The American calendar is filled with numerous holidays. The following table shows some of the more popular holidays. Important national holidays have been indicated in bold face. Most non-essential government offices will be closed on these days. (Fire, Ambulance and Police are always open.) Banks and post offices also tend to be closed on these days, and many businesses will give their employees the day off.
HolidayDate
New Year’s DayJanuary 1
Martin Luther King, Jr. DayThird Monday in January
Ground Hog DayFebruary 2
Valentine’s DayFebruary 14
President’s DayThird Monday in February
St. Patrick’s DayMarch 17
April Fool’s DayApril 1
Patriots DayThird Monday in April
Good FridaySecond Sunday in May
Mother’s DaySecond Sunday in May
Memorial DayLast Monday in May
Flag DayJune 14
Father’s DayThird Sunday in June
Independence DayJuly 4
Labor DayFirst Monday in September
Columbus DaySecond Monday in October
HalloweenOctober 31
Election DayTuesday after the first Monday in November Federal holiday in years divisible by 4
Veterans DayNovember 11
ThanksgivingFourth Thursday in November
Christmas DayDecember 25

Several US travel agencies specialize in student, and budget travel, including international travel. These include: The International Student Travel Confederation (ISTC) is the organization that sells the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). Their web site includes a list of the more than 6,000 discounts available to holders of the ISIC card and a list of locations worldwide that issue the card. They also provide a home page for the Student Air Travel Association (SATA). There are also several guides to discount travel on the web. The most popular guides are:
When you arrive in the US, you will have to go through Customs and Immigration. They will ask you questions about your reason for visiting the US. Your answer should be “Student”. Keep your answers simple and direct. If they want to know the name of the school, tell them the name of the school, without any extra information. If they want more information, they will ask additional questions. For more information see the US Customs Service web site, which includes the brochure Customs Guidelines for Visitors to the United States. Immigration laws can also be found at the US State Department web site. You may also be asked whether you are bringing in any food. Do not bring any food with you. Food you received on the plane should be left on the plane. It is forbidden to bring perishable foodstuffs, such as fruit, vegetables, and meat, or plants into the US. Also forbidden are articles made from certain protected species of animals. If you bring in more than US$10,000 in US or foreign currency you must declare the amount to customs upon entering or leaving the country. If you use medications that contain narcotics or which are administered by syringe, carry a signed prescription from your physician with the medicine.
The following map of the United States of America came from the US Government Information Exchange site, a good source of information about the US government.

 Map of US

usa_map
AK – AlaskaAL – AlabamaAZ – ArizonaAR – Arkansas
CA – CaliforniaCO – ColoradoCT – ConnecticutDE – Delaware
FL – FloridaGA – GeorgiaHI – HawaiiID – Idaho
IL – IllinoisIN – IndianaIA – IowaKS – Kansas
KY – KentuckyKY – KentuckyME – MaineMD – Maryland
MA – MassachusettsMI – MichiganMN – MinnesotaMS – Mississippi
MO – MissouriMT – MontanaNE – NebraskaNV – Nevada
NH – New HampshireNJ – New JerseyNM – New MexicoNY – New York
NC – North CarolinaND – North DakotaOH – OhioOK – Oklahoma
OR – OregonPA – PennsylvaniaRI – Rhode IslandSC – South Carolina
SD – South DakotaTN – TennesseeTX – TexasUT – Utah
VT – VermontVA – VirginiaWA – WashingtonWV – West Virginia
WI – WisconsinWY – Wyoming
District of Columbia
There are a lot of shades to life in the US that you can only learn by living there. But,we shall see some of the more important cultural differences

 Stereotypes

Americans do tend to be more informal than people from other countries. It is common for Americans to wear casual clothing to school and to greet professors by first name. But, good manners and politeness are always appropriate. If you are courteous and polite, and dress a little more formally than your American friends, it will only reflect well on you. However, there are situations and environments in which formality is the norm. Some businesses require their employees to wear a uniform or a suit. It would be inappropriate to wear a T-shirt and blue jeans to a job interview. Some of the more prestigious restaurants require a coat and tie. Americans tend to dress up for cultural events (the opera, theater and ballet) and to dress down for athletic events. Formal wear is required at weddings and funerals, or any other event with religious overtones.

 Forms of Address

American names are written and spoken with the given name first and the family name last. So John Smith’s family name is Smith, not John. In an informal situation, Americans will introduce each other by first name, without titles, and occasionally by just the last name. If you are introduced to somebody by first name, you can address him or her by first name the next time you meet. The only exception would be for someone who holds an important position, such as the university president. Unless they tell you otherwise, faculty should be addressed using their title and last name (e.g., “Professor Smith”).

 Tipping

Restaurants do not include a service charge in the bill, so you should tip the waiter 15% of the total bill. Taxi drivers expect to get a tip equal to 15% of the total fare.

 Business Visits

Business visits, on the other hand, tend to be extremely punctual. If you arrive late to a business appointment, it will reflect badly on you. So try to arrive on time, or even a little early. If you know that you will be arriving late, you should telephone ahead to let them know of the delay.

 Telephone Manners

When you call someone, it is polite to identify yourself.

 Dining

Most Americans eat three meals during the day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast begins between 7:00 am and 8:00 am, lunch between 11:00 am and noon, and dinner between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm. On Sundays “brunch” is a combination of breakfast and lunch, typically beginning at 11:00 am. Students often enjoy a “study break” or evening snack around 10:00 or 11:00 pm. Breakfast and lunch tend to be light meals, with only one course. Dinner is the main meal.

 Gifts

If you wish to give a gift when you leave to return to your home country, the best gift is something that is unique to your country. It does not need to be especially valuable or rare, just reminiscent of your home. Possibilities include a book about your country, an inexpensive handicraft or piece of art, or something else that reflects your culture. If you owe a debt of deep gratitude to an American host family, a common way of repaying it is to take the family to a form of entertainment, such as a baseball, basketball, or hockey game, the ballet, or to a good restaurant.

 Smoking

Smoking has become socially unacceptable in the US, in part due to the health risks. Smoking is prohibited in government and public buildings, and many businesses, especially restaurants, will not permit smoking on the premises. Those restaurants that permit smoking will usually have a separate section for customers who smoke. Your school probably has a ban on smoking within campus buildings or near building entrances.

 Numbers

In the United States, the number 13 is symbolic of bad luck. Tall office buildings sometimes skip the number 13 when numbering the floors. The number 7 is symbolic of good luck.

 Calendar Dates

In the United States, dates are written as month/day/year. This is the opposite of the British method, in which dates are written day/month/year. So while 4/3/67 would be March 4, 1967 in Europe, it is April 3, 1967 in the United States. It is best to write out dates using the month name in order to avoid confusion.

 Time & Temperature

Climate varies considerably across the United States. You will probably need an umbrella, even in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. In the northern cities, such as Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Seattle, Washington, Denver, and Minneapolis you will need cold weather and snow gear. In the southern states, such as California and Florida, summers may be very hot and the winters mild. Depending on the part of the country, temperatures during the summer will run from the 70’s through the 90’s. No matter where you are in the US, you will probably need a sweater or jacket for part of the year. If you will be living in an area that gets snow, you will need a good winter coat, boots, and gloves. If the coat does not include a hood, you will need a hat that covers your ears. But all this can wait until after you arrive in the US. Clothing is relatively inexpensive in the US, and it may be easier to find appropriate clothing at your destination. Wait until you arrive, and watch what the natives wear. During Daylight Savings Time clocks are set forward one hour. It begins on the first Sunday in April and ends on the last Sunday in October. The mnemonic “Spring Forward, Fall Back” will help you remember how to set your clocks.

 Electronics Equipment

Most electrical outlets in the United States operate with a voltage of 110-120 volts, 60 cycles. If your equipment requires 220 volts, bring a transformer and plug adapter. Videotapes recorded on foreign VCRs will not necessarily play correctly on American VCRs. If you are thinking of buying a computer to bring with you, you may wish to wait until after you arrive in the US to get a computer. Computer and software prices are often less expensive in the US, and getting cheaper every day.

 Religion

The US Constitution guarantees religious freedom for all faiths. You will almost certainly be able to find a church, synagogue, or mosque near school for people of your faith.

 International Visitors Council

Your city may have an organization that tries to help international visitors during their stay in the United States and to help familiarize them with American customs. Some of the services typically offered include matching you with a host family who will spend an evening with you, tours of the city, visits to factories and businesses, and social events. They might also offer English lessons and holiday hospitality. Ask your friends and colleagues whether the city has such an organization, or look in the yellow pages.
Temperatures are most often reported in Fahrenheit, and occasionally also in Celsius. To convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, subtract 32 and multiply the result by 5/9. The following table lists a few common temperatures:
°F°CDescription
212100Boiling point of water
98.637Normal body temperature
8630Very hot summer day
7222Room temperature
6820Mild spring day
5010Warm winter day
320Freezing point of water
5010Warm winter day
320Freezing point of water
20-7Very cold winter day
Climate varies considerably across the United States. You will probably need an umbrella, even in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. In the northern cities, such as Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Seattle, Washington, Denver, and Minneapolis you will need cold weather and snow gear. In the southern states, such as California and Florida, summers may be very hot and the winters mild. Depending on the part of the country, temperatures during the summer will run from the 70s through the 90s. No matter where you are in the US, you will probably need a sweater or jacket for part of the year. If you will be living in an area that gets snow, you will need a good winter coat, boots, and gloves. If the coat does not include a hood, you will need a hat that covers your ears. But all this can wait until after you arrive in the US. Clothing is relatively inexpensive in the US, and it may be easier to find appropriate clothing at your destination. Wait until you arrive, and watch what the natives wear. The United States has four main time zones: Pacific Standard Time (PST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), Central Standard Time (CST), and Eastern Standard Time (EST). When it is 9:00 am in California (PST) it is 10:00 am in Denver (MST), 11:00 am in Chicago (CST), and 12:00 noon in New York (EST). Alaska is one hour earlier than California, and Hawaii is two hours earlier. Puerto Rico is in the Atlantic Standard Time zone, one hour after New York. Guam is fourteen hours after New York. If you are on the east coast of the US and calling someone on the west coast, they are probably still asleep at 9:00 am your time. If you are on the west coast and calling someone on the east coast, they are probably eating dinner at 4:00 pm your time.
If this is your first extended trip to another country, you may be a little nervous. Do not worry! The tips in this section will help make sure you arrive in one piece and with all your luggage.

 Packing

The following checklist will help you make sure you have not missed anything important.
  • Money, credit cards, checkbook, traveler’s checks, financial records, PIN codes for your bank cards
  • Emergency Money (keep US$100 hidden somewhere on your person of an emergency)
  • Clothing, including shoes, coats, cold weather clothing, and rain gear
  • Official academic transcripts and English translations
  • Medical and dental records, including immunization and vaccination records and prescriptions, eyeglasses, insurance records
  • Marriage certificate and birth certificates of all family members
  • Passport and plane tickets, Form I-20
  • National and international driver’s licenses
  • A list of the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of key contacts
  • Books, including a dictionary and phrase book
  • Academic documents, such as the school’s course catalog and other material you received from the school
You should bring enough money with you to cover your first month’s expenses until you are able to transfer funds from abroad. This will be minimum US $1,500, but probably more (look at your budget to be sure).
Make two xeroxes of any important document. Leave one copy at home, and bring one copy with you, but keep it separate from the originals.

 Before You Leave

Before you leave, let the international student advisor know about your travel plans and expected arrival date. Also, give your family members who are staying behind your contact information in the United States. Attend the US Information Service’s pre-departure orientation session. It will provide a lot of helpful information. When purchasing your tickets, always ask about APEX (Advance Purchase Excursion) fares, which offer significant discounts for tickets that are purchased several weeks in advance.

 Air Travel

Keep in mind that air travel covering more than a few time zones often results in a disorientation called “jetlag”. Your body will initially have trouble adjusting to the time shift. During your flight, avoid caffeine and alcohol, but drink plenty of water. After you arrive at your destination, it is important to go to sleep at the normal time for your destination, and to walk around in the bright morning sunlight after you wake up. Most people take about 3 days to recover from jetlag. For travel to the US, you should compare the fares on several major international carriers. Sometimes the US airlines are cheaper, and sometimes the major carriers serving your country are cheaper.
The United States still uses the English system of weights and measures. The metric system is available, but people think quarts and inches, not liters and centimeters. The following charts convert between the English and metric systems for the most commonly used measures.
Length
1 inch = 2.54 centimeters (cm)1 centimeter = 0.39 inches (in)
1 foot = 0.305 meters (m)1 meter = 3.28 feet (ft)1 foot = 12 inches
1 yard = 0.914 meters (m)1 meter = 1.09 yards (yd)1 yard = 3 feet
1 mile = 1.61 kilometers (km)1 kilometer = 0.62 miles (mi)1 mile = 5280 feet
Width
1 ounce = 28.35 grams (g)11 gram = 0.035 ounces (oz)
1 pound = 0.4536 kilograms (kg)11 kilogram = 2.2046 pounds (lb)1 pound = 16 ounces
1 pound = 0.4536 kilograms (kg)11 kilogram = 2.2046 pounds (lb)1 pound = 16 ounces
Volume
11 gallon = 3.7854 liters (L)1 liter = 0.2642 gallons (gal)1 miles/gallon = 0.42514 km/ liter
1 gallon = 4 quarts1 quart = 2 pints1 pint = 2 cups
1 cup = 8 fluid ounces1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons1 teaspoon = 5 ml