Life in The U.S.

U.S. Culture and Customs

Business Culture + Rights in the Workplace

Depending on your home country, you may find differences in the way business is conducted in the United States. Many of these differences are directly related to the attitudes and social conventions (attitude toward formality, diversity, etc.) as shared earlier. Being prepared to experience these norms and adaptable will help aide in a more successful workplace experience. The following are generalized examples of common standards only; your experience may vary depending on many different factors, including your U.S. host company, geographical location, and area of focus.

Be aware: what is relevant in one part of the country may not apply elsewhere. U.S. states and regions can vary as greatly as neighboring countries!

Work is generally taken seriously in the United States. Statistically, Americans take fewer and shorter holidays than Europeans, and it is common to compromise weekend and/or family life if a job needs to be done.

U.S. employees are often valued for taking initiative and offering ideas. Interns and junior employees are expected to work independently using skills, experience, and inquire for clarification. U.S. employers value opinions of all employees, though complaints and personal feelings are most often discussed respectfully in private. Most managers will extend an invitation to notify employees of any challenges that may occur within and while training in the workplace. Some managers may even ask for your feedback about their performance as your supervisor.

Culture Shock

The term Cultural Shock refers to the common sequence of feelings that people have when they live, work, or study abroad. The general phases are Honeymoon, Hostility, Adjustment, and Reverse Culture Shock.

  1. The Honeymoon phase is the period immediately after you arrive when everything is new and exciting. Enjoy this amazing time! However, first impressions may not be realistic. To cope with this phase, have realistic expectations, remember that new and different does not necessarily mean better, and consider keeping a diary. If you are having trouble or have any questions about beginning your life in America, we encourage you to contact us.
  2. The Hostility phase often involves comparisons of U.S. life to life at home. You may be annoyed and angry at the differences, and you may feel homesick. To cope with the Hostility phase, try to get out of the house, pay attention to your health, volunteer and find ways to get connected in the community (and don’t call home only to complain). Know that with your concerted effort, these feelings are temporary.
  3. During the Adjustment phase, you accept that the U.S. and your home country are different. Aspects of U.S. culture that seemed strange before, may now feel normal. You develop skills to cope with cultural differences, and with that often comes a newfound energy and confidence. To cope with this phase, balance enjoyment of U.S. life with the reality of the return to your home country, think about positive ways time in the U.S. will affect your life in your home country, and enjoy your life here fully while also preparing for your return home.
  4. The Reverse Culture Shock phase occurs when you return home and can be the hardest phase of all. As you had become accustomed to some aspects of U.S. culture, those areas of your home culture may feel strange. It may feel like you changed a lot during your experience abroad, while your family and friends may not have changed much. Some ways to cope with this are realizing you are not the only one who has changed in your absence, trying not to compare the U.S. to your home country, as both are unique and valuable, and try getting involved in a cultural exchange club or program back home. The more you anticipate the difficulties of re-entry, the better you can minimize their impact and severity. You can also use the same skills that helped you adapt to the United States to readapt to life in your home country.

Finding Housing

If you and your employer have not found a place for you to live prior to your arrival, finding a place to live will be your top priority. 

Need help finding safe and affordable housing? Cultural Vistas has partnered with the housing supplier 4Stay to help our participants in this search! They offer a variety of housing options through vetted landlords in central locations. Easily search online for fully furnished apartments, private rooms, shared rooms, and entire homes for a semester, a year, month-to-month, or short-term rentals. No deposits are required and all utilities are included so there is less of a burden on you!

Other online resources for finding housing include: CraigslistApartmentsAirbnbZillowHotPads, and several that connect you with someone who is looking for a roommate: RoomsterRoommatesEasyRoommate. Please note that Cultural Vistas does not endorse any of these resources and cannot guarantee results.

Many local colleges and universities will open their dormitories in the summer for college students and interns, or students completing the school year or leaving to study abroad may post apartment sublets available.

If you are only going to be in an area for a short amount of time, you may consider local hotels, or for generally cheaper rates, Airbnb or hostels can be a great option. You can also contact a renters’ office or agent, and for a fee they will help you set up appointments to visit apartments. They will also help you in the signing of a lease.

Most landlords renting apartments or houses require their incoming tenants to sign a lease, which is the official document of agreement between the two parties. The entire lease should be read carefully before entering an agreement, especially the paragraphs on:

  • Security deposit: The money a tenant must present up front as a form of collateral for the apartment or house—usually one- or two-month’s rent.
  • Maintenance: There are strict rules about how tenants and landlords must deal with these issues, but they vary from state to state, or even city to city.

Before signing a lease, you should take the following steps:

Step 1: Contact the potential landlord or roommate directly via phone and/or Skype

Do not rely on email alone. Request photos of the apartment if you are arranging housing before arrival.

Step 2: If possible, see the apartment in person

Walk through the apartment or house with the landlord and make a written list of current faults or problems. This will help eliminate the question of responsibility for pre-existing damage.

Step 3: Research the average monthly rent rates in the areas in which you are looking to live

This will help determine if you have realistic expectations, or if you are potentially being overcharged. (Or undercharged. Tip: If you see a housing posting that is far below the average rates, this may mean there are problems with the accommodations. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is!). DO NOT send any housing party money until a legally binding lease is signed by both parties. If someone requests that you send money, or states that you cannot go inside of an apartment before making a payment, do not do it.

In general, start the process of searching for housing early. Housing options often go very fast. If you can, get in contact with other co-workers or your supervisor for advice on where you should look for housing in the area. Sometimes if the company has other current J-1 interns they can be the best resource for gaining information regarding housing. Finally, make sure you have savings and bring additional money to cover the cost of a security deposit, your first month’s rent and last month’s rent, as well as utilities.

Public Transportation and Driving

You will most likely use two types of transportation to get to and from your job: public transportation or a car. (If your walk or bike – do so with caution! Please see the bike safety instructions on the right.) You will notice differences between transportation in the United States and the rest of the world. American rail and bus systems are not as extensive as those in many other countries.

Public Transportation

New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco have the largest metropolitan rail systems in the United States. Such systems provide inexpensive and very convenient transportation. Maps, rates, and timetables for rail services are readily available throughout most urban centers and can be found on the internet as well. Additionally, most cities have bus systems. For bus information, search your city’s mass transit system on the Internet. When using public transportation, take safety precautions and keep your personal belongings in sight.


If you plan to drive in the United States, you must be at least 18 years of age and hold a driver’s license from your own country or an International Driving Permit (IDP). If you do not have either, you will have to take driving lessons and pass a driving and written test in the state of residency. A vision test may also be required. To obtain a license, go to the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It is also important for you to know that a driver’s license is the most common form of identification used in the United States. Driver’s licenses are issued by individual state governments but are valid throughout the country. Please note that IDPs must be applied for in your home country. Those whose licenses are written in a non-Roman alphabet language (example: Japanese) should apply for an IDP or have their license translated to English before departure to the United States. Even with your IDP, you may need to get a state issued driver’s license.

Each state has different rules, but in most states, if you intend to stay in the country for some time, you may have to take a test for a U.S. license. Driving without a valid license is a serious offense and can result in fines of hundreds of dollars and could also result in vehicle impoundment, etc.

All states require car owners to purchase and maintain car insurance. If you are in an accident, your car insurance will cover most of the cost of injuries and repairs, which can be very high.

Types of car insurance:

Driving regulations are standard from one state to another, though they vary somewhat because they are determined by the individual states and municipalities. If you are pulled over by an officer (ex. you ran a red light, speeding, your lights aren’t working):

In certain countries it is the custom to pay the police officer immediately following a violation for which you are stopped. Do not offer any form of payment; that may be interpreted as a threat to the officer. If you receive a ticket: