Things you should know before Coming to USA

It is very important that before you come to the US, you are aware about the culture, geography and history of the US. This knowledge will help you avoid the so called “ culture shock” and also will help you adapt faster to the US way of life and education.

Below are the list of things that you should know before you come to the US:
Educational Culture in the US

Map of the US

Know your Location

Dollar Denominations

Time difference between your country and the US

Time Zones in the US

Holidays in the US

Weather in the US

Things you should never do in the US

Want to learn more about USA ...

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  Traveling to USA
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Educational Culture in the US

College / University Academic Program

In most countries, you have to determine your major (field of study) before you go to college or university. In the US, however, if you are registered as an undergraduate student, you normally are not required to declare your major until you finish your sophomore year (second year of college). Therefore, in the first and second year you have the opportunity to learn many subjects and see which one you like the most.

If you already declare your major prior to admission, and decide to change your major, you just need to see your academic advisor and inform him or her. Your academic advisor, then will tell you which courses that you have taken will be counted towards your new degree, and which courses you need to take next.

If you register as a graduate student or a PhD candidate, normally you already know what you want to study, therefore in most cases graduate or PhD students declare their major when prior to admission. However, if later you decide go for dual degree, you also need to inform your academic advisor, and he or she will tell you which additional classes you need to take for the second degree.

For the undergraduate program, usually you will spend most of your first or second year taking the general requirement courses, such as, English, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Humanity, Sociology, Intro to Economics, etc. You will be taking classes that are more relevant to your major after the second year.

For the graduate program, generally you will immediately start taking advanced classes related to your field of study. However, if your graduate major is not the same as your undergraduate major, for example, if you have an undergraduate degree in computer science and you want to take an MBA (Masters in Business Administration), you will be asked to take some foundation courses before you can start taking the core courses. In this case, you will be asked to take some business related classes, such as basic accounting, basic finance and basic marketing, before you take the MBA core courses. In some universities, you are allowed to take a waiver exam to waive these foundation courses. You should check with your university regarding the requirement and the procedure for this waiver exam.

For more information on college / university / academic program, visit Why Study in USA section.

Classroom activity

In the US, students tend to be more active and the discussion in the class is more alive. It is advisable that you ask questions or contribute your thought during the class discussion. Your participation in the class is important because many professors take your participation as one of the factors that determine your grade.

For those of you that speak English as a second language, you do not need to worry if your classmate or your professor will laugh at you or make fun of you when you speak with incorrect grammar or incorrect pronunciation. US students and professors are more open minded. They will respect you more if you try to give opinion or thought rather than just stay silent.

Academic Advisor and Professors

Academic advisor is a faculty member (might be a professor) who monitors your academic progress, and gives you advice related to your education. For an undergraduate program or even a graduate program, one advisor can monitor many students, and he or she does not need to be a professor. However, for PhD program, the advisor normally is your professor, and you will work closely with him / her in some projects or papers. The advisor in a PhD program usually only monitors up to 8 – 10 students.

In the US, usually you can address your academic advisor or your professors by their first name. However, not every professor allows you to do that. Therefore, in order to be safe, it is better for you to call them professor, or Sir / Madam the first time you see them. Usually they will let you know if they like to be called by their first name. If not, continue to call them professor, Sir / Madam, or Mr. / Ms. (Last Name).

One important thing that many students forget is that some instructors are not professors. They can be a teacher assistant or an expert in the industry with master degrees. You should be careful not to address them as professor or doctor. Call them sir / madam or Mr. / Ms. (Last name), unless they ask you to call them by their first name.

Your academic advisor, instructor, or professor has an office hour. You can visit them during their office hour to discuss any question you may have regarding the course that they teach or regarding your academic progress. Sometime part-time instructors are only available by appointment. You should take an contact them by phone or e-mail if you want to meet them outside the class hour.


Map of the US

If you want to see the map of a particular state in more detail, you can visit the fifty state information (Source:, 2007). After you click the state name that you are interested in, click the state map to make it larger.

(Source:, 2007)


Know your Location

If you already know the state, where you want to study, you can learn more about that particular state by visiting the web sites below:, which provides you more information about the state’s capital, government, largest cities, famous flora and fauna, tourism, etc.

or, which provide you more information about the state population’s distribution, employment, average household income, etc.


Dollar Denominations

As it is in many other countries, the US has two formats of money: bill and coin.

Below are the most recent pictures of US money that are currently used. Some of these designs are relatively new. Therefore, most likely you will still see the older version of these bills or coins, which has a slightly different design compared to the new one.

US Dollar Bills









(Source:, 2007)

US Dollar Coins



Cent ($0.01)

Nickel ($0.05)

Dime ($0.10)

Quarter ($0.25)

Half Dollar ($0.50)

One Dollar ($1.00)

(Source:, 2007)

If you want to learn more about US dollar denomination, you can visit this link


Time difference between your country and the US

Knowing about the time difference between your country and the US will be very helpful for you when you want to make a call or chat with your friends / family back home.

Timezoneconverter helps you to convert your country’s time into US time or from US time into your country’s time. That way, it will be easier for you to choose a proper time when you need to contact somebody from your home country.


Time Zones in the US

The US is divided into four time zones. From the west to east:

    • PST – Pacific Standard Time
    • MST – Mountain Standard Time
    • CST – Central Standard Time
    • EST – Eastern Standard Time

You can see the time difference between your state (city) and another US sate (city) in the map of US time zone.

Time change: Spring forward and Fall backward

In the US, every year we have two days in a year when the time formally changes one hour forward or one hour backward. This time changes is based on a law called the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which determines when and where the Day Saving Time (DST) takes place every year (in the US we have more daylight during the summer, and vice versa during the winter).

To help you remember when the time move forward or backward, the American use the term: “spring forward fall backward”. It means that sometime in spring the time is set one hour forward, and sometime in fall the time is set one hour backward.

Starting in 2007, the time will move forward on the second Sunday in March (spring), and it will move backward on the first Sunday in November (fall). The time will change at 2:00 am. When it moves forward the clock will change from 1:59am to 3:00am. When it moves backward the clock will change from 1:59am to 1:00am. provides the actual date when the time will change.


Holidays in the US

Below is the list of common US holidays. However, it depends on each college / university whether it observes the holiday or not.


Date Observed

New Year’s Day

January 1 st

Martin Luther King Day

3 rd Monday of January

President’s Day

3 rd Monday of February

Memorial Day

Last Monday of May

Independence Day

July 4 th

Labor Day

1 st Monday in September

Columbus Day

2 nd Monday in October

Veteran’s Day

November 11 th

Thanksgiving Day

4 th Thursday in November

Christmas Day

December 25 th


Weather in your area

Before you are coming to the US, you should check the climates or weather in the state where you want to study. That way you can be mentally prepared if you have to cope with severe weather. You can also be prepared to carry proper clothes for the weather.

You can check the average temperature of a particular state in the US over the year (monthly) by visiting the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration web site.

You only need to click on the state name, and then click on the city nearest to your university, and they will show you the average highest and lowest temperature for each month in Fahrenheit degree.

If you come from a country that use Celsius degree as a common measure for temperature, here is how to convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius:

Celsius = (Fahrenheit – 32) / 1.8


Things you should never do in the US

Below are some of the most important NOT to do’s in the US:

    • Do not do something illegal (e.g. drunk driving, driving without a license, stealing, commit sexual harassment)

    • Do not do something that will put your immigration status at risk (e.g. working off-campus without proper employment authorization, stay in the US beyond the authorized date)

    • Do not make jokes or statements that are sensitive to race, religion, gender, and disability

    • Do not make offensive gesture, such as showing your middle finger or staring at somebody for too long

    • Do not commit plagiarism in any kind

    • Do not lie in any forms or documents that you submit for school purposes, government purposes, or any other purposes


Want to learn more about USA ?

Britannica Online has done a nice job in explaining “All about USA” in a compact way. You can click the links below to find more information related to US seasons, people, history, etc.

US People

Ethnic Distribution

Religious Groups


US Economy

US History



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