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The American workplace may seem much less hierarchical than a typical style work environment. You may be permitted to call your boss by his or her first name (do not do this, of course, unless you see your coworkers doing the same).
Supervisors may share what seems to be personal information that is normally only shared with close friends. Socializing on the job is casual and will include all levels of the hierarchy. Do not let this fool you. Your boss is still your boss, and although relations may seem informal, this informality or friendliness is only an American form of politeness. Watch and listen to your boss and co-workers to learn how formal or informal it is. Treat your boss with respect by being punctual and cooperative, not by formal speech or flattery.
American society reflects a historical dependence on group support, although many Americans think of themselves as individualists. The fact that a tremendous amount of vocabulary from team sports is used in the workplace is a reflection of this. Make sure to help co-workers if they request it and do not be afraid to request help if you need it.
Your employer may ask you to take on tasks not in your job description in order to get a job done. The goal is: to get the job done. Members of a workgroup, including the boss, may be very flexible about what work they do in order to achieve that goal.
Time is extremely important in American society. Being on time (punctual) is always important. This usually means showing up a little early (5 or 10 minutes), especially at interviews and meetings. Employees who consistently arrive at the office five minutes late may be seen as latecomers who do not take their work seriously.
During business conversations, personal subjects or information are generally not brought up. Getting the work done and getting to the point is generally more important. You will have plenty of time to get to know colleagues after work, during lunch, and during breaks.
It is an acceptable practice in the U.S. to discuss problems you are having at work with your supervisor. Approach him/her in a calm and polite manner and explain your concerns. If you feel the objectives of your internship/training are not being met, refer to your Internship Agreement Form. Discuss your training objectives with your employer and point out which of the specific duties indicated on the form you feel you are not performing.
Express your desire to learn more and do more, and fulfil your tertiary institution’s requirements. If you continue to have problems, please contact us or the sponsor. Sometimes, Americans are very open about the actions of employees that are seen as unsatisfactory. Some employers may even express anger. Do not be afraid to politely present your point of view or to admit a mistake. This is usually a chance to make things better, not a prelude to being fired.
Lay-Offs and Firing Practices
If a company has financial difficulties, it is possible that the company will eliminate your position. Most people get two weeks’ notice before they have to leave, but this is not required by law (although it can be by a union contract). If this happens, you should contact us immediately for advice. If you are fired, it is because the company is unhappy with you. It is rare that interns are fired for poor technical skills.
Please understand that if you are dismissed due to poor technical skills or if the job is too demanding, we will be more than happy to try finding you an alternative placement.
As an intern/trainee, your employer is not required to provide you with the same benefits that regular employees receive. These include vacations, sick leave, medical insurance, etc. However, you are already covered by the medical insurance offered by the program.
Some interns/trainees work long enough to receive advancement in their jobs. Being dependable, loyal, and punctual are necessary qualities for getting ahead. Both working well without supervision and being honest about mistakes are also important. If you have a good idea about a new project, do not be afraid to share it with your boss. Let your employer know you are interested in the advancement, but only if you think you deserve it and notice that others in similar situations are being promoted.
Your salary is called wages or pay. There are no minimum or maximum restrictions on how much interns/trainees can earn. You should be receiving the remuneration indicated on your offer letter and training plan. If the employer decides to provide more than initially agreed upon, this is not an issue. However, if you are receiving less than agreed on the Training Agreement form and a conflict has developed between yourself and the employer, contact us for advice.
You will receive your salary either once a week, every two weeks, or every month. You will always receive less than your gross salary (what you agreed upon). Money will be subtracted from your gross salary for taxes. These subtractions are called deductions. The money you receive after the deductions is your net salary. Your employer should give you a salary statement or pay slip with your paycheck that explains which taxes are being taken out of your paycheck.
Remember, as an exchange visitor, you should not have social security taxes deducted from your salary. Refer to the Tax Web Page for detailed instructions. Depending on your agreement with your employer, you might also have a uniform, housing, or other costs deducted from your pay.
As in other countries, rents depend on states and cities. It will certainly be cheaper in small towns than in New York, which is well known to be one of the worse places to find an affordable apartment! Most students and young professionals going to the United States for a few months prefer to share an apartment instead of living on their own. There are three main advantages to choosing to have roommates:
- It is a lot cheaper to share an apartment than to have one on your own.
- Most shared apartments are already furnished, so you won’t have to buy furniture for only 6, 12 or 18 months.
- It will help you to meet new people and to make friends!
When arriving in the United States, you should open a bank account as soon as possible. Services and fees vary from bank to bank. Check with several different banks to find the one that best suits your needs. When you first go to the bank, bring various forms of identification, including your passport and social security number. If you have any credit cards and proof of where you are living, bring them as well. What type of account do you want to open? Ask about your options.
Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs)
Most bank accounts provide bank cards that can be used at 24-hour automated tellers machines (ATMs). At least two banking networks, the Cirrus network and the Plus network offer services at machines in many locations across the U.S. When staying in major cities, a bank card may be just as useful as a traveller’s checks or credit cards. Check with your local financial institution before leaving home to verify that you are able to use your bank card from home at some of these machines.
To locate a local cash machine, contact the Cirrus Cash Machine Locator at 1-800-424-7787, or the Plus ATM Locator Service at 1-800-843-7587. Call the telephone number on your card to locate local machines that will accept your card. When opening a bank account, ask about an ATM card and find out if your bank belongs to one of the major networks. Banks may charge a fee of between $1.50-3.00 per withdrawal for using an ATM that belongs to another bank.
Hitchhiking is illegal on federal roads in the United States and is extremely dangerous. Do not, under any circumstances, accept a ride from a stranger.
Buses have always been an inexpensive and popular way to travel around the U.S. The major bus companies can connect to local bus transportation, allowing you to reach even the most remote towns and you never know whom you might meet on a bus! One of the best bargains in bus travel is to buy an International Ameripass in a Greyhound Bus. This can be purchased in the gateway cities of New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and allows you unlimited travel anywhere in the U.S. for a specified period of time. Be careful about going to a bus stop late at night if it is in an isolated area.
Most big cities in the USA such as New York and Los Angeles have metro (subway). Very convenient, however, this transport can be dangerous at night-time, so be careful!
The train is another common way of travelling in the United States. Amtrak, the national railroad, offer a service called the USA Rail Pass which is valid for either 15 or 30 days at peak and off-peak rates. This pass is only available to foreign visitors to the U.S. To buy Amtrak tickets or passes, contact Amtrak at 1 800 872-7245.
For many Americans, travelling by car is the most common way of transportation. Most cities do not have a well-developed public transportation system and access to a car may be a necessity. In order to drive legally in the United States, you should have both a driver’s license from your home country as well as an international driving license. Some states may require only that you carry the license from your home country, although it is highly advisable that you carry an international permit. These can be obtained from a national Automobile Association in your country.
An international driving license is more easily recognizable in the U.S. than one from your home country. The coded information on foreign licenses may be incomprehensible to U.S. law enforcement officials. Furthermore, an international driving permit is required for renting a car or being hired to drive a car around the U.S. You must have your driver’s license in your possession when driving.
For varied reasons, interns may need to obtain a driving license from the state they will be working/driving in. To apply, contact the local office of your State Department of Motor Vehicles. This does involve a fee, which will vary from state to state, but usually ranges from $20-$100.
Police and State Highway Patrol officers enforce driving laws to ensure safety on the streets and highways. Be aware of the following rules:
- Speed Limit: The speed limit in cities, town centres, and congested areas are usually 25 miles per hour. There are usually signs indicating the speed limit. The maximum speed limit on the highway is usually 55 to 65 miles per hour, depending on the state. Laws against speeding are strictly enforced in order to prevent reckless driving, accidents, and loss of life.
- Accidents: Most accidents, especially those involving personal injury or property damage, must be reported to the nearest police station within 24-48 hours and to the State Department of Motor Vehicles within 14-30 days.
- Traffic Lights: Unless otherwise indicated, state laws permit motorists to turn right on a red light after stopping to check for traffic.
- Tickets/Infractions of the Law: You are responsible for paying all tickets you receive and answering all charges incurred.
The role of the following safety tips is to encourage you to use common sense to ensure that your stay in the U.S. is as safe and enjoyable as possible. Here are some general guidelines you should consider when visiting any city:
- Never leave your luggage unattended at an airport, train, or bus station. You are giving thieves an open invitation to walk away with your belongings.
- Pickpockets target people who expose large amounts of cash in crowded places or who stand in lines looking preoccupied. Be aware of those around you.
- Only use licensed taxicabs such as Yellow Cabs.
- Carry your purse firmly and never put your wallet in your back pant pocket so as not to make yourself an easy target for pickpockets and thieves.
- Avoid carrying around large amounts of cash and/or important documents unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Avoid going to ATMs at night, especially if you are alone.
- Be alert, cautious, and confident, and avoid taking unnecessary risks. This way you can concentrate on discovering a new city and enjoying your stay rather than worrying about your safety!
Illegal possession of controlled substances (drugs) in the United States is subject to prosecution by law. The penalties for drug possession vary from state to state and region to region. Any type of illegal drug use is seriously frowned upon, as the U.S. is attempting to control the traffic of illegal substances. You are subject to fines and possible time in jail for any drug possession or association with people who have drugs themselves.
Please be aware of U.S. drinking laws, which state that you must be 21 years old and older to drink legally. In many regions, you will be asked to produce picture identification to prove you are of legal drinking age. Many bars will only accept a driver’s license or identification card from the Department of Motor Vehicles that state your age. The identification card does not authorize you to drive. Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles for information about obtaining an identification card.
In addition, drinking in public (i.e., outside a restaurant, bar, or residence) is prohibited in many places, especially in beach resort towns. You will be subject to fines if you are found guilty.
Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI): A national campaign to raise awareness of drunk driving and decrease alcohol-related traffic accidents has swept the U.S. Because of this, enforcement of the DWI/DUI law has become very strict. To keep yourself and others safe, do not drink and drive. Americans generally appoint a designated driver when going out with a group of friends. This person agrees to refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages.
As part of an intense anti-smoking campaign in the United States, strict measures provide a smoke-free environment. There are several national and local regulations regarding smoking in public places. Smoking is banned on all domestic air flights and will eventually be prohibited on all flights, domestic and international. Smoking is restricted in many office buildings and restaurants and is usually banned on public transportation. Look around before you light a cigarette; non-smoking signs are usually posted in a clear, visible location. If you are in someone else’s house and no one around you is smoking, ask what the rule is before you start.
There is no National Health insurance in the U.S. This is why the United States Information Agency (USIA) requires that all exchange visitors have insurance meeting their standards. The insurance you will purchase with your DS 2019 will have to be designed to meet these USIA requirements. If a doctor treats you, you may have to pay the bills first and then file a claim with your insurance company for reimbursement. It is therefore crucial that you keep careful records and receipts of all medical services that you receive.
If you have a major accident or illness and cannot pay your medical costs upfront, contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Please refer to your insurance information for details on how to make claims. If you are going to see a doctor for a medical problem that is not an emergency, check your health insurance policy to make sure that this type of treatment is covered. For example, most international health insurance policies do not cover pre-existing medical problems.
Hospitals, Clinics, and Emergency Rooms
Medical fees will depend on the doctor, the type of facility, and its location in the country. In certain areas of the country, especially large cities, medical care will be significantly more expensive. Unless you need immediate treatment, it is better not to go to a hospital Emergency Room to see a doctor. You should use these facilities for emergencies only as they tend to be expensive. When you have established yourself in an area, it is a good idea to find a private doctor. You can ask friends or colleagues or call your local hospital for recommendations.
The Consulate of your country may also be able to provide a list of approved physicians. However, walk-in clinics have sprung up all around the country in recent years. They tend to be less costly, and for people who do not have a continuing relationship with a doctor, they can be a good choice.
If you require medicine containing controlled drugs or narcotics (e.g., heart medication, sleeping pills, or stimulants), you should have each of these products properly packaged and labelled. You will not be able to have foreign prescriptions for controlled drugs filled in American pharmacies or by an American doctor. You should also have a statement or prescription from your doctor translated into English indicating that the medicine is being used under the orders of a doctor and is necessary for your physical well-being.
Also, keep in mind that not all over-the-counter medicine is easily available in the United States. For example, birth control pills are not free in the United States. It is best to bring enough drugs to cover any need you might have for them during your entire stay in the United States. This way, you avoid additional costs.
Most U.S. cities will have a Tourist Office, Convention & Visitors Bureau, or Chamber of Commerce. A visit to any of these places should be worth the trip, as they are usually able to provide free city maps, local subway and bus maps, and booklets and pamphlets about local tourist attractions, restaurants, and entertainment events.
A visit to your local bookstore should also provide you with a large selection of local and national guidebooks, newspapers, and magazines. Most local publications will have a section listing popular clubs and their weekly entertainment schedules, a review of restaurants in the area and museums, and show times for movies and theatres. In some cities, it is also possible to find free publications that have weekly entertainment listings in addition to restaurant reviews and articles.
Free publications are usually distributed at coffee shops, supermarkets, and tourist offices.
Many people suggest that the best way to discover a new city is on foot! Take some time to get to know your host city, and find those special local places that are not listed in any guidebook or newspaper, but will soon become some of your favourite places to hang out!
1 Jan – New Year’s Day
Third Monday in Jan – Martin Luther King Jr Day
Third Monday in Feb – President’s Day
Mar/Apr – Easter
last Monday in May – Memorial Day
4 Jul – Independence Day
First Monday in Sep – Labor Day
Second Monday in Oct – Columbus Day
11 Nov– Veteran’s Day
Fourth Thursday in Nov – Thanksgiving
25 Dec – Christmas Day
LIVING IN THE U.S.
Whether it is your first time in the U.S. or your fifth, working in a foreign culture can sometimes be difficult and frustrating. The following suggestions are intended to help you adjust to the culture shock of living in the United States for an extended period.
Be open-minded: expect that things will be done differently there than the way they are done in your home country. Give yourself time to adjust, adapt, and learn about how things are done in your host culture.
Keeping a sense of humour will help you get through the frustrating times.
While you will undoubtedly meet many Americans and people from various cultures, it is okay to build a support network of friends from your own culture who will understand your frustration in adjusting to life in the United States.