Helpful Tips to International Students Joining US Institutions

Titles:


Immigration Regulations


Maintaining Status

You are responsible for maintaining your immigration status. There are several important things you must do to maintain status:

  1. Keep your passport valid.
  2. If you are a student, maintain full-time enrollment and normal progress toward your degree. Please check with your campus about the required credit hours per semester is considered a full course load for undergraduates. Graduate students must take at least the required number of credit hours to be considered “full-time”.
  3. Do not work off-campus without employment authorization.
  4. See an International Students Adviser if you plan to transfer to another University, or if you change academic level. The INS must be notified of these changes.
  5. Obtain extensions of stay as needed. Be sure to note the expiration date on your Form I -20 or IAP-66 and apply at the International Student Services Office for an extension, if needed, 30-45 days prior to the expiration date.

Legal Documents

Form I-94, I-20ID (Student) Copy, and Form IAP-66 (Form I-94, the small white card) shows your arrival date in the United States and should be stapled to your passport until you leave the country. It also shows your status: F-1, J-1, B-2, etc., and your expected departure date from the U.S. D/S (Duration of Status) means that students may remain in the U. S. until completion of their current program of study (note date on item #5 of your I-20 ID or item #3 on your IAP-66), plus 60 days for F-1 students and 30 days for J-1 students and scholars. The I-20 ID (Student) copy is the student’s copy of the Form I-20. It is a permanent record of your F-1 status, and is used for re-entry to the U.S. and to record work authorization, practical training, and transfer approval. Keep this important form in your passport and do not surrender it when leaving the United States. The IAP-66 (copy 3, pink) is to be kept with your passport for travel and re-entry to the U. S. and for permission to work. Students and scholars should keep copies of all I-20s and IAPs issued to them.

Extension of Stay

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) regulations state that F-1 or J-1 students may stay in U. S. for the duration of an educational program or series of educational programs (for example, from an undergraduate degree through a master’s degree) plus a period of practical/academic training, and an additional 60 days to leave the United States for F-1 students, and 30 days for J-1 students and scholars. Those unable to complete their program in the time indicated on their I-20 or IAP-66 must see your adviser in the International Students Office to begin the extension process.

Travel Outside the U. S.

F-1 students need the following documents to re-enter the United States after a temporary absence:

  1. Form I-20 ID endorsed by the International Students Office or other authorized office
  2. Valid passport
  3. Valid U.S. visa

J-1 students and scholars need the following documents to re-enter the United States after a temporary absence:

  1. Valid IAP-66 (pink copy) endorsed by International Students Office
  2. Valid passport
  3. Valid U.S. visa

When you re-enter the U.S., you may be asked if you have ever received public assistance, especially if you have a child who was born in the U.S. If you can answer “no” to this question, you should not have any problems. If you must answer “yes” to this question, be prepared to show proof that you have paid back any public assistance that you have
received. If you have participated in the WIC program, you do not need to repay this assistance. This policy decision was made by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), but not all agents may be aware of this decision.

If an agent does not know about this decision, contact the International Students Office so that they can help to clarify this INS policy.

Special Note on Travel to Canada

You may travel to Canada (up to 30 days) and re-enter the United States with an expired U. S. visa, if you have all the other documents necessary for re-entry (see above). Before traveling to Canada:

  1. Check with the International Students Office to see if you need a visa to enter Canada
  2. Carry proper documents to re-enter the United States.Practical Training (F-1) or Academic Training (J-1)

Practical training and academic training are opportunities for students to gain actual work experience in their field of study. See your adviser in the International Students Office to learn more about these opportunities both during and after the academic program.

Permission to Work

F-1 students may work on-campus and can apply to the INS to work off-campus due to economic need. F-2 visa holders are not permitted to work under any circumstances. J-1 students must obtain permission to work on-campus or off-campus from their program sponsor. The program sponsor is identified in #2 of the IAP-66. J-2 visa holders must receive INS permission to work. F-1 and J-1 students cannot work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session.

Transfer of Schools

F-1 students must notify the INS if they transfer schools or change educational levels. The new school is responsible for assisting with the transfer process. Those transferring to must give to the International Students Office the Form I-20 issued  and a letter from the previous institution stating that they have been enrolled full-time prior to coming to the University. Students with J-1 status must obtain approval from the program sponsor to transfer schools.

Public Assistance

International students, scholars, and their families ARE NOT ELIGIBLE for any type of public assistance. Some examples of public assistance are low-income/subsidized housing, food-stamps, Medicare/Medicaid, W.I.C. program, subsidized utilities, etc. If you or any member of your family accepts public assistance of any kind, you could be
jeopardizing you F-1 or J-1 status. Public assistance is intended for U.S. citizens and some categories of immigrants with low or no income. If you accept public assistance, you may be denied renewal of your non-immigrant visa and/or be required to pay back any assistance you received before your application for a new visa will be considered.
Bring questions on this issue to an Adviser at the International Students Office  and DO NOT rely upon advice from friends.

A Few Words of Advice

Requests for the International Students Office to prepare Form I-20 and Form IAP-66 must be made at least 5 working days in advance of when they are needed. Therefore, plan accordingly! This condition may change from campus to campus.

Bring your passport and all relevant immigration documents (I-20ID, IAP-66, I-94) and financial documents when you come to the International Students Office with immigration questions.

Always see your International Students Office advisor regarding any question you may have concerning your immigration status. Do NOT contact the INS directly unless instructed to do so by the Office of International Programs.
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Money and Banking


General Information

Americans don’t usually carry a lot of cash. They prefer to pay by check, even for small purchases, or by credit card. To function efficiently in the U. S. economy, you will need to open a checking account at a local bank. This section introduces you to a few of the basic banking options available to you. When selecting a bank, you should compare services and choose a bank whose offices are conveniently located before making your decision. Most banks will ask you for two pieces of identification, such as your passport and Massachusetts State ID, when you open an account.

Types of Accounts

Checking Accounts: Banks offer different types of checking accounts designed to fit individual needs. The cost of having a checking account varies from bank to bank. Some banks charge per transaction, some have a basic monthly fee, and others offer free services if you maintain a certain minimum balance in your account at all times. Your cancelled checks and a list of all the account activity of the preceding month will be sent to you in a monthly statement. Be careful to keep an accurate record of every check you write in order to avoid having checks returned and incurring additional charges. “Bouncing” a check (writing a check for more money than you actually have in the account) can cause a major expense and a great deal of trouble. Through some banks, you can apply for a line of credit attached to your checking account that provides overdraft protection.

Savings Accounts: A savings account enables you to save money and accumulate interest on your savings. Interest is paid either monthly or quarterly. Although you can withdraw money from your saving account, this service is limited. Ask your bank for the number of monthly withdrawals permitted without penalty. The difference between a savings and a checking account is that you receive higher interest in a saving account, and fewer transactions take place since the purpose is to “save your money”.

Interest Checking Accounts: Interest checking accounts provide the services of both a checking and a savings account. This means that you can write checks and also collect interest on the money in your account.

Cashing Checks

To cash a check after endorsing it (signing your name on the back), you will most often be asked for 2 pieces of personal identification. The primary piece of ID must be a driver’s license or a State of Massachusetts ID card. The second piece of ID is usually a major credit card. Some stores will cash a check for you if you shop there regularly and have a proper ID. Supermarkets may allow you to pay by check, with authorization from their credit department. After a credit check, the supermarket will issue you a check cashing card.

Bank Cards

Many banks issue cards that make deposit and withdrawal services available 24 hours a day by use of an automated teller machine (ATM). These machines, which are frequently located outside the bank, are very convenient. You can avoid waiting in line at the bank and have access to cash after the bank closes or in an emergency. Banks that
are members of a national ATM network allow you to access your funds with your bank card at selected ATMs throughout the country. However, there is often a service charge of approximately $1 when you do not use your bank’s machine.

A note of caution: When withdrawing cash from an ATM after dark, be aware of your surroundings to prevent an assault. Protect your bank card and your secret access code as you do your cash and credit cards. Also, the machines do not always work. Don’t panic! Call your bank if you have a problem with an ATM.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are convenient, especially if you unexpectedly have major expenses. You can also pay medical fees, airplane tickets and car repairs with any major credit card. But you must remember that credit cards are seductive. Before you know it you may be in debt. Most banks charge an annual fee of $20 to $40. If you are unable to pay your full
balance, you will be charged high interest rates (usually 18%) on the remaining balance and any additional charges you make. Make sure you stay within your budget when making credit card purchases.

Planning Ahead

If you deposit a check drawn on a foreign bank in your U. S. checking account, it may have to go through a collection process. This means that the money is not available to you until the U. S. bank has collected it from the foreign bank. It may take several weeks before the money is credited to your account. You may want to consider having moneys wired to your account. This process takes less time and is very safe.

In countries with restrictions on foreign exchange, you may need to provide your sponsor or your family with a letter of certification of enrollment in order to receive money from your home country.

The application forms for letters of certification are available from the International Student Office. Please allow 5 working days for processing.

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Health Care and Medical Insurance


Insurance

In the United States, each individual, not the state, is responsible for paying the costs of his or her own medical care. Except for certain low income U. S. citizens and permanent residents, no government assistance is available. The cost of medical care is the fastest rising expense in the U. S. today. Since most Americans cannot afford the high cost of medical care, they rely on insurance in medical emergencies. For an international student or scholar, one serious illness, injury, or catastrophic medical emergency can mean
financial ruin and the end of his or her academic career. Medical insurance is an absolute necessity in the United States. Therefore, many campuses  requires all international students and scholars to have health insurance. This requirement is waived only if you are covered by another health insurance plan that offers comparable or better coverage. You may sign on for the India Network Group Health Plan for Parents (see the web page at http://health.indnet.org).

Whatever health insurance you elect, make sure you understand the company’s policy regarding how they make payments. Call your insurance representative to ask about your insurance coverage and claim filing procedure.

Low Cost International Medical Insurance

For low cost medical insurance, contact India Network Foundation, a non-profit in the USA that sponsors low cost insurance plan for International students, Scholars, and their dependents and is valid worldwide.

Visiting Scholars and their Families

Visiting scholars and their families are not eligible for “Student Health Insurance”. If you are a visiting scholar whose salary is paid by the University, you may be eligible for
limited health insurance coverage through the faculty/staff group insurance plan. Visiting scholars who are employed by the University are sometimes eligible to purchase one of the faculty/staff health plans.

When making an appointment to see any physician, you may ask what the costs will be. Physician’s fees vary and it is important for you to know ahead of time how much money to budget for the physician’s visit. Health insurance rarely covers 100% of your medical expenses and some physicians insist on payment at the time of your visit. Check with
your international student advisor pertaining to dental coverage.

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Customs and Culture


Culture Shock

When moving to a new community, particularly in a different culture, it is common to experience what is known as “Culture Shock.” Culture shock may be defined as the feelings you experience when you are taken out of a familiar environment and thrown into a completely new and different one. It is quite normal for a visitor, anywhere, to feel depressed and isolated once the initial excitement of arrival has worn off. You may feel frustrated and confused with foreign ways and idioms. But hopefully, understanding why Americans behave the way they do may help you understand your own feelings. Some helpful ways to cope with culture shock are:

  • Get plenty of rest to deal with the stress and jet lag that you
    may experience.
  • Take time to think and/or talk through your own feelings.
  • Make an effort to be optimistic, but not to the point of
    avoiding negatives that should be expressed.
  • Make your new home environment as comfortable as possible.
  • Make friends as quickly as possible. If there are others of your
    nationality on campus, get acquainted. It will give you a support
    system.
  • Keep a diary or journal. This is a helpful way to vent some of
    the frustrations you might be too embarrassed to speak about. It
    may also be an interesting record of the changes that occur over
    time.
  • Try not to compare your surroundings to your home area. Things
    are different!
  • Enjoy and explore those differences.
  • Keep an open mind and a sense of humor.

These suggestions should help you feel more comfortable in your new surroundings. The rest of this section will let you know what to expect in some areas of American culture.

Greetings

In the U.S., “Hi, how are you?”, “Hello, how are you?”, or when introduced for the first time, “I’m pleased to meet you,” are the most common forms of greeting. “So long”, “See you soon”, “See you later”, “We should get together sometime”, are also common expressions used for saying, “Good-bye”. An expression such as, “Hello, how are you?” does not require a lengthy answer beyond, “Fine, thank you.” Likewise, “See you soon” or “Later” do not imply any definite promise about getting in contact with you in the next few hours or days. They are simply forms of saying “Good-bye.”

Social Equality

The American dream is equality for all. Unfortunately this dream has not yet been completely achieved. Americans expect that all people respect an individual regardless of occupation, handicap, sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation. All individuals you meet will expect the same consideration and courtesy.

Both men and women in the United States have an active part in community life. Many women have full-time careers outside the home and in many cases both parents take care of small children and share with home chores. Women who hold positions in the work world expect the same professional respect as do their male counterparts.

Names and Titles

First names are used in the U.S. more frequently than elsewhere. People may call each other by their first names immediately after they have met if they are about the same age and status. The Americans’ ready use of first names may make it appear to you that they are oblivious to differences in age and status. They are not. There are subtle differences in vocabulary and manner, depending on the relationship between the people involved. For example, an American is less likely to use slang when speaking to a person who is older, whose social standing is higher, or whom she/he does not know very well.

If you meet a person who has a title such as “Doctor,” “Ambassador” or “Dean,” use that title and the last (family) name. Any faculty member can be addressed as “Professor” whether she/he holds the rank of assistant professor, associate professor, or full professor. Again, people might ask you to address them by their first names, and you should abide by that wish.

Americans do not use a title followed by a first name. For example, you would not address Elizabeth Taylor as Miss Elizabeth but as Miss Taylor, or, if she asked you to, as Elizabeth. Occasionally, married women use their maiden name (family name at birth) instead of their husband’s name. Or they may use both their maiden name and their
husband’s family name. For example, Jane Smith may be married to Sam Jones. However, her name may now be Jane Smith, Jane Jones, Jane Jones-Smith, or Jane Smith-Jones. The chosen form is consistently used.

The use of “nicknames” is fairly common among Americans. A nickname is not the person’s real name, but a name assigned to him/her because of certain physical characteristics, behavior patterns, or some other factor. International students often get nicknames if their own names seem long and unpronounceable to Americans. For example, a student whose name is Nakagawa might come to be known as Naka. Being called by a nickname is not usually uncomplimentary. On the contrary, it may indicate that you are viewed with respect and even affection.

If you are in doubt about what to call a person, ask him/her, “What shall I call you?” Americans will sometimes be confused about what to call you. If you see that a person does not know what to call you, tell him or say, “You may call me ________.”

Cleanliness

Americans put a great deal of emphasis on personal cleanliness. The standards of personal cleanliness that an individual maintains determine, to a large degree, the extent to which she/he is accepted into society. Most Americans are very sensitive to the smells and odors of the human body — sometimes their own, but especially someone else’s. For this reason, most Americans bathe once a day and sometimes more during hot weather or after strenuous exercise. They use deodorant or an antiperspirant, and they wash their clothes frequently. Americans are also very concerned about having clean hair and fresh breath.

Smoking

A decreasing number of Americans smoke. Because many Americans dislike being exposed to the cigarette smoke of others, you should not assume that it acceptable to smoke indoors. This is especially true of American homes. You should always ask if it is okay that you smoke before you begin whenever you are indoors in the presence of others.
Many public buildings, including restaurants, are designated as “smoke free” environment. This applies to buildings on campus. Therefore you should look for signs which indicate that it is designated smoking area before you begin smoking.

Unspoken Language
Because gestures and unspoken signals have become so automatic, we often forget how they may mean different things in different cultures. To avoid misunderstandings, be sure to keep in mind that the unspoken gesture you exchange with people from other cultures may not say what you think it does. If words and gestures seem to disagree, it might be safer to believe the words.

Shaking hands is common in business and in more formal social gatherings (banquets, and special parties) among both men and women. In more casual social encounters, however, men tend to shake hands with each other more often than women shake hands with women. (In a situation where the other person is quite distinguished or is several
years older, she/he usually initiates the handshake.) Handshakes are usually accompanied with “How do you do” or “Nice to meet you” or “Nice to see you again.” Usually (except in business) people do not shake hands in subsequent meetings.

Aside from hand-shaking, even same-sex physical contact is generally infrequent in American culture. Under certain circumstances physical contact is appropriate. The best way to learn about customs regarding physical contact is to observe Americans as they interact with others. While talking with someone, how close you stand to the other person is
determined by the degree of familiarity in your relationship. Most Americans like to keep a little private distance between each other when walking side by side, while standing in elevators or anywhere else. But when some contact is unavoidable, a person will say, “Excuse me,” thereby indicating she/he is sorry for having violated someone else’s personal space. And while Americans generally like to make eye contact in conversing with one another, they do stand two to three feet apart while doing so. A closer distance will make them feel crowded and uncomfortable unless they are very familiar with the person. For example, it is acceptable to stand close to a friend while talking, but it would not be appropriate to stand very close to a professor or school official.

Generally, you will find that the atmosphere in a U.S. university is more relaxed than it is in other countries. However, while Americans tend to be informal, they do place great emphasis on their personal privacy. Because a professor, or a university official, is accessible and friendly with students this does not necessarily mean you can call on him/her at the office or at home without first making an appointment.

Friendship and Dating

Americans are generally considered open and warm people who make new acquaintances easily. Because they are very mobile and place great emphasis on the qualities of individuality, independence, and personal privacy, Americans often have many casual and informal relationships and few lasting friendships. However, in spite of this, many Americans are quite capable and more than willing to take the extra step needed to establish an enduring friendship.

American women have more personal freedom than women from some other countries and are not usually shy with Americans or foreigners. It is not unusual for unmarried women in the U.S. to live by themselves,share living quarters with other unmarried women, or go to public places without a male companion.

The rules for dating Americans are flexible. Generally the initiative comes from the man, but this is not always the case. If you want to get to know someone, it is often wise to ask the person to join you for coffee or a soda or to get together to study. Such short events may prove to be the beginning of a strong and durable friendship. On weekends, a man may ask a woman for an evening date, invite her to dinner, a concert, or a movie. It is no longer automatically assumed that the man will pay for expenses on the date. It is especially common on a university campus for the two people to share the expenses.

Remember that two or three dates by no means indicates that a lasting relationship is developing.

Social Invitations

While , we hope that you will meet and spend time with American families. These hints will make you a little more comfortable when you are invited out.

Acceptance: Your prospective hosts will either phone you, speak to you in person, or send you a written invitation. The invitation is usually for you only unless your hosts specifically invite your family or friends. Bringing a guest of your own without asking your hosts’ permission ahead of time is considered impolite.

The written invitation will include the date, time, place, and description of the occasion. You should always answer a written invitation, especially if it says R.S.V.P. You may respond by telephone or by letter. This helps the hosts with their preparations if you do so promptly.

Never accept an invitation unless you plan to go. If you are going to refuse an invitation, it is enough to say “Thank you for the invitation, but I will not be able to come.” If an unavoidable problem makes it necessary for you to change plans, be certain to tell the host as soon as possible before the time when you are expected. When accepting an invitation make certain that you ask for directions to the event.

Food: When accepting an invitation for a meal, be sure to explain to your host if there is any food you do not eat. This courtesy will help the host plan food and drink for everyone to enjoy together. If you must refuse something after it is prepared, refuse politely. Never hesitate to ask for any food on the dinner table (“Would you please pass me the vegetables?”) since a request for more food is considered a compliment to the hostess.

Drink: Tap water is safe to drink and usually used by Americans as their normal drinking water. At Holiday and elaborate meals you may be given ice water in addition to another beverage. Americans generally do not drink alcoholic beverages with their meals. However, wines are frequently served at meals when guests are present. If you are offered
an alcoholic beverage it is acceptable either to drink them in moderation or to decline. In most of the U.S. it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol. Those who are under 21 and drink alcoholic beverages, even at parties in private homes, risk being arrested.

Promptness: Being on time is very important in American society. Schools and classes, plays, concerts, public meetings, weddings, and formal
dinners begin as scheduled. It is considered impolite to be even a few minutes late. Family dinners are a little more flexible and informal, but you should still be on time. You may attend a cocktail party or reception at any time between the stated hours.

Informality: Dining with a friend or family can either be formal or informal. Formality is an honor, but the informality gives you a chance to get to know your hosts and for them to get to know you. You should ask the host what to wear if the invitation does not give you an idea. Your national dress is always appropriate.

It is not necessary to bring a gift for any member of the family or even for the host or hostess, unless it is a special occasion (such as his/her birthday or an important holiday like Christmas). Although Americans do not usually expect gifts from their guests, it is often a courtesy to do so. If you have visited several times, you may wish to bring a small token of appreciation for the hosts. Always bring a small gift when you are invited as house guest for an extended visit. While edible gifts are usually appropriate, because of food allergies, medical problems, religious reasons, or personal preferences; gifts other than food or drink may by more appreciated by your host.

Gifts: As a rule, gifts are given to relatives and close friends. They are sometimes given to people with whom one has a casual but friendly relationship, such as a host or hostess, but it is not necessary or even common for gifts to be given to such people. Gifts are not usually given to teachers or others who hold official positions. The offering of gifts in these situations is sometimes interpreted as a possibly improper effort to gain favorable treatment from that person. Christmas (December 25) is a gift-giving day, and it is when most Americans give gifts. Gifts are also given on occasions which are special to the recipient — birthdays, graduation from high school or college, weddings, and childbirths. Gifts are sometimes given when someone has a new house or is moving away.

Generally, an effort is made to select a gift which the giver knows or supposes is one the recipient needs, wants, or would enjoy. The amount spent on the gift is something the giver can afford. Generally, it is not expected that people on limited incomes will spend a large amount of money on a gift. Expensive gifts are to be expected only when the
people involved have a very close relationship with each other.

If a gift is opened in the presence of the giver (as is often done), a verbal expression of thanks is appropriate. If a gift is opened in the absence of a giver, a thank-you note should be sent. The note should make specific mention of the particular gift that has been sent.

Tipping: Service charges, or “tips” (meaning “to insure proper service”) are most often not added to the bill in American hotels, restaurants, and barber shops/beauty parlors, but are often expected and needed by the employees. In restaurants tip the waiter/waitress about 15% of the check. In a hotel, the bellboy who takes you to your room receives at least $1.00 for his service. The person who cuts your hair may or may not accept tips, however, an average tip would be $1.00. The amount of a tip depends on you and if
you feel that you have received good service.

Time Schedules: Accomplishment and progress are measured by the way time is spent. For this reason, punctuality is considered essential in conducting every day activities. One is expected to arrive at the stated time for an appointment with a professor, doctor, or other professional. On social occasions, however, such as parties, dinners and the like, more flexibility is tolerated.

Families: Generally it is considered polite to phone someone after 9 am and before 9 pm and either before or after the dinner hour (5:30 pm – 7:30 pm). If you plan to visit an American home, a phone call prior to going would be appreciated by the people you are visiting.

Business Hours: Most businesses and stores are open Monday through Friday, with many stores and restaurants open on Saturdays and Sundays. Very few stores are open after 9 pm except for supermarkets, drug stores, and convenience stores.

Appointments: It is always wise to call professional offices to make appointments to ensure being able to see someone. Again, promptness is expected in business and professional appointments.

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