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International Student Resources: Living in the United States

This is a libguide with resources for international students at Eastern Nazarene College

Transitioning to Life in the United States

Cultural Adjustment

Living in a culture that is different from your own can be both an exciting adventure and a challenging process. Regardless of what country you are from, it is common for all international students to go through a period of cultural adjustment. Understanding this adjustment process and getting support through this transition will help you to have a more fulfilling experience, both academically and personally.

Culture shock

The values, social norms, and traditions in the U.S. may be very different from beliefs about "how things should be" in the country where you grew up. When individuals move to another culture, they naturally carry their own background and life experiences with them, and these shape how they perceive and adjust to their new environment. For example, some of you may find American classroom culture easy to adjust to, while others may struggle significantly in this area. "Culture shock" is a common experience that describes the feelings of confusion, stress and disorientation that occur when entering an unfamiliar culture. Keep in mind that not everyone has the same reactions to cultural adjustment and may experience the symptoms of culture shock in varying degrees, and at different times. Common reactions to culture shock include:

  • extreme homesickness
  • avoiding social situations
  • physical complaints and sleep difficulties
  • difficulty with coursework and inability to concentrate
  • becoming angry over minor irritations
  • significant nervousness or exhaustion

Strategies to help you cope with the adjustment process

  • Culture is relative 
    Culture is relative, which explains why individuals from different cultures may perceive American norms differently. For some, the American communication style may seem too direct, while others may find it not direct enough. As an international student, you will be exposed to many new customs, habits and ideas. Try to avoid labeling them as "good" or "bad" according to the culture you are from. Remember that there may be parts of a culture you dislike or disapprove of, but these are part of a broader social system, and therefore make more sense inside that system.
  • Be open-minded and curious 
    Adjusting to a new culture does not mean that you have to change your own values, but it is important to respect those of other people. When you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, try to think of it as a new adventure. Allow yourself to be curious about the way things are perceived and done in this new environment.
  • Use your observation skills 
    Since you will encounter unfamiliar rules and norms, observing how others are acting in situations can help you understand what behavior is expected of you. Pay attention to both the verbal and nonverbal communication of others in order to get a more complete picture of what is going on.
  • Ask questions 
    Ask for help when you need it. Asking for assistance or an explanation does not have to be considered a sign of weakness. Understanding others and making yourself understood in a new language (or context) requires lots of rephrasing, repeating and clarification. It may be helpful to ask questions like "as I understand it you are saying... Is that correct?"
  • It's ok to experience anxiety 
    Learning to function in a new environment is not easy. It is natural to feel anxious or frustrated sometimes. The key is to remind yourself that these feelings are normal and are likely to be situational and temporary.
  • Give yourself (and others) permission to make mistakes 
    You will inevitably make mistakes as you explore a new culture. If you can find the humor in these situations and laugh at them, others will likely respond to you with friendliness and support. Keep in mind that others will probably make mistakes, too; when someone makes an inaccurate assumption or a generalized statement about your culture, it may be due to a lack of information. If you're comfortable with doing so, this can be an opportunity to share information with others about yourself and your culture.
  • Take care of your physical health 
    Be mindful about keeping a healthy diet and getting enough exercise and rest. Try to find an activity that you enjoy and make it part of your routine. Being physically active can help reduce your stress level.
  • Find a cultural ally 
    An American friend (or another international student who has been in the U.S. for several years) can be a great consultant on cultural expectations. When you have questions or need a second opinion on something, this person can help clarify confusions and provide support as you adjust to your new environment.
  • Seek out support from other international students 
    Many international students find it helpful to discuss their concerns with others who are going through similar transitions. Talking with others about their adjustment to the new culture can provide ideas and insights about your own experience. *
  • Be patient - don't try to understand everything immediately 
    The process of adjusting to a new culture requires time. It may also require a different amount of time for different areas of adjustment. Try to encourage yourself to be patient with this experience and not be overly critical of yourself.

Adapting to a new culture is an ongoing process. It may be challenging at times, but most students who experience culture shock agree that going through this transition helped them to learn more about themselves and to develop greater confidence in their ability to navigate new situations. It can also lead to a renewed appreciation of one's own culture. There are many people in the university community who are available to provide you with support. Keep in mind that you do not have to struggle alone.

Adapted from 

Classes in the United States

The American classroom is very unique. Many international students have never seen anything like it.

Lecture Format

There are different types of university classes. That is, they are taught in different formats. The most common format is a lecture.

  • A lecture is a speech delivered by a professor.
  • The speech is relevant to the class topic.
  • The lecture is different in each class.
  • Lectures are delivered to large classes.

Take notes during lectures. They will help you prepare for exams later.


A seminar is based on class discussion. That is, the professor will present a topic. This topic might be taken from the most recent reading assignment. She/he will begin a discussion and the students participate.

You’re encouraged to speak up in a seminar. You are allowed to disagree with someone. You can say so, as long as you say why. Ask questions. Creativity is encouraged.


Professors have office hours. These hours are good times to receive academic support. These are blocks of time when students can visit professors. This is a good time to discuss classwork with professors. It is also a good time to ask for help if you have concerns or struggles.

Office hours might conflict with your classes and activities. Your professor can still help you. You’ll need to schedule an appointment to see him. Your professor should provide his contact information at the first class. This is usually found on the syllabus. (A syllabus is a list of assignments for the semester.)

Get to know all your professors. Even if you don’t need help, introduce yourself. It is a good relationship to have in the future.

Remember: You must go see professors on your own. They will rarely invite you to meet. If you have something to discuss, take the initiative to schedule a meeting.


When you participate in discussions, remember a few things:

  • Don’t interrupt. Allow someone to finish his or her point before you make yours.
  • Be respectful.  Consider the backgrounds of your professor and classmates. Americans are very sensitive to comments about:
    • Age
    • Ethnicity
    • Gender
    • Race
    • Religion
    • Sexual orientation
  • Be original. Build on remarks made by others. Don’t just repeat them.

You should take notes in seminars. These will help you prepare for exams. They will also serve as a reference when you write papers.

Be sure to note which remarks were made by others. You can use other people’s comments as a reference for papers. But you cannot treat them like your own ideas. That might be considered plagiarism.

Cheating and Plagiarism

Americans are very sensitive about copying work. If you don’t credit someone else’s work, it’s plagiarism. Plagiarism is stealing someone else’s work or thoughts. It is considered cheating.

This applies to many situations. Suppose you are writing a paper. You have proposed a thought. You want to support that point with a fact. You may have read this fact in a book.

If that fact goes into your paper, you must cite the book. There are many ways to do this.

  • If you directly quote the author.
    • Let’s say the book is titled Shakespeare: The Biography.
    • The author is named Peter Ackroyd.
    • You might cite the book by directly quoting text. It might look like this:

According to Peter Ackroyd, author of Shakespeare: The Biography, “Most of the actors had their own specialty.”

  • You can also cite the book in a bibliography.
    • Different professors prefer different bibliography formats.
    • Find out which format your professor wants.
    • For the book above, a bibliography might look like this:

Ackroyd, Peter. Shakespeare: The Biography. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.

  • The bibliography above cites the book’s:
    • Author
    • Title
    • Publication city
    • Publishing company
    • Year published

Bibliographies are confusing to many students. If you are unsure how to credit someone’s work, ask your professor.

Citing work doesn’t just apply to books. If someone else said or wrote it, you must credit them. This applies to:

  • Class discussions
  • Encyclopedia articles
  • Internet websites
  • Interviews
  • Lectures
  • Magazines or newspapers

Don’t feel overwhelmed. Once you do one bibliography, it’s easy to do more. For more information on bibliographies and citations, visit ENC Library website: 


You can still be creative. Don’t let fear of plagiarism keep you from being original. Think of your paper as a private seminar. You can propose as many original thoughts as you want. No one can interrupt you. But remember:

  • Support your creative thoughts with facts.
  • Be sure to cite these facts.
  • Keep your paper organized.
    • Make an outline before you start.
    • Follow this outline as your write your paper.
    • Even if you are being creative, make sure the reader can follow your thoughts.

Many international students are not used to this. In the U.S., students are encouraged to think and speak independently. They are encouraged to question what they are taught. This is uncommon in many other countries. It might take some time before you are comfortable enough to speak up.

If you have any doubts, ask your professor. Chances are she will encourage you to be creative.

It’s important to pay attention. Listen to what your professor and classmates say. Note what is taught in reading materials. But reflect on them. If they don’t make sense, ask why. If you disagree, say why.

Banking in the United States

Opening and maintaining a checking, savings or credit card account

You may want to open a checking or savings account with a bank in the United States. These accounts are places to store your money. They help you keep track of money you are spending, earning and saving.

This is different from a credit card. With a checking or savings account, you can only spend money you actually have.

Checking and savings accounts allow you to deposit money you have earned.

When you open a checking account, you get paper checks. You can use them to pay for goods, services or bills. The business you have paid will have to process your check first. That amount will then be deducted for your checking account.

You can also get a debit card. A debit card can pay for things without writing out a paper check.

This card is similar to a credit card. It is plastic and equipped with a number. But when you pay with a debit card, money is immediately deducted from your checking account. On the other hand, a credit card balance can be paid later.

You can remove money from your checking account in the form of cash from automated teller machines (commonly called the “ATM”). Your debit card can be used for this.

You can also open a savings account. A savings account is good for storing money that you don’t wish to immediately spend. This money is good to save for emergencies or special occasions.

You might have to remove money from your savings account. You might also want to move it to a different account. This requires a transfer, which your bank can help you with. Money from your savings account can also be removed as cash from the ATM.

Most banks have websites. These websites can let you do many things through the Internet, like:

  • Check your balance
  • Transfer money between accounts
  • Pay bills on the Internet

These websites can also let people you trust access your account. You might want to give your parents access. That way, they can deposit money into your account(s) in case of emergency. Choose these people carefully.

Local banks close to ENC include:‚Äč

  • Colonial Federal Savings Bank (this bank has an ATM on campus and is a 5 minute walk away, but is only local to the Quincy area)
  • Eastern Bank (is located across Eastern Massachusetts)
  • Century Bank (is located across Eastern Massachusetts)
  • South Shore bank (is located across in and south of Boston)
  • Santander Bank (has locations across the Northeast USA including Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey)
  • Rockland Trust (has locations in and around Boston)
  • Bank of America (This is a national bank and available across the United States)

Phones and Computers

When you come to the United States you will want to communicate with friends and family at home. You will also want to communicate with new friends you meet here. There are many ways to communicate in the U.S. Most are very easily accessible.


Cell phones
Cell phones are almost more common in the U.S. than landlines. For many people, the mobile phone is the only one they have or need.

There are two ways to buy a mobile phone.

  1. Calling plan or contract.  You might want to sign a contract for your mobile phone use. A contract is usually required when you buy smartphones (iPhone, Android, etc.). When you sign a mobile phone contract, you commit to one wireless phone company for a year or more.
  1. Some people prefer contracts because they provide more services for less money each month. You will need to speak with a sales representative to find out what is included with your contract, like:
    • Domestic phone calls
    • International phone calls
    • Text messaging (SMS)
    • Data plan
  1. To purchase a mobile phone contract, you must have a Social Security Number or credit card. The wireless phone company needs this to check your credit and make sure you can pay your bill each month.  If you don’t have a Social Security Number or credit card, you can still buy a prepaid mobile phone.
  1. Prepaid mobile phones. Prepaid mobile phones are similar to calling cards. When you purchase the phone, you also pay in advance for:
    • Phone call minutes (domestic or international)
    • Text messages
    • Data
  1. With a prepaid mobile phone, you do not have to pay a bill each month. Instead, you can pay for additional minutes and text messages when what you paid in advance runs out. The sales representative will help you find a prepaid mobile phone has the services you need.
  1. Many wireless phone companies sell mobile contracts and prepaid phones. Some of these companies are:
  1. These companies all have stores and websites where you can buy your phone. The people who work in these stores can answer any question you have about phones, contracts and other mobile calling options.
  1. Calling cards. Calling cards are an affordable telephone option. These are not the same as credit cards.
  1. Like a prepaid mobile phone, you pay in advance for a certain amount of minutes that the card will provide. After you buy the card, it will provide you with a toll-free number (a number free to dial from any phone) and an access code to make phone calls. Calling cards come with dialing instructions in many languages.
  1. Read the card’s packaging carefully before you pay for it. You want to make sure it allows enough minutes. Also make sure you can use it to call the country you need to reach. Most calling cards can also be used for domestic calls.


Computer Use
To send and receive email, you’ll need access to a computer, smart phone or tablet that connects to the Internet. Most U.S. colleges and universities have plenty of public computers for students in libraries and labs. To use these computers you will need your campus email address and password.

You will likely want to buy your own computer. If so, it is recommended that you purchase a laptop. That way, if you need to travel elsewhere (like the library or a café) to get work done, your computer can come with you.

Buying a computer/laptop
You can always purchase a computer online, either new or used.

If you’ve never bought your own computer before, it might be best to buy a new one, in a store. You can avoid certain problems and speak with an expert that way. Before you go into the store, be prepared with information for the sales representatives:

  • What kind of operating system do you prefer?
    • MacOS
    • PC Windows 10
    • If you don’t know, the sales representative can help you decide.
  • What will you be using the computer for?
    • Email
    • Internet research and browsing
    • Word processing
    • Financial analysis
    • Graphic design
    • Games
  • How much space do you need on the computer? Remember, you might be saving files on it like:
    • Written documents
    • Photos
    • Music files
  • Do you need a computer that will last many years?

Many stores specialize in selling computers. Some of them are:

  • Dell
  • Apple
  • HP
  • Asus

Public Transportation in Boston

Boston’s public transportation system, called the MBTA, can take you throughout the neighborhoods surrounding campus and into the downtown area of Boston. The train system in Boston is called the T. Tickets can be purchased at train stations or you can get a "Charlie Card" that you can fill up with credit for use on Trains and Buses: 

If you live off-campus, public transportation is a great way to get to class. No matter where you live, it’s a great way to get to work, shops and restaurants. In many major cities, public transportation can get you to the airport at a fairly low cost.

For other ways to get to the airport, find the name of a nearby shuttle or van service.  This can be found in a phonebook or on the Internet. Search for your city and “airport shuttle.”

These services are more affordable than taxis. But, they run on a schedule. They are also shared with other people who are going to or coming from the airport.

Like any bus or train, all public transportation runs on a schedule. If you are going to use public or campus transportation to get somewhere, always check the schedule. This will help you get to your destination and back home on time.The can find information about the local transportation system online here:

Wollaston T station is about 1 mile from the ENC campus and provide access to the Red Line which goes into the center of Boston. 

Wollaston T Station

Wollaston T Station in Quincy, Massachusetts

Restaurant Culture Guide

Gratuity and Tipping

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

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

For example:

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

At the Restaurant


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

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

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

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


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

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

In the US, the legal age for alcohol consumption is 21. ENC has a policy that prohibits all students from drinking alcoholic drinks even if you are about the legal age. 

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

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