Jun 16, 2024  
International Student Handbook 
International Student Handbook

Adjusting to US Culture

 What is Cultural Shock?

Leaving home and traveling to study and live in a new country can be a stressful experience, even though it may be something you have planned and prepared for. Many experience the impact of adjusting to United States (US) culture (often referred to as “culture shock”); it can be helpful to realize your experience is quite normal and that there are methods and people that can help you.

  • Culture shock describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one that is unfamiliar.

  • It includes the shock of a new environment, meeting lots of new people, and learning the ways of a new country.

  • It also includes the shock of being separated from the important people in your life, such as family, friends, colleagues, and teachers; people you would talk to at times of uncertainty, people who give you support and guidance.

There are tools and resources that can be useful to you; please view the links below to access information that can assist with acclimating to US culture and studying at Florida Poly (listed in alphabetical order):

Florida Poly Resources

​Other Culture Adjustment Resources

Factors that can contribute to culture shock

  • Climate

Many students find the southeast climate affects them, and may find the heat and humidity (that can occur almost year round), difficult to get used to.

  • Language

Listening and speaking in a new language can be overwhelming. In class, some international students have trouble understanding the lecture and reading materials, or US teaching methods. The language differences may sometimes cause a language barrier; if English is not your first language, you may find you miss your home language.

  • Social Roles

Social behaviors may confuse, surprise or offend you. For example you may find people appear cold, distant or always in a hurry. Or you may be surprised to see couples holding hands and kissing in public. You may find relationships more formal or less formal than you are used to, as well as differences in social contact.

  • Social Behaviors

Things such as sights, sounds, smells and tastes, every culture has unspoken rules which can affect the way people treat each other. For example, there will be differences in the ways people decide what is important, how tasks are allocated and how time is observed. In business and academic life, keeping to a schedule is important. You should always be on time for lectures, classes, and meetings with academic and administrative staff. If you are going to be late for a meeting, try your best to give an advance notice.

  • Values

Most may first become aware of cultural differences in their physical environment, (e.g., food, dress, behavior), noticing that people from other cultures may have very different views of the world from others. Cultures are built on deeply-embedded sets of values, norms, assumptions and beliefs. It can be surprising and sometimes distressing to find that people do not share some of your most deeply held ideas, as most of us take our core values and beliefs for granted and assume they are universally held.

As much as possible, try to suspend judgment until you understand how parts of a culture fit together into a coherent whole. Try to see what people say or do in the context of their own culture’s norms. This will help you to understand how other people see your behavior, as well as how to understand theirs. When you understand both cultures, you will probably find some aspects of each that you may like or at least understand better. 

  • Relationship Stress

If your spouse or partner and/or children have accompanied you to the US, remember that the stress of the transition may cause struggles in your relationships. The transition to a new culture may be very difficult for your partner and children, causing feelings of isolation. Remember they have also been transplanted from their culture and separated from family and friends. Simple tasks can be stressful due to the language barriers, and often times they do not have opportunities to engage in productive, meaningful activity such as pursuing a degree, and it may be more difficult for them to make new friends.

If you find that you are struggling with the stress of cultural adjustment and would like to learn strategies for coping more effectively with your transition, please reach out to Florida Poly Counseling Services

They would value the chance to meet you and learn more about how you are navigating the differences between your home culture and that of the Florida Poly campus. Many international students find that counseling can help them learn new coping skills, generate ideas about how to get connected, and receive support for the many transitions they are experiencing.


In the US we tend to think of being homesick as something associated with being young and at summer camp, but anyone can be homesick at any time. It can come from just missing the familiarity of home surroundings, the regularity of university classes, the inexplicable fear of new places, and just being outside your normal routine.

It may not happen at all, or it may be a fleeting experience, or it may stay awhile. It may take a call home or talking to a friend or speaking to a counselor to sort out these feelings. It is important to know that many have experienced homesickness and were able to recover. 

Jet Lag

To avoid some of the problems of jet lag (adjusting to the difference in time at the new location); there are a few simple rules to follow on the airplane.

  • Drink liquids to avoid dehydration

Water and fruit juices are the best to drink. Alcohol will further dehydrate you during your flight and hit you faster on a plane. It can also cause joint swelling and make it harder to adjust to time changes.

  • Exercise

Stretch during your flight, and if possible, sit in a bulkhead or aisle seat to stretch your legs. Some planes have extra legroom in the emergency exit seat over the wing.

  • Sleep

If at all possible, sleep on the flight. If you can find an empty row, lift the armrests and stretch out. This will help you to be more refreshed when you arrive at your destination.

  • Set your watch

Change your watch to the new time when your flight departs. Attempt to eat meals at the “new” time. This will help your body adjust to the new time zone.

  • Don’t sleep on arrival

When you arrive at your destination, it is important to adjust to the local time (Eastern Standard Time or EST or ET). If you arrive in the morning, attempt to stay awake until a usual bedtime (or at least until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m.). If you arrive later in the evening, try to go to sleep early. Usually, if you get a regular night’s sleep, you will be able to wake up at the normal time the next morning and be able to function normally. Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern as soon as possible.

 Time Zone Conversions

 US and Immigration Laws

Please review Know Your Rights for resources regarding your legal rights in the US. 

As an international student in the US, you are subject:
  • All US laws and regulations that governs US citizens.

  • All immigration laws that define and limit your activities as a nonimmigrant student.

  • All university policies and guidelines (See Student Handbook and Code of Conduct)

Failure to comply with all can affect your status and lead to a request for your voluntary departure or forced deportation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

Important: Students that find themselves in a legal situation should enlist the help of a competent criminal attorney who is familiar with immigration regulations.

What Happens If You Violate US Laws

Criminal activity, arrests, and convictions can have serious immigration consequences. Students need to be aware of the law, and what is considered criminal activity, and avoid it at all costs. It is important to know what to do if arrested or convicted.

Equal Protection & Due Process

All persons in the US, regardless of citizenship, are entitled to the same protection of the law and procedures of law enforcement. This means that with a “few exceptions,” international students will be treated the same as American citizens in their relationship with law enforcement agencies.

  • Please view immigration law to find out more about the “few exceptions”.

What “Criminal Activity” Has Immigration Consequences?

  • Any arrests and/or convictions, even crimes that may not be serious for US citizens.
    • If fingerprinted, this can delay visa issuance even if the student is not convicted or if their record is expunged (meaning it no longer appears on your record).
  • Willful misrepresentations on immigration or visa applications, resulting in securing an immigration benefit through fraud.
    • This can also include an application for admission to school if an I-20 / DS-2019 was issued and the student uses the document to enter the US.
  • Drug-related offenses may or may not result in a conviction.

  • A conviction for, or admission of crimes of moral turpitude (these are generally serious crimes).

  • Suspension or expulsion from school as a result of criminal activity, whatever the nature of the crime.

What Are the Consequences of “Criminal Activity”?

  • Delays in obtaining visas - any arrest or conviction will cause a positive “hit” in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and delay new visa issuance.

    • It does not matter if the record of arrest or conviction is taken with to the consulate; they will still have to wait for the NCIC report.

  • Denial of visa or entry into the US.

  • Removal or deportation from the US.

  • Denial of immigration benefits in the US including extension, change of status, and practical training.

How Do I Avoid These Consequences?

  • Do not drink and drive; this is taken very seriously in the US. 

    • Take a taxi, Uber, or Lyft, or have a designated driver when you go out and plan to drink.

    • The legal drinking age in the US is 21 years old.

  • Do not do drugs.

    • Being arrested with even a small amount of illegal substances can deem you deportable.

  • Do not lie or misrepresent your actions on immigration applications or to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or other US government employees.

    • If you have concerns about something you have done, it is recommended to contact an immigration attorney before you are interviewed or complete an application.

    • Do not assume that the government will not find out; there is cooperation among government agencies.

  • If you are arrested, just like on TV, you do have the right to an attorney and anything you say can and will be used against you.

  • Make sure that you have a criminal attorney who is aware that there may be immigration consequences to any plea bargain or guilty plea and who works with an immigration attorney.

Important: Remember that it is your responsibility to know the law and avoid committing crimes.

Illegal Drugs

The possession, use, or sale of drugs or narcotics, including marijuana, hashish, amphetamines, hallucinogens, barbiturates, cocaine, heroin, and a wide range of other drugs, are serious offenses under Florida law and immigration law. Those who choose to use illegal drugs run the risk of expulsion from the university, imprisonment, and/or deportation from the US.

  • Please view Florida Poly’s Drug-Free Campus page, an initiative intended to promote a safe, productive, and drug-free work and learning environment for our faculty, staff, and students.

The minimum legal age for drinking alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, liquor, etc.) in the State of Florida is 21.

  • This means you cannot be served alcoholic beverages unless you are 21 or older.

  • You will be asked to present an identification card with your photograph and your date of birth before you can purchase alcohol from a store or enter a bar, nightclub, or other establishment that serves alcohol.

  • Students who are over age 18 but under 21 will be admitted, but these students are not allowed to purchase alcohol.

  • Driving a car after drinking alcoholic beverages is also illegal in Florida, regardless of age.

  • Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol carries severe penalties and can result in the loss of your driver’s license, heavy fines, imprisonment, disciplinary action by the university, and/or deportation. NEVER DRINK AND DRIVE.


Smoking has become socially unacceptable in many places. Smoking is not permitted in Florida Polytechnic University buildings (or dorm rooms). Smoking is also forbidden in hospitals, many restaurants, and other public places. It is always best to ask where you are permitted to smoke. 

 Avoid Breaking Visa Rules in the US

Once you are in the US on a student visa, your right to stay depends not only on when your permitted stay expires but whether you are maintaining your student immigration status. 

If you violate these rules, you are said to be “out of status” meaning that your right to be in the US ends automatically, and if your spouse and child dependents are living in the US with you on F-2 visas, they will simultaneously lose their right to be here also.

  • You and your family could be deported, and your unlawful stay in the US would be entered into your permanent immigration records.
The most important rules are rather simple; you must:
  • Maintain full-time enrollment and attend class.

  • Make sure that your school’s Designated School Official (DSO) or US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves any changes in your overall plan.

  • Do not work without prior authorization.

  • Students can also violate their status if they lie or give false information to USCIS or are convicted of a crime of violence.

Unfortunately, one violation tends to cause another. For example, if your expected completion date as shown on your Form I-20 passes by and you do not notice, and you continue working at your on-campus job, you will technically be working without an authorization-on top of having overstayed your student status. In fact, any employment becomes unauthorized as soon as you fall out of student status. This compounding of violations can create problems because different violations may have different legal consequences.

What Happens If You Violate Visa Rules?

The consequences of violating status depends upon what you do and who finds out about it. 

Unauthorized employment is the worst sort of status violation because it is the only one that you cannot overcome by applying to be returned to student status, through a process called reinstatement.
  • If USCIS catches you in a status violation, it could place you and your spouse and children in removal proceedings.

  • If you do not have a defense, you could be deported, or the judge can deem that your violation caused some of your time in the US to be “unlawful.” O

Once your “unlawful presence” has added up to six months or more, the first time you leave the US you could find yourself prevented from reentering for three years.

  • With the unlawful presence of one year, you’d be barred from returning to the US for ten years.

What to Do If You Miss School Because You’re Sick

USCIS does not expect you to drag yourself to school if you come down with a serious illness or become pregnant. If this happens, talk to your DSO so that he or she understands the situation and does not report your absence from school to USCIS.

As soon as you are fully recovered, you are expected to resume a full-time course load. If your illness prevents you from completing your studies by the date on your I-20, you’ll need to apply for an extension of time.

 US Clothing Sizes

Clothing sizes in the US differ from sizes in other countries. Ready-to-wear clothes sold in stores are generally standardized in size. Fitting rooms are provided in stores where you may try on the clothing items before you purchase to see if they fit properly. Be sure that you are satisfied with what you buy, and remember, you are not obligated to buy any garment that does not fit or satisfy you. 

Make sure you read the labels on every garment that you purchase; there are many different types of fabrics with different washing instructions. Many silk and rayon fabrics are dry clean only, which can become very costly. Machine washable fabrics, such as all cotton and cotton/polyester blends, are recommended to save money.

 US Measurements

During your stay in the US, you will notice differences in the way things are measured as soon as your plane lands. The US is one of the few countries globally that still uses the imperial system of measurement, where things are measured in feet, inches, pounds, ounces, etc.

  • Most countries use the Metric system, which uses measuring units such as meters and grams and adds prefixes like “kilo, milli, or centi” to count orders of magnitude.
For assistance with converting US measurements please reference the following resources: