Tips for international students living in the U.S.

  • Americans generally show a fair amount of pride in their country. Do not make comments that make fun of the United States. Feel free to ask genuine questions about your host country.

  • Nobody enjoys waiting in line, but most Americans will wait patiently for their turn rather than try to find ways to get ahead.

  • Out of respect for age and/or disability, Americans generally hold open doors, give up seats and/or help those struggling to manage. Common courtesy assumes that people in the vicinity will do what they can to make the situation easier to handle.

  • Many people will smile and/or say hello as they pass. They simply intend it as a nice, friendly gesture.

  • Never make racial comments about anyone. Americans consider this very offensive.

  • Although American society and people are generally friendly and open, keep in mind that most do value their privacy and independence. Do not get too personal too quickly. For example, many people might say, “Come over any time,” but they do not mean it literally.

  • While difficult to gauge, the best estimates for comfortable personal physical space for an average westerner is about 24.5 inches (60 centimeters) on either side, 27.5 inches (70 centimeters) in front and 15.75 inches (40 centimeters). Americans usually have larger personal space boundaries than people from other cultures. If you notice someone backing up a little while talking to you, don’t step toward them as they most likely feel uncomfortable with the lack of distance between you.

  • If you receive an invitation, they will expect you to arrive very close to the time they gave you, either a few minutes early or a few minutes late. If you arrive too early, they will likely not feel prepared, but if you arrive too late, you communicate disrespect for their time. If you find that you are running late, call and explain that you still plan to come and give them an estimate of when you will arrive.

  • The most common form of greeting between acquaintances and colleagues in the U.S. is a hand shake. Men shake other men’s hands, men shake women’s hands and women shake other women’s hands.

  • If you get to know someone well enough, a hand shake can sometimes turn into a hug or brief pat on the back or shoulder. Women-to-women turn their greetings into warm embraces much more often and sooner than men-to-men, or men-to-women. While in many countries men kiss the cheek(s) of women when they meet, in the U.S. that action is reserved for very close friends.

  • If you feel unsure how to greet someone, a handshake is probably your best option. Observe the greetings of those around you for clues to what might be expected in each situation.

  • Do not ask an adult their age, or how much money they make, or why they don’t have children, if they do not.

  • In the U.S. staring at someone intensely is considered rude.

  • Women in the U.S. have come a long way in acquiring a status equal to men, and many hold positions of leadership. Remember that showing courtesy and acting patronizing (superior) or disrespectful toward women are two very different things. Treating any woman disrespectfully, let alone one in a position of authority or prominence, can lead to a great deal of trouble.

  • Get involved with ISI. You will be introduced to a lot of different people, activities, events and opportunities.

  • Join community groups or events to get involved in your area.

  • Get involved with community sports teams just for fun and to meet people.

  • Ask questions, interact. Don’t sit quietly off to yourself because you don’t feel your English measures up. People enjoy interesting people, so get out there and get involved.