from a checking account at any time. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures all U.S. bank accounts against loss up to US$250,000. If you want to keep money for future use and have it earn interest, you may want to also open a savings account. You can transfer money from a savings to a checking account, and you can withdraw savings at any time; however, you cannot write checks from a savings account.

ATM, Debit, and Credit Cards

Your bank will give you an automated teller machine (ATM) card to let you withdraw money from your checking or savings account at any time, even when the bank is closed. Some ATM cards are also debit cards that you can use like a credit card to make purchases. If you have an ATM card from a non-U.S. bank, ask the bank whether your personal identification number (PIN) will work in the United States. If you already have a major credit card (MasterCard, Eurocard, Access, Chargex, VISA, Barclaycard, Carte Bleue, or American Express), bring the card with you. This will allow U.S. banks to check your credit limit and help you obtain a credit card in the United States.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks are a safe way to transport money. Do not countersign or date the checks until you are ready to use them. If unsigned traveler’s checks are lost or stolen, you can get them replaced easily.

Exchanging Money

You can exchange foreign currency at most banks, airports, major hotels, Travelex, and American Express offices. A fee may be charged. Daily exchange rates are available on the OANDA Web site at www.oanda.com and on the XE Web site at www.xe.com/ucc.

Getting Around

Driving

If you want to drive or buy a car in the United States, contact your college’s international office for information about the laws that apply in your state. Once you satisfy the legal requirements, you can drive in any state. Be aware that it is illegal to drive without a license or vehicle insurance.

Public Transportation

Many U.S. cities have public transportation such as subways, buses, or commuter trains. If you choose to live off campus, you may want to find out which forms of public transportation are available to get you from your residence to the college and obtain route maps, timetables, and fare information. Often this information is available online.

Working in the United States

While studying in the United States, you will not be allowed to undertake paid work except under the following circumstances:

  • F-1 visa students may be eligible to work for the college where they are enrolled. Prior to starting work, you must obtain a Social Security number and complete a Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification). On-campus student employment is limited to 20 hours per week while college is in session, but you may be able to work full time on campus during vacation or break periods as long as you are registered for classes in the following semester.
  • F-1 visa students completing an associate degree can work for up to 1 year through an Optional Practical Training (OPT) program in their fields of study. OPT may be available on or off campus both during and after completion of your program of study. You do not need to change your visa status if you obtain OPT, but you will need written authorization from your college’s international student adviser.

Acclimating to U.S. Culture

Cultural Differences

Because it is natural to miss your family, friends, and home country, you may experience some culture shock at the beginning of your stay in the United States. Culture shock is the process of adjusting to differences you may experience in a new country and culture. These differences include types of food, climate, lifestyle, scenery, and the pressure and fast pace of U.S. academic life. Be sure to ask both international and U.S. students to explain things that are unfamiliar to you. College counselors are available to talk with you about issues or problems you may experience. As you begin adjusting to U.S. culture and start knowing your way around, it will seem easier to adapt to and understand your new way of life and surroundings.

You can find more information about U.S. culture on the Web site of the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. Also talk to friends, family, or advisers that may have traveled to, or studied in, the United States. Here we offr a few minutes early for an appointment.

  • Classes almost always start at the exact time for which they are scheduled.
  • Exams start at an exact time. Never arrive late for an exam unless you have the instructor’s permission.
  • Always be on time for a job interview or other formal appointment.
  • Although doctors’ offices often run behind schedule, you should arrive on time.
  • The continental United States (not including Alaska or Hawaii) has four major time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. The time differences vary from 1 to 3 hours.

Attire

  • Casual attire—jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers or flip-flops are considered everyday casual wear by most young people. Casual attire is acceptable in classrooms.
  • Business attire—suits, ties, and dress shirts and shoes are usually worn to job interviews, business offices, and sometimes to special events like weddings, funerals, or receptions.

Greetings

  • People shake hands in formal settings or when meeting someone for the first time.
  • Friends often greet each other with a hug or a kiss on theer just a few basic tips.

Dates

  • Dates are usually written with the month first, the day second, and the year last: February 8, 2011, or 2/8/11.

Time

  • It is customary to arrive at the specified time or a few minutes early for an appointment.
  • Classes almost always start at the exact time for which they are scheduled.
  • Exams start at an exact time. Never arrive late for an exam unless you have the instructor’s permission.
  • Always be on time for a job interview or other formal appointment.
  • Although doctors’ offices often run behind schedule, you should arrive on time.
  • The continental United States (not including Alaska or Hawaii) has four major time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. The time differences vary from 1 to 3 hours.
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