J-1 Survival Guide

  • Please make sure to pack the following important documents:

    Passport with your US visa.
    DS 2019 Form.
    Sponsor Letter
    Job Offer
    Housing Information
    Participant Handbook
    Personal Identification card from your country
    Insurance Card
    Money (Traveler’s checks, Credit Cards)

    Make photocopies of all your important documents and store them separately from the originals. If you lose your original documents, having a copy will speed the replacement process.

    Plan what clothes you will wear ahead of time to avoid over-packing.
    Pack clothes that will allow you to adapt to changing weather conditions (For example: A light jacket that goes with several of your shirts, some long-sleeve shirts, jeans that look good rolled up at the bottoms).
    Bring clothing that you can wear more than once. Layering clothes is a good way to re-wear items, but also deal with changing weather.

    Also try to be aware of the weather where you will be staying

    In the Southern part of the United States, the weather is warmer but you will still need a warm jacket for cooler days.
    In the Midwest/Northern part of the United States, the weather can range anywhere from Hot-to-warm-to-cold all depending on the season. Please make sure you are dressed appropriately for the weather conditions outside.

    Keep your most important items in your smallest bag and keep this bag with you at all times.
    Most airlines allow passengers to bring one small and one medium piece of carry-on luggage on to the plane. You must check larger luggage items at the check in counter before you proceed to your gate, and may be charged a fee.
    Since you will most likely be stowing the larger of the carry-on items in the overhead bin, avoid putting items up there that you will want during the flight (ex. a sweater, book, or snack).
    Please check the airport guidelines for information about what you can and cannot bring onto the plane

    What to bring: North/Midwest

    Clothing
    Sweatshirt, jeans, sweatpants, socks, underwear, T-shirts, shorts, and a swimsuit
    When it is cold outside a jacket, warm boots, hat, gloves, and a scarf are important to wear.
    Remember the North/Midwest parts of the U.S. can get very cold in the winter. It is important to wear proper clothing for protection from the cold weather.
    Small Blanket
    Medications
    If you are taking any prescription medication, bring enough to last you the entire program
    Prescription glasses/contacts (Bring a recent prescription from your doctor, in case you need replacements)
    Laptop or Tablet (Chargers)
    Book/magazine in your native language
    Universal plug adapter
    Wallet/Purse
    Backpack
    Money to cover your housing and initial living expenses

    What to bring: Southern/Coastal States:

    Clothing:
    Long sleeve shirts, sweater, raincoat, jeans, shorts, T-shirts, hat, light jacket, swimsuit, socks and underwear
    Remember the Southern/Coastal parts of the U.S. can be very warm, but also can get cold in the winter, especially at night!
    Small Blanket
    Medication
    If you are taking any prescription medication, bring enough to last you the entire program
    Prescription glasses/contacts (bring prescription if possible in case you need replacements)
    Laptop or Tablet (Chargers)
    Book/magazine in your native language
    Universal plug adapter
    Wallet/Purse
    Backpack
    Money to cover your housing and initial living expenses

    Things to leave at home:

    Copies of your important documents and travel itinerary with a family member or close relative
    Expensive Jewelry
    Anything that looks like a weapon
    Large Gaming systems (Xbox,PS3,Wii)

  • Shopping for groceries can be difficult, especially if it’s your first time in US. Once you arrive at your housing and are settled in, you will want to locate the nearest grocery store to purchase food. Below are a few tips on how to shop smart, save money and purchase food.

    Before Shopping please keep in mind:

    How much refrigerator and cabinet space do you have? If you have roommates, you will have to share the space.
    What appliances (oven/microwave/toaster/) do you have in your housing?
    What utensils (Pots/pans/cookware) are in your housing?
    Make a shopping list before you go to the grocery store and STICK TO IT!

    Buy essential non-perishable food items in bulk (large quantities): pastas, rice, cornmeal, flour, oatmeal, sugar, olive oil, etc. These items will not go bad quickly and can be stored for later use.
    Buy fresh produce and perishable food items only the amount you need for a week: eggs, milk, bananas, meat, etc.
    It will save you money if you buy produce that is in season (apples in winter, oranges in summer).
    Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry.
    This is a common tip but it’s true: when you’re hungry you’re more likely to buy more food items that you planned. When shopping while hungry, we also tend to buy a lot of junk food (food with little nutritional value).
    Eat a good meal before you go shopping and stick to your grocery list.
    Buy frozen vegetables.
    While fresh vegetables taste better, frozen vegetables are just as good and can save you money.
    Since you can keep the vegetables in the freezer, they can last much longer.
    Buy store brand food items.
    Walmart, Kroger, etc.– Store brands are almost identical to brand name items and often cost much less.
    Sign up for store savings cards.
    These free cards give additional discounts to members and can add up to big savings over time.
    Stores like Kroger, Randall’s, Walgreen’s and CVS all have these.

    What to shop for once you arrive at the Store:

    Groceries
    Over the counter medications (medication that you do not need a doctors approval to get).
    Toothbrush/toothpaste
    Deodorant
    Shaving cream/razors
    Shampoo/Conditioner/Body Wash
    Lip balm/skin moisturizer
    Cell phone/phone card
    Weather appropriate clothing items that you might need (hats, gloves, scar, etc)
    Raincoat/umbrella
    First aid kit
    Laundry bag/Detergent
    Towel

  • Opening a bank account is not as simple as walking up to a bank teller and handing over money. In order to open a bank account you will need to follow the steps below:

    Locate a nationwide bank in your area. You can locate a bank in your area by doing an internet search. You can find out if the bank has nationwide and international locations by speaking with a bank representative. For example, Bank of America is a nationwide bank and also has International Branches.

    In order to open a bank account you will need the following documents:

    Cash or paycheck from your Host Company (some banks require a minimum amount deposit to open an account).
    Your passport
    A secondary form of ID. (Identification issued in your country: Driver’s License, Picture student ID)
    The housing address where you are living in the US.

    Ask the bank if they offer a free student checking account and an Online banking option. For example Bank of America is offering both free checking account and online banking. To find a Bank of America in your area, please click here: www.bankofamerica.com

    Online banking:

    Many banks now offer online banking and mobile applications that are linked to your checking account.
    Using online banking you can:
    View your balance
    View your statement of recent transactions

  • When you decide to buy a phone, you need to think about the type of phone and phone plan you’ll need. There are many options available, so do your research!

    Try not to buy an expensive phone. Many companies will give you an expensive phone for less money if you sign a 2-year contract. DO NOT DO THIS! It is very expensive to get out of this type of contract and will cost you hundreds of dollars.

    Selecting a plan that gives you a set amount of minutes is what you should be looking for.

    This is called a no-contract/pre-paid cell phone plan.

    Walmart is a great place to shop for phones and they offer affordable plans that you can also share with friends or roommates.

    Phone Companies:
    Straight Talk
    AT&T
    Cricket Wireless
    T-Mobile

  • If you decide to rent a car, you must have a valid driver’s license. If you have a driver’s license from your home country, contact local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to determine if you can use your driver’s license in your state. You can locate a local DMV office by doing an internet search.

    Do research before renting a car to find your best option.
    Most companies require that all drivers are at least 25 year old. If the companies rent cars for drivers under 25 years they will charge more.
    Always inspect the car you are renting with an agent BEFORE signing anything.
    It’s your responsibility to understand the rental agreement.
    Make sure you are clear with your rental agent about the total price including taxes and fees before you drive off the lot.
    You will need a valid driver’s license and a credit\debit card.
    Ask about insurance.
    Make sure that you understand the rules, laws and fees when renting a car.

    Nationwide rental companies:
    Budget
    Alamo
    Hertz
    Enterprise

    For car rental tips, please click here.

  • Tips for Bus Travel:

    • If you are riding public transit after dark be sure you are wearing light colored clothing and/or signaling the driver with a lighted device (for example: a cell phone or flash light).
    • Dress for the weather so you are not uncomfortable while waiting for the bus to arrive or transferring to other buses.
    • Find out if it would be cost-effective to get a bus pass or multi-trip ticket for your regular journeys.
    • Make sure you catch your bus going in the right direction:
      • Don’t just go by the route number.
      • At some subway or train stations that are part way along a route, buses may use the same bay for both directions of travel so if you just go by the route number you may end up on a bus taking you farther away from your destination.

    How to use a taxi in the US:

    • Learn to spot an empty taxi by these methods:
      • The flag: If the flag is not raised, the taxi is in use by a customer. If the flag is raised, the taxi is available for use.
      • The light.
    • If the light on the top of the taxi is off, then the car is in use by a customer.
    • If the light on the top of the taxi is on, then the taxi is available for use.
    • If you can’t find a designated taxi stand, then find any place a normal car can park can and call a taxi.

    Please note that taxis are more readily available in major cities. If you are not in a densely populated area, you may need to research local cab companies on the internet and call for taxi ahead of time.

    • Once you get into the taxi:
      Tell the driver exactly where you want to go. Use the address or building name.
      Never use the street name only. Some long roads stretch through several suburbs, even cities. Read pricing information carefully or ask for an estimated cost to ensure you have enough money to cover the fare and a tip (approximately 15%).

    How to use a train in the US:

    • Enter the station and pay fare:

    When you enter a train station, you can pay your fare at the port or gate. Every station has Transit Card Vending Machines if you need to buy a fare.

    • How to read a Train Schedule:

    Maps and signs are located throughout all stations to help you find your way.
    Maps are also posted in each railcar to help you plan your trip. Locate the time you wish to depart the station. A train schedule lists the departure times from morning to night. Departure times are commonly located in the section located on the top of the charted schedule.

    • Find the time you plan to travel.

    Locate the arrival city on the left side of the train schedule. Once found, drag your finger across the row until it connects with the departure time column. Next, mark the departure time and slowly drag your finger down the column until the point meets with the arrival city.
    This point is known as your arrival time. Check the legend for peak hours, fares, wheelchair accessible stops and holiday information. Shaded areas on the schedule represent peak hours. Fares increase during morning and evening peak hours.
    Double-check the days you wish to travel. Train schedules are organized by weekdays, weekends and holidays. It is very important to find the correct day and time of travel.

    • Read the direction of the train.

    Since trains travel in opposite directions, be sure to read the correct inbound or outbound schedule. For example, New Jersey Transit’s train line, the Northeast Corridor, runs from Trenton to Pennsylvania Station in New York City. When taking this train, you must choose either the New York-bound schedule or the Trenton-bound schedule.

    •  Make your way to the boarding area:

    Follow signs to the boarding area for your train. Once at the platform, wait near the signs that indicate where trains stop. Stand clear of the platform edge. Do not run on platforms.

    • Boarding:

    When the train arrives, note the train’s route and destination. For example: A Blue Line train to O’Hare airport will say “O’Hare” on a blue background on the front and inside the center, side window. Allow arriving passengers to exit before entering. Enter the train car and find a seat. Move all the way into the train car. If a seat is not available, move away from the doors and find a suitable standing space. Hold on to one of the poles or overhead straps.
    Enjoy the ride!

  • Below are the ways I’ve had success finding out what’s going on where I live. Depending on the size of the place you live in, you’ll have to change the range of your search area. If you live in a gigantic city you may want to limit things to just the downtown, or your general area. If you live in a really small town you could look within your several-town region.Search engines
    This is a logical place to start. You can search for things like:

    • (your city) event listings
    • (your city) dance lessons
    • (your city) softball leagues
    • (your neighborhood) bridge clubs
    • (your town) volunteer opportunities
    • (your city) concert venues

    Basically, for anything you’re interested in you can have a look and see what’s out there.

    • Using Google and searching about your city, a map will often come up with the results too, showing you where various locations are within your town.
    • If you search online the city you are in, you will find the official website for your town or city. The web site should have a calendar of events, mentioning. They may link to their network of neighborhood community centers too.

    Weekly alternative papers
    In many large and mid-sized cities you can get free weekly papers, which usually have a liberal or alternative bent. They usually have good concert and local Events & Activities listings. The same information should be on the paper’s site as well.

    Walking around your city
    Walk around your area with an eye for finding possible things to do. Walk around sections of your neighborhood that you haven’t been to. Sometimes there’s really interesting stuff hiding down the side streets, but please make sure it is a safe place to be and make sure to have a friend with you.

    Start paying attention to flyers and bulletin boards
    Some things are primarily advertised through postings and flyers. If you start paying attention to this stuff you can stumble across some fun events.

    Local universities or colleges may have programs and activities that are open to the entire community
    Local colleges and universities have events on campus.  You can either search on the internet or contact the Student Life office to get the calendar of events.

    Community center or community agency websites

    • Check their websites. They will list classes and events the community center itself is holding, but they may list general things are going on in your city too.
    • Visit the local Visitor Center or Chamber of Commerce.

    Through libraries
    Libraries don’t hold a lot of events, but they sometimes have events and activities going on. They do tend to have bulletin boards where you can learn about other activities going on in the area.

    Restaurants and cafes
    Some of these places will hold special events on their slower nights. For example: one restaurant/club might offer free introductory salsa lessons every Wednesday evening.

    Following your city, venues on sites like Facebook or Twitter
    These days most venues have a Facebook page that you can ‘Like’ and follow to be notified of upcoming events. If privacy is a concern you could always make a separate account that you only use for this purpose. Some venues may announce things through Twitter as well

    Ask people you work with and your new friends about things to do in your city

  • Many visitors to the U.S. feel pressured to tip even when they do not feel it is fair or reasonable to do so.  Customers cannot be forced to tip as a matter of law, but they are legally required to pay any charges that are clearly marked prior to service, and these may include mandatory gratuities (tips).

    • Mandatory gratuities are used by some restaurants with large numbers of foreign customers who may not be familiar with American tipping customs, often in tourist centers such as New York City.  Mandatory gratuities also are charged by many restaurants when large groups are being served.
    • Fast food restaurants do not have tipping, nor do they have table service.
    • Some coffee shops, bakeries and other establishments have tip jars on their check-out counters.

    Below we are giving you some recommendations on tipping:

    • Restaurants with table service: Tip 15% of the bill, based on the quality of service. If you receive exceptional service, 15-25% is customary.  In major cities of the U.S. however, 20% is considered to be a “good tip”. In rural areas, tipping percentages tend to be lower. Usually now all the phones have a tip calculator that you can use, if you are not sure how much you need/want to leave.
    • Buffet restaurants: tipping servers who clear multiple dishes and provide drink refills are recommended. Buffet servers may not take orders or bring out food, but they do work hard keeping your table clean of the empty plates after multiple trips to the buffet line. In addition to this, they often help to keep the buffet line stocked and clean, and they make coffee, brew tea, etc.  Minimum tip for any server should be $1 per person. If a tip has been added to your bill beforehand because your party was 6 or more, but the server was inadequate or rude, inform the manager immediately before you pay your bill that you want the tip adjusted.
    • Bad or unacceptable service it is customary to tip as low as 10%.  If service is bad enough to deserve only 10%, it is a good idea to let the manager know.
    • Counter service/fast food restaurants often have tip jars out, but you are not required to tip.  If the service is exemplary or unusual requests are made, then tips are appropriate.
    • Hotel housekeeping/maid service: $2-3 per night up to $5, more in high-end hotels.  Also more if there are more than 3 people in a room or suite. Leave the tip on your pillow or in a similar obvious place with a note that says thank you.  Leave the tip each day when you leave the room, rather than at the end of your stay, because your room might get cleaned by different people each day, depending on staff schedules.
    • Taxi Driver: 10-15% of fare, based on service.
    • Hairdresser/manicurist: 10% – 20%.
    • Tour Guides: 15% – 20% + depending on quality (knowledge, friendliness, etc)

    Tipping in the USA is something you get the hang of after you do it a while. After a couple of days, you’ll be able to understand when you receive a good service or a bad service. If you are mistreated anywhere, you should inform a manager.  Don’t tip poor service – let someone know you were unhappy, even if you just leave a note to the server as to why there is no tip added to the bill.

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  • Being in a different country, different food and climate may change your daily routine. Below we are giving you a few recommendations on how to keep you healthy and full of energy:

    • Drink a glass of water in the morning– wake up in the morning and drink one glass of room temperature water. You can put a slice of lemon or lime in the water, if you don’t like its natural taste. Water helps to clear our system, bring on metabolism rate and flush out the toxins. Some people even say that it helps to reduce weight!
    • Sleep enough– lack of sleep makes you feel tired and angry, you can’t concentrate your attention. Lack of sleep can damage your physical health (especially heart) as well. Some studies have shown that 8 hours of sleep per 24-hour period is the average requirement for adults. But all people are different and the time needed for sleep can range from 6 to 10 hours. If you feel sleepy during 4pm and 6pm, you probably do not get enough rest.
    • Stretch in the morning– instead of snoozing in the morning, you can use your time more wisely. Stretch your back, your legs, and your neck. It will wake your body from sleep. Stretching in the morning increases blood flow to your muscles providing an extra shot of oxygen and preparing them for a new day.
    • Snack the healthy way– potato chips, salted nuts; candies, cookies and other tasty stuff are definitely unhealthy for your body. They contain lots of fat, salt, sugar. Choose raw nuts, fresh fruits or berries instead, they are rich in vitamins and minerals.
    • Eat breakfast– breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you skip it, you’ll get hungry long before lunch and will start snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar, but low in vitamins.
    • It’s enough to get up only 15 minutes earlier to fix a healthy dish, like omelet with vegetables or fruit salad with yogurt.
    • Take a daily walk – we all know about the advantages of physical activity, but most of us have neither time, nor desire to exercise. Use the stairs as often as possible instead of the elevator; take a walk with your friends. Researchers say that people only need to walk up to 12 miles per week or for about 125 to 200 minutes per week to improve their heart health.
    •  Make social connections- it is said that lonely people are more likely to become ill. People who have no friends are more stressed, depressed and often less physically active.
    • Study ingredient lists of your favorite products– product’s ingredient list is very important as it shows you whether the food you’re about to buy contains unnatural and unhealthy ingredients. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of unhealthy ingredients on the market and it is almost impossible to remember all of them. Luckily, you can find a lot of information on the Internet about them, so study all of your favorite and most common foods, cosmetics and other products you buy. Harmful ingredients may cause various diseases and allergic reactions.
    •  Find new activities- pick up a new activity involving your friends such as hiking, group sports, skiing or riding a bicycle. Finding a hobby can give you the enjoyment and reduce stress. You’ll also start meeting people who have the same interests as you and may make some new friends. Enjoy your new hobby and remember – happy people live longer!
    • Love your life- relax! Don’t get nervous and angry because of the trivial things. Don’t be too serious. Smile, and always look on the bright side of life!

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