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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

Living 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 of 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 points of confusion 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 that is relevant to the class topic of the day.  The lecture will be different in each class session.  They are most frequently delivered in large classes.

During lectures, you should take notes that 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 then the students will participate.  The seminar format is typically used in small to midsize classes.

In a seminar, you are expected to speak up. You are allowed to disagree with someone else as long as you are respectful and explain why.  Ask questions of both your professor and other students. Creativity is encouraged.  (See the section on Participation, below.)  You should take notes in seminars to help you prepare for exams. Your notes will also serve as a reference when you write papers.



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

Professors have office hours that are usually included in the syllabus or posted in Canvas. (A syllabus is a list of assignments and other information necessary for the semester.)  Office hours are blocks of time when students can visit professors in their offices. This is a good time to discuss classwork or 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 them. Your professor's contact information is usually found on the syllabus.

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.  If you aren't sure how to join the discussion, feel free to raise your hand and wait to be called upon.
  • Be respectful.  Consider the backgrounds of your professor and classmates. Americans can be 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.


Cheating and Plagiarism

Americans are very sensitive about copying work done by someone else. If you don’t credit someone else’s work, it’s plagiarism, which is stealing someone else’s work or ideas. 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.

  • You can directly quote the author:
    • Let’s say the book is titled Shakespeare: The Biography and the author is named Peter Ackroyd.
    • You might cite the book by directly quoting the 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.
    • Bibliographies can be confusing to many students. If you are unsure how to credit someone’s work, ask your professor, a librarian, or a writing coach for help.


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 the ENC Library website: 


Don’t let fear of plagiarism keep you from being original. You can still be creative. 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 you 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 professors. Chances are, they will encourage you to be creative.

It’s important to pay attention and listen carefully 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

Account Types

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 earning, spending, and saving.

This is different from a credit card. With a checking or savings account, you can only spend money that you already have.  With a credit card, you can spend money that you have to pay back in the future, often with high fees or other penalties.  (All college students are cautioned to be very careful about using credit cards.)

You are able to deposit money into both checking and savings accounts.  Many employers (including ENC) offer a direct deposit option so that your paycheck is electronically deposited into your account.

Checking Accounts

When you open a checking account, you get paper checks. You can use them to pay for goods, services, or bills. The business you pay using a check will have to process your check before the amount is deducted from 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. For credit cards, however, the balance can be paid later.

If you need cash from your checking account, you can use an automated teller machine (commonly called the “ATM”) to remove money from your account. Your debit card can be used to access an ATM.

Savings Accounts

You might choose to open a savings account. A savings account is good for storing money that you don’t need to spend right away. 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, such as your checking account. This requires a transfer, which your bank can help you with. Depending on your bank, you may also be able to use an ATM to withdraw money from your savings account as cash.

Banking Information

Most banks have websites that can let you handle many banking transactions online, such as:

  • Check your account balance
  • Transfer money between accounts
  • Pay bills online

These websites can also let other people that 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 an emergency. Choose these people carefully.

Local Banks Near ENC

  • 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 be able 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.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones (usually called 'cell phones' in the U.S.) are almost more common in the U.S. than landlines. For many people, the cell 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.
  • 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
  • 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, and/or data usage.
  • 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 that has the services you need.
  • Many wireless phone companies sell both contracts and prepaid phones. Some of these companies are:
  • 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.


Other Call Options

Calling cards are another affordable calling option that you can use from any telephone. These are not the same as credit cards.

Like a prepaid mobile phone, you pay in advance for a certain number 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.

Read the card’s packaging carefully before you pay for it. You want to make sure it allows enough minutes for your needs. 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 within the U.S.


To send and receive email, you’ll need access to a computer, smartphone, 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.

To do work in your room, class, or other locations, 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 from a store. That way, you can speak with an expert and avoid certain problems. 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
    • Streaming
  • How much storage space do you need on the computer? Remember, you might be saving files on it like:
    • Written documents
    • Photos
    • Music files
    • Again, the sales representative can help you with an appropriate estimate
  • 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

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (or MBTA) is Boston’s public transportation system.  This far-reaching system of buses, subways/trains, and even some ferry boats can take you through the neighborhoods surrounding ENC's campus into the downtown area of Boston and other communities. Tickets can be purchased at train stations, or you can get a "Charlie Card" that you can fill up in advance to pay fares for trains and buses. (Check here for current pricing information.)

Since ENC's campus is located about a mile from the nearest train station and is located directly on a bus route, public transportation is a good, affordable option for students who live off campus to get to class. No matter where you live, it’s a great way to get to work, shops, and restaurants throughout the metropolitan Boston area.

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

Nearby Access

  • Bus route #217: travels down Elm Ave and West Elm Ave (click for route map and schedule)
  • Train/subway station:  Wollaston Station, Red Line (subway map -- Wollaston is toward the lower right corner)

Restaurant Culture Guide

Gratuity and Tipping

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

It is considered extremely 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.

To calculate your tip:

  • If the total bill is $45,
    • a 15% tip is $6.75. The total amount you leave is $51.75.
    • an 18% tip is $8.10. The total amount you leave is $53.10.
    • a 20% tip is $9.00. The total amount you leave is $54.00.


At the Restaurant


Before you go to the restaurant, find out if there is a dress code. All restaurants require a shirt and shoes. Most chain restaurants do not have a specific dress code. The dress code is sometimes on the restaurant’s website. You can always call the restaurant and ask.  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. Women should wear nice dresses.
Drink Refills

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 typically applies to drinks like soda, iced tea, juice, non-bottled water.  If you order a bottled drink, you will have to pay for every bottle you order.

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

In the US, the legal age for alcohol consumption is 21. ENC has a policy prohibiting all students from drinking alcoholic drinks, even if they are above the legal age.