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Pre-departure and Orientation Information
Pre-departure and Orientation Information for Prospective International Military Students
NOTE TO STUDENT: You are about to embark on a very exciting and highly important mission for your government. The training you will receive is just one part of the total experience you will have in learning more about the United States and its people. The following information will help you during your stay in the U.S. and, hopefully, you will really enjoy your experience here.
You should attempt to arrive at the Tucson Airport during normal duty hours (0600-1530, Monday through Friday). The 162 W does not conduct routine operations or training on weekends (Saturday and Sunday) or the legal holidays listed later in this document under "Business Customs."
As soon as you arrive in Tucson, you must report to the International Military Student Office (location is outlined in General Information Section under Training Installation). Normally, you will be met at the airport by one of the International Military Student Officers. However, if someone does not meet you at the airport, you can receive more information at the airport Information Office. It will be necessary to travel to the 162 W, and the best means to get there is to utilize the taxi service available outside the baggage claim area at the airport. If you are arriving after duty hours, take a taxi to Davis-Monthan AFB and check in to the Desert Inn. Then, check into the International Military Student Office at the 162 W the next working day. It is important to have your Invitational Travel Order (ITO) available since this document will be necessary when you arrive at the 162 W. Also, the ITO is a very important document during your entire stay in the United States and you should always keep a copy of your ITO with you.
During your training at the 162 W, the International Military Student Office personnel will assist you with any problems you encounter. Do not be afraid to ask them for help. Assisting you, even with the smallest of problems, is their job.
During your training, you should take good notes and retain all instructional materials given to you unless you are told by your instructors that materials must be returned upon completion of training.
Language Skills and Other Academic Preparations
The success of your training experience at the 162 W largely rests on your ability to understand, speak, read, and write the English language. Experience has shown that no other single factor is as important to success as proficiency in the English language. If you do not attend English language training at the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio, Texas, you will be given an English Comprehension Language (ECL) test within the first few days after you arrive at the 162 W. This test will be similar to the ECL you took in your country, and it is a tool to verify the score you received before leaving your country.
Your academic work will demand reading and some writing. Remember that written English, especially for academic work, is more formal and structured than spoken English. The ability to speak English does not necessarily ensure adequate skills in written English. Even native speakers often need additional assistance with reading and writing for academic purposes.
Lectures are the most common instruction method. Lecturers will not know to reduce their normal lecture speed unless you ask them to reduce their lecture speed for note taking or understanding purposes. You need to understand English well, and you must be able to take notes easily about facts, ideas, and references presented in lectures.
The better your English listening comprehension and speaking skills, the more you will be able to take advantage of the opportunities for learning and socializing while training in the U.S. You will feel more at ease, and you will find it easier to make friends if you work hard at practicing English.
LANGUAGE PROBLEMS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER
Spoken English may sound very rapid to you at first. You may have trouble understanding what a person is saying simply because he/she speaks so fast or speaks with a regional accent. Do not hesitate to ask people to speak slowly or to repeat what they have said.
People in the U.S. use slang and jargon. Military instruction uses many special military terms and acronyms (an acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a name or by combining initial letters or parts of a series of words). Some of these words you will not be able to understand without personal explanation. If you do not understand a word or phrase, ask your instructor or a classmate to explain the meaning.
Words are often abbreviated. For example, aviation is usually referred to as "AVN," ordnance is "ORD," physical training is "PT," to name a few. Often the abbreviation is the first syllable of the word. If two or more words are used together, their initials are often used to form acronyms.
Every culture has certain body movements, gestures and facial expressions that express emotions, comments or reactions without words. These are called "body language."
In the U.S. people sometimes say "yes" or "no" using inflected grunts. Uh-huh is yes; uh-uh is no. It may take a while to distinguish the affirmative from the negative. "Hmm" or "mmm" is usually an expression of interest, not a request to repeat what has been said. Nodding the head up and down means "yes;" shaking the head from side to side means "no." A form of greeting for many young Americans is to say, "How's it going?" It took one international military student a while to figure out this was a form of greeting, and it was not a question trying to figure out the individual's destination.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR ENGLISH SKILLS
Listed below are some suggestions on how you can improve your English language skills.
Participating in conversations is the best way to improve your English speaking and listening skills. Doing so will help you to feel more comfortable "in English." Speak English whenever you can. International students who have the most difficulty improving their English skills are those who speak only their native language outside normal class hours. While it is important to relax with your friends and speak your own language occasionally, remember that the key to doing well in your U.S. training is your ability to use English well.
Before you depart your county, you should read as many English books, magazines, and newspapers as possible. Visit libraries and ask for books in English. You could also browse through bookstores, which carry English language publications. Although it is not mandatory, it is recommended that you read as much about the United States as possible before you leave your country to familiarize yourself with its history, system of government, customs, and geography.
U.S. Movies and Television (TV).
Watch movies and captioned television programs in English whenever you can. Watching TV is one of the best ways to sharpen your skills in understanding any foreign language. If the movie or TV program was filmed in England, be aware that spoken British English (The Queen's English) occasionally differs from American English in both pronunciation and meaning.
Computers are widely used in the U.S. and in many of the courses at 162 W. It is not necessary to be computer literate; however, basic computer skills can be a plus.
Every course offered at the 162 W has "periodic" examinations as well as frequent tests or "quizzes" (short tests). Many of the courses also have unit examinations after the completion of several chapters or a final examination at the end of the course. The examinations and tests demonstrate whether or not students are doing the work that has been assigned to them, and they also are the only measure to see how much and how well the student is learning. Almost all examinations are "closed book" exams. That is, students are not allowed to look at their books or their notes during the test. Occasionally, an instructor will give an "open book" exam where your notes and course material can be used to answer test questions. Most of the courses offered at the Center will allow for international students to use translators and dictionaries; however, some courses will not allow these means during actual examination periods.
There are two main types of examinations: objective examinations and subjective examinations.
Subjective examinations are often called "essay tests." They require a student to write a short answer in response to a question or statement. This type of examination tests a student's ability to organize thoughts and convey knowledge of a particular subject area. Subjective examinations are not the normal testing method at the 162 W, but periodically they will be used to determine course scores and averages.
The majority of the tests and examinations at the 162 W are objective examinations. This type of examination tests a student's knowledge of a specific set of facts. International trainees often have difficulty with this type of examination since they may know the material, but they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with this method of testing. Also, their knowledge of English may not be good enough to distinguish between subtle differences in meaning and how distracters are used in the questions. The majority of the objective tests given are multiple choices; you must choose from among a number of answers the correct or most appropriate word, phrase, or sentence.
You will find you must accomplish many tasks during each course. For example, you will have reading and homework assignments. You will also have to spend time in preparation for examinations. Learning to set priorities and to develop a time-related study plan are very important skills.
Keep current in your studies. Do not try to learn everything the night before a test; it is not possible. Regularly review your notes. It is also recommended that you occasionally go back and review previous notes and unit material; most courses keep building from previous unit material.
When the test is handed out, do not begin to answer the questions immediately. First, listen to the instructor's instructions, and if there are written instructions, read and fully understand completely and thoroughly as to how to answer the questions. Read each question carefully to be sure you understand what is being asked of you. Plan your examination time wisely. Avoid spending too much time on one question. If you have difficulty answering a question, go on to other questions and come back to the difficult one(s) later. Also, it is important that you are not afraid to ask your instructor for help in understanding what test questions are asking of you. The instructor may be able to rephrase the question in such a way as to help you understand what is being asked.
Reading and Homework Assignments
Read every day! Try to keep your reading current with lecture topics. If you have worked on your English, this is one area in which you can reap a significant reward. Also, complete all of your homework assignments. Many times homework assignments will be part of your overall course grade. Homework assignments also allow the instructor the opportunity to see if you understand the course material.
You must take notes. This is very important. Write down the main points. Often the instructor will use phrases that identify key points, like "there are three major reasons for this," or "the next major point is." Do not try to write everything down; write down key words and phrases and other brief notes that will help you recall the most important points. Many times the instructor will write down key points on the board; be sure to always copy this material because it will likely appear on your next examination.
Class Discussions and Seminars
Speak up in class. Do not be intimidated by U.S. students who are used to participating in the often lively exchange between students and instructors. If you try to participate in class discussions, you will soon learn the other students and even the instructors are sincerely interested in hearing your opinion. This is because you can inject a fresh, non-U.S. viewpoint into many discussion sessions and thereby enhance everyone's learning experience. In many military discussions there is no one correct solution to problems. Sharing your viewpoint or solution will be welcome, and you will soon find you are being asked many questions both in and out of the classroom. Americans are curious and inquisitive by nature, and they are interested in studying other methods of solving problems. How well you participate in class discussions will also be recorded in your overall training evaluation report, which will be sent back to your superiors.
Learning Resource Centers (LRC)
Many of the schoolhouses at the 162 W have developed Learning Resource Centers. During your schoolhouse orientation, the instructor staff will provide details of how and when you can use these types of facilities. You may also find that the Learning Resource Center is a good and quiet place to go for studying.
Physical, Mental, and Social Adjustments
Moving from one culture, time zone, and physical environment into another presents certain physical, mental, and social challenges.
One of the first adjustments you will have to face after your arrival in the United States is "jet lag." Jet Lag is the physical shock of having to adjust to a new time zone. It is caused by the long airplane flight. After several days (perhaps as long as a week) of disorientation and sleepiness, you will begin to function normally. It takes about one day to adjust for each hour difference in time. Most U.S. training locations are about 9-12 hours different in time. So, do not be surprised if you feel a bit disoriented or unusually tired for a week or more. It is important to report for the training on the specified date, which is usually several days prior to when your instruction will actually begin. This will allow you to adjust and recover from jet lag before the course formally begins.
People experience culture shock in varying degrees. Some hardly notice it at all. Below are some of the common symptoms of culture shock:
You may feel isolated and frustrated. You may become nervous and excessively tired. You may want to do nothing but sleep even after you should have recovered from jet lag.
You may be excessively homesick. It is normal to miss your family and friends.
You may feel hostile toward the U.S. as the cause of your discomfort. Minor irritations may make you unusually angry.
You may become very dependent on other students from your same country that are undergoing training. Of course, these friendships are important and extremely supportive. However, if you only make friends with others from your country, you will deny yourself one of the main benefits of this training experience; meeting and interacting with military personnel from the U.S.
You may have deep doubts about the wisdom of coming to the U.S. "Will I do well in a training system different from the one I am used to?" and "Will I be able to live up to the expectations of my family and government?"
Almost all international trainees must cope with culture shock to some degree. The following suggestions may be helpful.
Maintain your perspective. Remember that thousands of international students have come to study at universities, colleges, and U.S. military training schools in the U.S. Not only have they survived, many have done extremely well.
Keep an open mind. People in the U.S. may do or say things people in your country would not do or say. Try to understand people in the U.S. are acting according to their own set of values, and these values reflect a culture different from yours. Avoid judging U.S. behavior by the standards of your own country.
Do not withdraw. Withdrawing to immerse yourself in your studies is not a good solution. It is best to work out your feelings by interacting with others so as to really learn about your new environment.
Always seek help if you continue to have personal adjustment problems. One of the best ways to do this is to talk one of the International Military Student Officers or to one of the instructors at your school.
Customs and Courtesies
A handshake, smile, and simple phrase such as "hello, how are you? Or "I'm pleased to meet you" are appropriate greetings for either sex. If you would like to meet someone, feel free to introduce yourself. Simply say, "Hello, my name is ____________" (however you wish to be called). Most Americans are very informal about this, and they quickly begin to use first names. So if you begin with "My name is Saad Al-Enezi or Mike Chen or Carmelo Giovanni," e.g., they will soon be calling you just Saad or Mike or Carmelo, e.g.
Do not be surprised if someone you have never met smiles and says "Hello" or some other greeting. This is casual friendliness, nothing more. In fact, American informality and general disregard for rank or social position could be considered disrespectful in many other cultures. Although formality is somewhat more common in business and politics, Americans still seem to be more comfortable using given names rather than family names.
Americans generally do not embrace in public when they greet, but an embrace is not necessarily in bad taste. In America's "do your own thing" society, many things are permissible, providing they do not infringe on the rights of other people.
Although Americans think of themselves as informal, they are extremely time conscious. They appreciate their guests arriving on time (meaning within two to five minutes of scheduled appointments). This is especially important if someone has invited you to dinner since, by arriving late, you may cause others to wait for your arrival before beginning the party.
Hospitality takes on many forms: a formal dinner served on fine china, an outdoor barbecue with paper plates, a leisurely visit with no refreshments. A good rule to go by is unless your host tells you an evening will be formal; you may assume your visit will be an informal one.
You may be greeted at the door with, "Hi (first name)! Make yourself at home." Your host is telling you to relax and not to worry about being formal. Play with the children or join in an ongoing activity.
You are not expected to bring a gift when you are a guest. However, if you have been invited to dine or to spend the night, a small token like candy or flowers is a nice way to show your appreciation. Local shopkeepers can usually advise you on what to take. Most American homes do not have domestic servants. Everyone usually pitches in with household chores, so you may be expected to help a little in the home, especially if your visit is an extended one. If you are sleeping over, volunteer to make your own bed and to help with other family responsibilities.
At the end of your visit, offer your sincere thanks and compliments. If you are unable to return the hospitality, you may wish to send a note of appreciation following the visit.
Most Americans enjoy inviting friends over for a meal. In this way, they can introduce you to their families and friends and enjoy a relaxed visit in the privacy and comfort of home.
Americans normally offer something to drink before dinner. It is not necessary to accept. You can simply say, "No, thank you." During the meal, food will likely be served "family style." This means you serve yourself from dishes passed around the table. When there are many guests, "buffet" style may be used, which means that guests line up at a central serving table and serve themselves.
Most Americans are not particular about what style of eating their guests use. Such foods as hot dogs, fried chicken, fruit, hamburgers, and French fries are often eaten using fingers. When cutting food, most Americans hold the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left. For eating, the knife is placed on the plate, and the fork is returned to the right hand. Many Americans are not familiar with the Oriental style of eating with chopsticks. It is perfectly acceptable to ask how to eat certain foods.
If you are offered additional portions, your host will feel complimented if you accept, but the host will not be offended if you decline.
Elbows resting on the table and eating with excessive noise are generally considered bad manners. So is leaving directly after a meal. You may want to offer to help clean up after the meal. You should plan to stay for a while after the meal is over. The length of the visit will depend upon your hosts, but usually you are not expected to visit longer than an hour or so unless a special invitation is offered.
In general, a normal courtesy is a tip of approximately 15% for waiters, waitresses, taxi drivers, porters, doormen, barbers, and others who provide personal services. There are no absolute rules. Some Americans do not tip at all. Others will tip more if they are especially pleased with the services provided.
DO NOT tip Government employees or Customs officials. This can be considered a bribe, which is punishable by law. You are not expected to tip bus drivers, gas station attendants, theater ushers, hotel clerks, or other persons who provide a general service to the public.
Conversing with Americans
Although Americans are known for their frank and outspoken manner, most of them are polite. They may openly share their views on self, family, religion, and politics, but they also respect another person's desire for privacy. Their intent is not to offend, but only to express sincere and honest friendliness.
If an American uses terms like "tell it like it is," "don't beat around the bush," or "get straight to the point," they usually mean that they want you to be candid. Your real feelings on a matter may be more important than being courteous with your reply.
A good sense of humor is important to Americans. Laughing at themselves or their country is something they do very well. But they may not appreciate an international visitor doing the same, especially in a critical tone.
Because most Americans own television sets, they talk openly about current programs with varying opinions. They also discuss current movies, sporting events, politics, and almost any other topic imaginable.
Most Americans are not easily embarrassed. Yet there are a few taboos even in American conversation. Asking how much money a person earns is one of them, as is asking a married couple why they have no children. Very personal questions about age, weight, personal habits, or previous marriages are also impolite. But if Americans choose to bring up these topics, you may assume they are willing to discuss them.
Gestures and Nonverbal Communication
- In spite of the casual warmth many Americans are known for, they also value their own "personal space." This means they generally maintain a greater physical distance during conversation than people of some other cultures do. Two or three feet, or at least an arm's length, is the usual distance between acquaintances, closer if the person is an intimate friend or family member. On the other hand, an American may spontaneously pat you on the back or touch you briefly on the arm. These are nothing more than friendly gestures.
- Holding hands or engaging in other forms of public adult physical contact with a member of the same sex may connote homosexuality to some, unless one is obviously assisting an elderly or handicapped person.
- "Can you look me in the eye when you say that?" an American may ask a companion. If you can maintain brief eye contact when conversing, your partner will assume you are sincere. Avoiding eye contact is sometimes construed as an indication you are uneasy or insincere.
- In informal situations, people usually sit however they please: slouched, legs together, crossed, or apart. Feet may even be propped up on a desk or table, though never in formal or professional situations.
- Motioning the fingers with the palm up means, "Come here." Waiving with the palm down means "good-bye." Extending the middle finger upwards is a vulgar gesture even in pointing. The index (first) finger is usually used to point. To express approval, Americans often use the "thumbs up" sign or the "okay" sign (thumb and index finger form a circle).
Dress in the United States is very adaptable to personal preference. Slacks and dress denims are perfectly appropriate for women in most situations. Dress is generally more casual the farther West and South one travels: in warmer weather conditions, short shorts and brief tops are common attire. If in doubt about what to wear for a certain situation, ask locally for advice.
Americans are very concerned with personal cleanliness. Men as well as women use deodorants. Perfumes and aftershave lotions are common.
The American People
Only China, India, and the former Soviet Union States exceeds the population of the United States. The latest census figures are over 295 million. About three-fourths of the people live in urban and suburban areas.
About 75 percent of the population is white or Caucasian. The remainder consists of a mosaic of Blacks, Asians, mixed Latin Americans, American Indians, and others from all over the world. Many ethnic groups have formal organizations in most major cities.
American English is the language spoken predominantly throughout the country. There are a variety of dialects that appear in the spoken form. For example, a Southerner is easily distinguishable by a "drawl," and an Easterner by clipped, precise pronunciation. Over 100 minority groups, including a wide range of American Indians and immigrants speak many other languages. Most members of minorities also speak English.
America was originally founded on basic Judao-Christian beliefs and principles. Although there has never been a state church, almost two-thirds of the population belongs to some organized religious group, of these, about 90 percent are members of various Christian denominations.
Because of the increasing number of single-parent families, some sociologists say that the "normal" American family of parents and children is becoming a thing of the past. Nonetheless, the average family of two parents and their children is still the predominant household arrangement. The average family has two children.
There has been some concern in recent years over the rising employment rates of mothers with young children. Some people complain about a lack of enough suitable, inexpensive child-care facilities to ensure the children of working mothers are properly cared for while the mothers are working.
With the increased number of women in the labor force, many men now share in domestic chores formerly performed only by non-working wives. According to recent statistics, however, women still do most of the housework, even when both husband and wife work outside the home.
The American family is perhaps one of the most mobile units in the world. Almost half the American population moves at least once every five years to new homes and jobs. Some might say American friendliness is due to mobility. Each time Americans move they leave behind many good friends; they try to keep in communication with these old friends and usually make new friends quickly.
Social mobility is also very common; it is one of the things America is famous for. America is often called the "land of opportunity." Americans feel they have the ability to attain the so-called good life, whatever and wherever their beginnings. Many of America's Presidents began life in very humble circumstances. Although there are many very rich and very poor individuals, most Americans fall into the middle-class range.
Many critics claim that Americans idolize their youth and ignore the aged. Rarely do grandparents reside with the families of their children; generally, this is because elderly people still prefer to maintain their independence. When it becomes impossible to care for themselves, they often live in nursing homes. In recent years, however, much publicity and attention have focused on the needs and life-styles of America's elderly. A surprisingly wide range of volunteer and academic organizations supplements self-help groups.
To say that all Americans love apple pie and are crazy about football or baseball is an exaggeration. So is a statement that all Americans are identical in their ideas. Nevertheless, a majority of Americans do hold certain attitudes that are different from those of other cultural groups.
As one friendly Canadian newsletter put it, "By and large, Americans are people of abiding, if sometimes misguided, goodwill. They tend to be intelligent, industrious, and efficient. This does not stop them from being hospitable, informal, and humorous. They do not take themselves too seriously. They have a great gift of laughing at their own national foibles. And through their media, they do so much more than any other people in the world...They are nice people, nice to meet, nice to talk to, and nice to have around you."
Individual freedom is of utmost importance to Americans, as is tolerance of differing life-styles. They also have what some might consider an obsession with time and efficiency. The positive results of this "obsession" have produced numerous convenience devices such as digital clocks, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, and the like, which have helped to lighten many of life's routine inconveniences.
Americans have relatively little respect for rank or authority that is inherited or unearned. They admire those who have struggled through the ranks or overcome handicaps or challenges in life.
Most Americans believe that the role of Government is to serve the individual, rather than vice-versa. Sometimes strong feelings are expressed against those who receive, but do not appear to deserve public welfare assistance.
Regardless of social or economic status, Americans believe in exercise and physical labor. U.S. Government leaders, for example, generally publicize that they jog, sail, ride horses, or even chop their own firewood. Personal servitude to Government and business leaders are marks of respect in some other cultures, but in the U.S. most leaders like to exhibit independence and a sense of "do it yourself" in personal matters. Carrying one's own briefcase, for example, is an American tradition even for the senior executives.
Owning one's own home has always been part of the "American dream." However, many families cannot afford their own homes because of rising housing costs and high interest rates. The median cost for a home today is over $100,000. At present, about 70 percent of American families own their own homes. Those who choose not to be homeowners or cannot afford to be homeowners generally rent homes or apartments.
Quite popular today are condominiums and town homes, which feature common walls and yards, yet are larger than most apartments. Some advantages of these types of dwellings are that they offer shared maintenance, recreational facilities, common security against crime, and freedom from yard care.
The seeming overabundance of fast-food restaurants is evidence that Americans enjoy convenience foods. Most communities also have many fine restaurants as well. A hearty American breakfast might consist of cereal, toast or pancakes, bacon or sausage, eggs, fruit, and a beverage: milk, coffee, tea, or juice.
Lunches are generally a lighter meal consumed mid-day, often only a sandwich with soup or salad. Dinner is normally the main meal, and it is the largest meal of the day. Dinner is normally eaten between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. The main dish or entrée will generally be meat, poultry, fish, or a casserole which is accompanied by vegetables, salad, bread, and sometimes dessert. Americans consume an astounding amount of candy, ice cream, and other "sweets."
Food in great variety is readily available in supermarkets. The diversity of ethnic foods reflects America's many cultures: Italian pastas, Mexican enchiladas and tacos, and Asian specialties, to name just a few, all hold their own among traditional American dishes.
Recreation and Sports
In their leisure time, many Americans attend movies, watch television, read, go dancing, or attend cultural events. Almost all workers receive at least two weeks paid vacation a year plus several one-day holidays. These days off from work are often spent on what is termed "vacations" where some Americans spend time camping or traveling in or out of the country, while many others spend this time "fixing things around the house", performing household chores, gardening, and attending family get-togethers.
Football, baseball, and basketball are major spectator sports; professional and collegiate competitions are regularly televised features. Other popular participant sports are tennis, jogging, golf, bowling, cycling, skiing, and racquetball. Soccer is becoming as popular with children as Little League baseball, football, and basketball.
American children amuse themselves with everything from video games and television to creative learning tools and futuristic toys, to name just a few.
Geography and Climate
The United States, which covers the central portion of the North American continent, is geographically the fourth largest nation in the world. The climate is typical for continental areas: temperate at the coasts, and subtropical in areas of the South. Extensive deserts are found in the South Central and Southwest areas. Mountain ranges run North to South, inland from the East and West coasts. Rain and snowfall vary widely with the season and area.
Until it was explored and settled by Europeans, American Indians mainly occupied the area that is now the U.S. until about the seventeenth century. Much of the territory was under Spanish, French, and English colonial rule until the mid-eighteenth century. The much-celebrated American Revolution took place in the late eighteenth century, bringing independence to the United States. The American love of freedom and a better way of life has transformed this once primitive land into one of the world's most advance nations and a bastion of freedom and democracy.
"By the people, for the people, and of the people," a phrase from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, characterizes the prevailing attitude of U.S. citizens that the Government should serve the people, rather than the people serve their Government.
The Constitution of 1787 established the basic political framework that governs the 50 states in a federal democratic republic. The legislature consists of the Senate, with two Representatives from each state; and a House of Representatives, with representation based on each state's population. Presidential elections are held every four years. Each party selects two candidates, one for president and the other for vice-president. The two major political parties are the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
Each state has its own constitution and government and exercises considerable autonomy in internal self-government. Within each state, county and city governments vary in form, but must follow state laws.
The economy runs as a modified free enterprise system with selected regulation and control by various Government agencies. The United States' gross national product is one of the highest in the world. Countries and people around the world enjoy products of American economic, agricultural, and technological ingenuity. The currency is the U.S. dollar which is also the most commonly acceptable international unit of exchange.
Transportation and Communication
Most families own at least one automobile. Public transportation varies from city to city and ranges from excellent to nonexistent. Automobile, bus, and air travel are the most common forms of transportation in the U.S. Trains are used mainly as freight carriers except in the East and urban Midwest where they still carry passengers. Taxicabs are found in most cities, but are generally considered an expensive means of transport. There are many rental vehicle agencies available. This means of transportation for short periods of time is often suggested and used by international military students. Most students either cannot afford purchasing a vehicle for the length of their training.
America has a huge newspaper, book, and magazine publishing industry. Nearly all people have at least one radio and one television set, and about 80 percent of the population has at least one telephone. Although radio and television are chiefly private businesses, they are licensed and regulated by the federal Government. Public broadcasting, which is often both educational and entertaining, is especially noted for its scientific and cultural programs.
United States Currency
The Decimal System
United States currency follows the decimal system. The basic unit of exchange is the dollar ($), which is divided into 100 cents ($1.00 or 100 cents or pennies). Coins include the half-dollar ($0.50 or 50 cents or half a buck), the quarter ($0.25 or 25 cents or 2 bits), the dime ($0.10 or 10 cents), the nickel ($0.05 or 5 cents), and the cent or penny ($0.01 or 1 cent). Sometimes cents is written with the cent sign ¢, for example, 5¢ = five cents, 10¢ = ten cents, 25¢ = twenty-five cents, etc.
A word of caution: All U.S. paper money is the same size and the same color green. The designs are also similar. You must pay careful attention when counting out paper money. It is easy to confuse the denominations and to make mistakes; giving a $10.00 bill for example, when you intended to only give $1.00. Paper money is sometimes categorized by the President on the face of the paper, e.g., a 1 dollar bill is sometimes referred to as a Washington. Also dollars may be called bucks, e.g., 1 dollar = 1 buck, 2 dollars = 2 bucks, 5 dollars = 5 bucks, etc.
Banking in the United States
Establishing a Bank Account
One of the first things you should do after you arrive at the 162 W or anywhere in the U.S. is establish a bank account. It is not a good idea to carry large amounts of cash or to keep cash in your living quarters.
Choosing a Bank
Consider convenience, particularly if you will not have a car. One or more banks will have branch offices on the military installations where you are attending courses. These banks will probably be quite sufficient for your banking purposes. Off the base, you can find many banking institutions within a short distance.
Opening an Account
Go to the "New Accounts" department in the bank. A bank representative will explain the different accounts available, as well as the costs and services of each. This representative can help you open an account. Remember that banks are private businesses; you should check with several banks to determine which bank offers the services that best meet your needs.
Checking accounts (called "current accounts" in many countries) are a way to keep your money safe, and they still allow you easy access to it. There are several reasons for having a checking account. Checks are an easy way to pay bills, especially by mail. Never send cash through the mail. It is easy for someone to steal it. Most every business or shopping store will accept personal checks, as long as you have proper identification, for example, your military identification (ID) card, driver's license, or a major credit card. You must note in your checkbook every check you write and every deposit you make. Subtract or add the amount immediately to keep your balance current.
Also, many banks have what is referred to as a "debit card" or "check card." This card is similar to a credit card. When you use a check card or a debit card, the amount of the purchase is automatically subtracted and withdrawn from your checking account. Many businesses and merchants accept this type of card to pay for goods that you purchase from them. It is also important that you note in your checkbook every time that you use your check card or debit card to make a transaction just as you would if you had written a check from your account.
Checks you write are called "personal" checks. You can get cash by cashing (exchanging a check for currency) a personal check, instead of having to make a trip to the bank. To get the actual money, you must "cash" the check. To cash the check you must usually show some form of identification. You can also cash checks at some military clubs and the local area base exchanges with just your military identification (ID) card.
Off the base, most merchants require at least two pieces of identification before cashing a personal check.
Checks written by someone else in payment to you are called (when you cash them) "two-party" checks. Two people are involved in a two-party check: you and the person who wrote the check to you. Cashing a two-party check is often difficult. Most businesses and merchants will not cash two-party checks. There are many banks that will not cash two-party checks unless you have an account with that particular establishment. To cash or deposit such a check, you must first endorse (sign) it. To endorse a check, turn it over and on the back across the narrow width write your name exactly as it is written on the check. For instance, a U.S. student named John or Joanne Smith would endorse a check made out to "J. Smith" by writing (not printing) "J. Smith" on the back of the check instead of signing the complete name. This is the bank's or merchant's way of making sure you really are the person to whom the check was written and the person who should receive the money.
Once a check is endorsed, it is "negotiable," that is, it can be redeemed for cash. It would not be difficult for someone else to cash an endorsed check simply by signing his or her name below your endorsement. For this reason, you should not endorse a check until the moment you are ready to cash or deposit it.
If you overdraw your account, that is, you write a check for more money than you have in the bank, the bank will charge you a fee for each "overdrawn" check (these rates vary from as little as $5.00 to over $25.00 per check). The bank also will return your check, unpaid, to the payee. If the payee (the person or business to whom you wrote the check) is a store or a business, that payee will also charge you a fee for the trouble your "bad" check has caused and they may not accept your checks again. It is also illegal to issue "bad" checks on purpose (that is when checks for which you know there is no account or no money in the account).
Periodically, (usually once a month) your bank will mail you a statement of your account. The bank statement provides a record of your expenditures for a given period covered. Most banks usually return cancelled checks that have been cashed by payees during the period covered by the statement. Go over this statement carefully to make sure that your records agree with the bank's records. Check your arithmetic carefully. Be sure to take into account any service charges; the cost of printing your personal checks and interest earnings. If you think the bank has made a mistake, inform a bank representative immediately. Someone at the bank will work with you to find the error.
If you bring a considerable sum of money to the U.S., you should consider opening a savings account, as well as a checking account. A savings account usually offers a higher rate of interest than a checking account if it is an interest-bearing checking account), and withdrawals can be made regularly to cover your immediate living expenses. You can withdraw money in cash or, especially for large amounts; you can withdraw money in the form of a "certified" (bank) check. If you have a savings account and a checking account with the same bank, you can often telephone and request the bank to transfer funds from one account to the other account as needed.
There are different types of savings accounts, and interest rates on savings accounts vary from bank to bank. Investigate and compare the various types of savings accounts available before you decide to open an account.
Automatic Tellers and "24-Hour" Banking
Some banks offer banking privileges such as 24 hours a day service through "automatic tellers." If your bank has such a service, you will be issued a special banking card and a personal identification number. The card will enable you to use the automatic teller machine located outside certain bank branches and at other locations. Following the instructions on the machine, select the transactions you wish by pressing the appropriate keys. This service enables you to make withdrawals and deposits, transfer funds, obtain your checking and savings account balances, etc., 24 hours a day. There are limits on withdrawal amounts at most automatic tellers; a certain maximum amount can be drawn each day, usually, $100.00 or $200.00.
Be very careful when using this service especially at night. Occasionally, people making deposits or withdrawals have been robbed. Never give anyone your bank card or your personal bank code, even if that person offers to help you. If you do not understand how to operate the automatic teller machine, ask a bank representative to assist you. If you choose to use this convenient banking service, be careful and alert at all times.
Safety Deposit Boxes
Most banks maintain small locked boxes that may be rented by the month or by the year. Only to the person who holds the key knows the contents of a safety deposit box; the bank does not have access, except in the case of death. A safety deposit box is a good place to keep valuables like passports, jewelry, foreign currency you do not want to exchange, legal papers, etc.
Traveler's checks provide a safe way to carry money while traveling in the U.S. and abroad. They are insured against loss and theft, and they are more readily accepted (in the U.S.) by businesses away from your area of residence than are personal checks. Banks sell traveler's checks, adding a small fee, usually 1 - 5 percent of the amount. When you travel to the U.S., you should carry traveler's checks rather than cash since they can be replaced if they are lost or stolen.
A cashier's check is a check written for you by the bank. You give the bank the money (or it is taken from your account) and the clerk writes a bank check, charging a small fee for the service. Usually cashier's checks are written for larger amounts to transfer money from one place to another. A cashier's check is easier to cash than a personal check, and it is safer than carrying a large amount of cash on your person.
The use of credit cards is widespread in the U.S. Banks, credit card companies, gasoline companies, and many department stores issue credit cards, which can be used to make purchases. Statements are mailed to credit card holders once a month. If the amount due is not paid within a specified number of days, a finance charge is added to the bill. Applications for credit cards are available in many banks, stores, and gasoline stations. The application normally asks for the applicant's source and amount of income, length of residence at the present address and bank information. Many companies that issue credit cards require applicants to have a certain minimum income.
Until 1983, there was one telephone utility providing all U.S. telephone service. By court order this huge utility was broken up into seven regional companies. Afterwards, new long distance telephone companies entered the marketplace. As a result, there are now many choices to make when ordering telephone services.
For convenience and privacy, most international military students prefer a private phone during their stay in the U.S. Most of the quarters on base have phone service available in the rooms. However, if the quarters you will be residing in on base, does not have a phone available, and it is permissible to have one installed, you must make the arrangements to have it installed. Remember that you will be responsible for the telephone bills. If you live off base, you should have a telephone, not only for convenience, but also for any business that may need to be conducted or calls that must be made to you by the IMSO office.
If you must have a telephone connected on base, or when you decide to have a telephone installed or connected in your off-base residence, ask and fully understand the procedures for arranging the service. There will be many choices to make. If you are confused or do not understand, ask the International Military Training Advisors for help in determining what service(s) best meet your needs.
Since the reorganization of telephone utility companies in the U.S., there are new companies, in addition to the local telephone company, that deal exclusively with long-distance services. These special long-distance services save money only if you make long-distance calls within the U.S. or abroad. Some of these systems do not allow direct international calls so you must check with the company before you sign up for services.
For long distance and overseas calls, the per-minute costs are very high. In order to offset this high fee charge, it is preferable for many of the international military students to purchase prepaid "phone cards" to make calls. Many local area establishments offer various prepaid "phone card" prices, so it is important to "shop around" for the best deal for international calling. Prepaid phone cards are very similar to company calling cards except you pay "up-front" for a set number of calling minutes, rather than being billed for the usage. It is a very good way of making overseas calls and U.S. long distance calls. IMSO will provide a phone for students to make long distance calls free of charge, however calls must be limited to 10 minutes and must be logged into the phone log provided.
Every telephone customer receives a copy of the local area telephone directory, and a new copy each time the directly is revised and updated. There are also telephone directories (also called telephone books) in public phone booths. There are usually two and sometimes three or more parts to the telephone directories. These parts are named for the color of their pages, the "white," "blue," and "yellow" pages.
The white pages are normally found in front of the telephone book. Listed here, alphabetically, are the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all subscribers, both individuals and businesses in the telephone area, except those subscribers who do not wish to have such information listed. There is an extra charge for having an unlisted telephone number. Some large cities divide the white pages into two or more sections: one for residence listings, one for business listings, and some have general local area informational sections available.
The blue pages are normally used for the various governmental agency listings: county, city, state, and federal governmental agency listings in the area.
The yellow pages are normally found in the very back of the telephone book, or in large cities, it may be a separate book. The yellow pages list businesses, companies, organizations, services, etc., in an alphabetical category. There is usually an index of categories for the yellow pages. Under each category are listings of firms that provide different services. This is a highly informative and extremely useful means of finding a service or type of business without having a telephone number or organizational name available.
Telephone numbers in the U.S. have seven digits, three digits first (called the prefix), then a dash and the final four digits. Preceding the number, in parentheses, is the area code. The area code serves a wide area, often the entire State. In the case of Arizona, there are many area codes within the State that are broken down by regions. The area code is only used with the seven-digit number when calling outside one area to another. For example, (520) 295-6870 is the International Military Student Office telephone number. The (520) represents the area code. The next three numbers, 295, are the prefix, and 6870, which are the last four numbers of the phone number.
It is important to write down emergency numbers (fire, police, doctor, paramedics, and the International Student Office representatives work and home numbers). Always keep these numbers on your person and near your phone. Also, emergency numbers are given in the front part of the telephone book. Sometimes there are several districts for fire, police, and paramedic services. Be sure you have the correct emergency numbers to serve you if you should ever need help. IMSO personnel will provide you with an emergency phone card upon your arrival.
Some people believe that if you dial "0" in an emergency, the operator will call for help. This is not always true. Often the telephone operator who processes your call is miles, sometimes several hundred miles away. In an emergency, you need local help, and usually, you need this help fast.
You must have the correct telephone numbers readily available. Many cities and areas of the country offer "911" as an emergency number; however, this number should only be used in extreme emergencies.
In the front part of the telephone book, there is a list of prefixes that subscribers with a certain prefix can dial without charge. It is possible to dial other numbers without using long-distance procedures or engaging the operator. But if it is a toll call (that is one not included in your local dialing area, charges will be automatically recorded for the call. You can read about these differences in the front part of the telephone book.
There are several types of long distance telephone calls. You can find information on costs and procedures in the front part of the telephone directory. If you do not understand this information, ask the telephone operator or someone you know to explain it to you.
Direct Dial Call
This is a call dialed directly, that is, without operator assistance. It is less expensive than most types of calls depending on your long-distance carrier. The cost of overseas calls is different with long-distance carriers. Also, as mentioned earlier, if you are calling from your Government quarters telephone, it can be expensive.
Prepaid Phone Cards
Similar to a credit card, but the person purchases the card with so many minutes of calling time available. Prepaid phone cards come in various denominations, such as $5.00, $10.00, $20.00, $100.00. This is a preferable choice for most international military students. A person can place calls with a prepaid phone card from any telephone. As was mentioned earlier in this section, be sure to shop around for the best calling rates for prepaid phone cards. There are some very good prices per minute for calling overseas locations.
This is an operator-assisted call in which the operator connects you directly with the person with whom you wish to speak. If that particular person is not available, you do not pay for the call. If the person is available, charges begin when the operator determines the person is on the line. Person-to-person calls are expensive to place and expensive per minute of conversation, but if the person is difficult to reach, such a call may be worthwhile.
A collect call is an operator-assisted call in which the charges are billed to the person who answers. If you place a collect call, the operator will ask your name and then will ask the person you are calling whether that person will "accept the charges," that is, allow the cost of the call to be put on his or her telephone bill.
A third-party call is one made from a telephone other than your own where the operator must transfer the charges from the telephone you are using to your own telephone number. If, however, the telephone you are using is a pay phone rather than a personal telephone, the operator must verbally verify the charges. The operator will call your own phone number and someone will have to answer your phone and verbally accept the charges for the third-party call before you will be allowed to complete the call without paying by coin. The charges will then be billed to your home telephone number.
Note: You may wish to apply for a telephone calling card to avoid the possibility of someone not being home when the operator phones your number for confirmation.
"800" "888" and "900" Numbers
Telephone numbers with the area code 800 and 888 are toll-free to callers. As a courtesy, the businesses and providers pay the service fees for 800 and 888 numbers for customers. However, be careful with 900 numbers. There is a charge for calling these types of telephone numbers, and many of these 900 telephone numbers are fraudulent in nature.
Long distance rates are affected by distance, time of day, type of call, length of the conversation, and the long-distance company you use. Compare information provided by the different companies regarding long-distance calls. Be sure to note times when rates are lowest, usually weekends, holidays, and the middle of the night are the best times to place long-distance calls. Telephone rates are listed in the telephone directory to major cities in the U.S. and some overseas locations.
It is possible to dial direct to many international countries, and the direct dialing process is less expensive than placing calls through an operator. Operator-assisted calls, person-to-person, and collect calls can be made by dialing "0." In front of the phone book you can generally find directions for placing international calls, as well as many of the international country and city codes and rate charges. You should dial the operator if you:
Need to obtain a telephone number you do not know.
Need a country or city code not listed in the information on international direct dialing.
Need help in completing a call.
Have reached a wrong number or have a poor connection and wish a credit on the call.
Public or "Pay" Phones
These phones can be found at many locations in commercial areas. Directions for making calls are printed on the telephone. If you make long-distance calls from a pay phone and will be paying for the call yourself (rather than calling collect), be sure to have an ample number of coins (quarters, dimes, nickels) ready to put into the coin slot when the operator tells you to do so. The most convenient and inexpensive way to use public/pay phones is to use a prepaid phone card. Prepaid phone cards were explained in an earlier section.
If you need a telephone number, and it is not listed in the telephone book, you can call a Directory Assistance Operator by dialing the number given in the front part of the telephone book for that service. If the number you want is an unlisted number, (purposely not listed by the subscriber) the directory assistance operator is not allowed to give it to you. Some telephone companies allow each customer to make a certain number of free directory assistance calls per month. After that number is reached, a fee is charged for each additional call.
To send a telegram or a telex message, call Western Union Telegraph Company by dialing the toll-free telephone number, (800) 325-6000. Tell the operator the name and address (including the country) of the person to whom you are sending the telegram. Then slowly repeat the message you want to send. It is a good idea before you place the call to write out the message, making it as concise as possible. You should also ask the operator to repeat the message back to you to make sure it was copied correctly. The number of words in the message and the distance it must be sent will compute charges. Telegrams and telexes can be charged to your telephone number, or you can ask Western Union to charge your major credit card. For information regarding telegraph service, sending money by telegraph ("wiring" money), and rates, you can use the same toll-free telephone number (800) 325-6000.
The United States Postal Service
Most military schools provide advance information about the proper way to address mail to reach you at the school. You can get mail at the 162 W at the following address:
1660 East El Tigre Way
Tucson, Arizona 85706-6086
Give the above address to family and friends who will be writing to you in the United States. It is important to have the second line in the address since this is the routing indicator and without this identification, your mail will not reach you.
The postal zip code number is a 5-digit number identifying the postal zone in which an address lies. Also not widely used, many areas in the U.S. have a 9-digit zip number, as shown in the address above. Normally only large businesses and Governmental agencies will use a 9-digit zip number.
When you move and change your address, go to the nearest Post Office and fill out a Change of Address Card. The Post Office will forward (send) any mail addressed to you at your new address. This service is available for 12 months from the day you give them the change of address card.
Mail is normally delivered once every day, except Sundays and legal holidays.
Every city has a main Post Office, and larger cities have several full-service branch post offices and small, minimum-service substations as well. Substations often are located in shopping centers. Most military installations have small, minimum-service post offices on the installations where they sell stamps and provide basic services like mailing letters and packages.
Hours of Business
Smaller shops and offices in the U.S. open at least by 0900-1000 (9:00-10:00 A.M.), Mondays through Fridays and some have shorter hours on Saturdays, and close between 1700-1800 (5:00-6:00 P.M.) Most shops in larger shopping areas (often called Malls) are open until 2100-2200 (9:00-10:00 P.M.) and many are open on Sundays. Some department stores and grocery markets stay open 24 hours a day. Banks are open Mondays through Fridays and some are open on Saturday mornings until 1200 (12:00 noon). Normal hours range from at least 0900-1700 (9:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M.) with extended hours on Friday evenings.
Note: In the U.S., stores and businesses remain open during the lunch hour; many countries have mid-day business closures.
On all legal holidays, most governmental agencies, banks, schools, and some businesses close. The Post Office is also closed so there is no mail delivery on these days. Listed below are the U.S. federal and national holidays:
New Year's Day, January 1st
Martin Luther King's Birthday, observed the third Monday in January
Presidents' Day, observed the third Monday in February
Memorial Day, observed the last Monday in May
Independence Day, July 4th
Labor Day, observed the first Monday in September
Columbus Day, observed the second Monday in October
Veteran's Day, observed November 11th
Thanksgiving Day, observed the fourth Thursday in November
Christmas, December 25th
Note: Many people travel during the holiday seasons. If you plan to travel during a holiday time especially during the Christmas and New Year's you should make airline and hotel reservations several months in advance.
Convenient shopping is available on military installations (on base) at the Exchange (dry goods) and commissary (food). There are usually smaller type stores on base that stay open longer hours. Most U.S. cities have many shopping areas. Usually there is an area in most cities, commonly called "downtown," where governmental offices and businesses are centered, but there are large shopping malls in outlying districts. When shopping off base, you will normally have to pay a State sales tax for most items you purchase which varies from an additional 4% to 8% of the retail price advertised. Every state is different in the amount of sales tax that is charged. This tax is added on at the cash register when you check out, so be aware that the posted prices are actually somewhat lower than what you will actually have to pay when you check out. When shopping on base, you do not pay a State sales tax, but a surcharge is normally added at the commissary cash register to cover facilities' cost. Prices in the Exchange are as posted with no additional charge made when you check out (pay at the cashier).
Pharmacies are often referred to as drugstores (some parts of the world refer to them as chemists), and the pharmacy department is only a small part of the entire store. Some discount stores and supermarkets also contain pharmacies. Many drugstores also offer large selections of cosmetics, toiletries, postcards, greeting cards, and other items.
In the U.S., you may purchase non-prescription (not prescribed by a medical doctor) medications such as aspirin or common cold remedies in drugstores and in most discount stores and grocery markets. A licensed pharmacist who works in a pharmacy can sell prescription drugs. In order to purchase prescription drugs legally, you must have a prescription; an order for a drug written by a medical doctor on a special form. It is not possible, for example, to ask a pharmacist to sell you penicillin or other antibiotics unless you can present a prescription from a doctor. Depending on how your country approaches medical and dental problems that you may encounter while you are in the U.S., you may receive your medical care by an on-base medical facility or through a medical plan with coverage provided by a civilian doctor.
Department stores have many different departments, where you can purchase clothing, shoes, appliances, kitchen items, china, gifts, jewelry, etc. Department stores differ in price and quality. They often have sales, during which selected items are sold at reduced prices. Most sales are advertised in local newspapers.
Discount Stores and Outlets
Discount stores are similar to department stores but generally offer lower prices because they buy in tremendous quantities (sometimes older or discontinued models) and because the stores are large, economically built and plain. At some discount stores, you must pay a membership fee and present your membership card to enter. You can find many bargains (good buys) at discount stores if you shop with care. Different from a department store, an outlet is a shop that carries only the product or products from its company headquarters. Outlet stores and centers are quite popular. Many good values are offered at very competitive prices. The only drawback to an outlet store is you are limited to only items that the Head Company produces, for example, a Reebok and Nike outlet store will only carry items produced by Reebok or Nike. Some of the items carried at outlet stores are referred to as "seconds." A second is an article with a slight flaw that cannot be sold at its original retail price. Many of the flaws are so small they cannot be noticed, for example, a pair of shoes with a bad stitch.
Most people in the U.S. shop in shopping centers; large clusters of businesses catering to most normal shopping needs. Sometimes you will find a supermarket and a drugstore, plus a wide variety of shops and services. Shopping centers usually open mid-morning 0900 or 1000 (9:00 or 10:00 A.M.) and stay open until at least 2100 hours (9:00 P.M.) in the evenings, Monday through Saturday, and many shopping centers are often open at least part of the day on Sunday. During your stay in the U.S., you should visit one or more local shopping centers and make note of business hours, and the variety of merchandise and services available in the complex.
Restaurants in the U.S. are plentiful and of wide variety. They range from inexpensive fast food places to very expensive restaurants. Some restaurants feature specialties of the region or cuisine from international countries. Most of them either do not allow smoking or have separate smoking and non-smoking areas. Please pay attention to the designation. For a survey of eating establishments in the community, look under the "Restaurants" section in the yellow pages of the telephone book.
Choosing a Restaurant
Restaurants in the U.S. are inspected regularly for cleanliness and for compliance with health codes. It is generally safe to eat in any restaurant. However, for the best meals or the best bargains, it is a good idea to follow the recommendations of acquaintances and friends. It is safe to drink the water in all parts of the U.S., and restaurants rarely carry bottled water (except for soda water, if the restaurant has a bar). Usually water is served with ice. If you prefer water without ice, or hot water, ask the waiter or waitress.
Customs for Eating Out
If you plan to eat dinner at a formal restaurant, you should call a day or two in advance to see if reservations are required. Most restaurants do not require reservations to be made in advance, and many do not take reservations; seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Weekends and holidays are normally the busiest times for most restaurants, and it could take several minutes waiting time to be seated for service.
In general, the wording of an invitation to dine with someone in a restaurant offers a clue as to who will pay the bill. If someone says "please have dinner with me," or "I would like to invite you to dinner," it usually means that you are to be a guest and that person will pay the bill. If someone says, "Would you like to have dinner together?" or "Do you want to get a bite to eat?" it probably is "Dutch treat." Dutch treat or "going Dutch" means that each person pays for his or her own food and drink and that each contributes toward the tip for the waiter or waitress. If you are not sure how the bill will be paid, assume that you will pay your share. If you are meant to be a guest, your host or hostess will say so. Usually, when a male invites a female out to dinner, the male pays the bill. However, modern U.S. dating arrangements sometimes are Dutch.
In a cafeteria or fast food restaurant, the bill is paid when food is ordered. In a cafeteria, the cashier determines the bill and collects the money at the end of the food line after you have chosen what you want to eat.
In the U.S., gratuities (tips) are not usually added to restaurant bills. Some restaurants, however, will add a service charge for groups of six or more people automatically to the bill. You should leave your tip on the table for the waiter or waitress who has served you when you are ready to leave the restaurant. If you pay with a credit card, you can add the tip to the credit card charges before you total the bill. The restaurant then gives that amount to your server in cash. If you sit at a counter in a restaurant, the tip is usually smaller than the normal tip. A normal tip is at least 15% of the bill. Customers do not normally tip in self-service or fast food restaurants.
Taxi drivers expect tips of approximately 15% of the total fare.
Airport and hotel porters expect a tip for each bag carried. A general "rule of thumb" is $1.00 to $2.00 per bag. Barbers and beauticians are also tipped approximately 15% of the bill. If you have your car parked by the valet service at an expensive restaurant or parked for you at a hotel, the attendant who takes and brings back your car will expect a tip, usually a couple of dollars is sufficient. Also, in grocery stores and markets in the civilian community when employees (called "baggers") place the articles you purchase in bags or plastic and carry out to your vehicle, they do not expect a tip. However, in the commissary on the base, these "baggers" accept a tip. Many of the above people mentioned work for "tips only" or may receive some pay from their employer, but it is very little. Their main salaries are based on tips from customers.
Never offer tips to public officials, police officers, or Government employees. This is against the law in the United States. Hotel desk clerks, bus drivers, theater ushers, salespeople, flight attendants, and gas station attendants also are not tipped. If you are unsure about whom you should leave a tip for, ask someone if it is acceptable to leave a tip for the services that you receive.
It may seem to you that everyone in the United States owns at least one motor vehicle (car, truck, or van). Certainly, automobiles are very convenient, and many U.S. citizens consider owning a vehicle a necessity. However, keep in mind that owning and operating a motor vehicle is expensive. Not only are they expensive to purchase, but often can cause considerable problems which can "add up" to a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. Even parking a vehicle is becoming difficult in some of the larger cities in the U.S. If you cannot easily afford a motor vehicle during your stay in the U.S., it is probably in your best interest not to purchase one.
Do not be in a big hurry to buy a vehicle. If you take your time, and you are careful, you have a better chance of saving money and getting a good car. When you shop for a car, it is recommended that you take along a U.S. acquaintance who is knowledgeable about vehicles. A person who can evaluate the condition of a motor vehicle and the claims of the salesperson. If you are accustomed to bargaining when shopping, and if you are good at it, this is a good time to practice the art. Most car dealers will negotiate prices with customers.
There are many different makes and models (brands) of motor vehicles to select from. After choosing the model you want, you must make decisions on options or special features if you are purchasing a new vehicle (engine size, automatic or manual transmission, manual or power brakes and steering, air conditioning, etc.) The total cost of the car depends on the options you choose to add to the basic model. Look at different brands and models and compare prices and costs of the options.
Used vehicles are less expensive than new cars. Of course, they are older, and there is always the risk of trouble and repair costs. Used cars are advertised on bulletin boards all around the base. Local newspapers have many advertisements regarding new and used vehicles for sale, or you can go to a used car lot. Even though the cost is almost always higher, many people buy used cars from major dealers because there is generally a 30 to 90 day "warranty" on the car. A warranty is a guarantee to repair any problems that arise within the warranty period that is covered under the warranty. However, if you purchase a vehicle from an individual or local area "used car dealer," you will be buying the car "as is." If something happens after you drive it away, then it is your responsibility for the repairs.
Any honest person trying to sell a used car will allow you to take the car to a garage or mechanic (one not associated with the seller), to have the vehicle inspected and checked before you decide to buy it. Mechanics usually charge for this service, but this is a good investment if it saves you from buying a vehicle in bad condition. If you purchase the car from a reputable dealer, there is usually a warranty on the car, and therefore, no reason to take it to a mechanic.
When you complete the purchase of a used car, be certain that you get documents (transfer of ownership, anti-smog certification, etc.) required by the state department of motor vehicles. Ask the International Military Student Officer about the State requirements.
You can either pay the total cost of a vehicle when you purchase it, or you can finance it ("buy it on time" or "buy it on credit"). Financing costs vary greatly, but the interest rate could be as high as an additional 20 to 30 percent of the purchase price. Ask someone who knows about financing to advise you.
Before signing any papers committing you to purchase a vehicle, make certain that you contact your International Military Student Officer so that you do not end up with a "bad" deal. It is also advisable to have someone from the U.S. go with you, if it is possible, to be sure that you understand the language of the contract and the amount you must pay.
Legal Requirements for Motor Vehicles
Automobiles must be registered with the State Department of Motor Vehicles, and they must have a valid license plate. After you purchase a vehicle, take the car and the purchase documents to the local office of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Generally, before you can register your vehicle, you will have to have a certain amount of insurance coverage (see topic area on automobile insurance coverage below).
If you drive, you must have in your possession a valid driver's license. Some states do not recognize the International Driver's License. If you plan to drive while you are in the U.S., check with the local office of the State Motor Vehicle Department to obtain information. If you decide to get a U.S. driver's license, you may have to take an examination even if you have an international license. In the State of Arizona, you can rent a vehicle with an international license; however, if you purchase a vehicle, you must have an Arizona license. For all international students, you must have your passport with a completed I-94 form before you can obtain an Arizona license. You must also take and pass a written exam to obtain your Arizona license. Additionally, many car dealers require that you have a Social Security Number before purchasing a vehicle. It is a simple process to obtain a Social Security Number; just ask your International Military Student Officer for assistance.
International Driver's License
If you wish to obtain an International Driver's License, you must get it before you leave your country. It is not possible to get an International Driver's License inside the U.S. for use in the U.S. An International Driver's License does not necessarily permit a person to drive while in the U.S. Each State is responsible for its own driving laws and many States do not accept the International Driver's License. If you plan to drive during your stay in the U.S., you should apply for a State driver's license. The State Driver's license is also a major document of identification in the U.S. and can be used when cashing checks, making credit applications, etc.
Automobile liability insurance is required of all automobile owners. Liability insurance pays others for damages and injuries you cause when operating your vehicle. If you accidentally hit a pedestrian and this person should need extended medical treatment because of the accident, for example, your liability can go into the thousands of dollars. Even good and careful drivers can sometimes be involved in accidents, thus you should not feel that an accident can never happen to you. Purchasing automobile insurance is your responsibility. If you have an automobile accident, and it is discovered you are not insured, you can be in serious legal trouble. In addition to liability insurance, there is automobile insurance for collision, property damage, and other losses that you yourself suffer. Automobile insurance can be costly, and may run several hundred dollars for a 6-month period. It is absolutely necessary, and one should not drive a car for even a short period of time without adequate insurance. As a related matter, when you rent an automobile, insurance coverage is not always part of the vehicle rental contract. It is suggested you should verify with the rental agency what coverage comes with the basic rental contract and how much additional coverage costs. Always ask your International Military Student Officer about State requirements and for advice on purchasing automobile insurance.
Note: Military installations require that all drivers carry insurance coverage.
Traffic and Motor Vehicle Laws
It is important to learn and obey traffic laws; they are enforced. People who break these laws can receive fines, jail sentences, and/or the loss of driving privileges. All laws governing licensing and granting of driver's licenses, as well as traffic laws are made by each State. There are variations from State to State. If you plan to drive, obtain a booklet outlining traffic laws from the State Motor Vehicle Department (your 162 W International Military Training Office also has these booklets available). Learn the laws and obey them. Pay particular attention to the following:
Most States require that motor vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles yield, that is, give the right-of-way to pedestrians.
Many international countries do not have speed controls on highways or streets. In the U.S., there are many "speed zones." They are clearly marked by signs that indicate the maximum, and sometimes the minimum, speeds allowed, in miles per hour (mph). It is important to observe these speed limits. If you are cited ("get a ticket") for speeding, you may pay a sizable fine, and your automobile insurance rates will normally increase. The maximum speed limits on U.S. highways varies from 55 to 70 miles per hour. On military installations, it is also important to follow speed limits. If you get cited on a military installation, you do not have to pay a fine, but you may have to attend military traffic court. Depending on the citation (ticket) received, you could have points deducted from your driving record or even have your driving privileges suspended aboard the installation. If points are deducted from your driving record, when you reach a certain amount of points, driving privileges are suspended for a certain length of time.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of Alcohol
DO NOT DRIVE IF YOU HAVE BEEN DRINKING ANY ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES!!! If you are caught speeding or breaking another law, or if you are involved in an accident while under the influence of alcohol, and you are operating a vehicle, you may be taken to jail. There can be serious consequences of fines, jail sentences, and loss of driving privileges. Driving under the influence could also result in injury or death of another person; you might be responsible for high liability judgments that you must pay in the case of a serious accident.
Most communities throughout the U.S. enforce parking laws, as well as all military installations. Be aware of the following:
Reserved parking spaces and areas
This is especially true on military installations. Always pay attention to see if there are any markings that may limit parking or restrict parking.
"No parking" signs and red-and yellow-painted curbs indicate (give notice of) no-parking areas. If you park in a no-parking area, you may get a ticket and have to pay a fine. Your car may also be towed away to a garage for illegal parking. If this is the case, you may have to pay yet another fine, as well as towing costs and storage costs to get your vehicle back again.
Parking meters are generally found in downtown and other busy areas. These are small coin-operated machines mounted on posts in the sidewalk next to parking places. If you park next to a meter, put an appropriate number of coins in the meter and then turn the handle until the time registers. In order to avoid receiving a parking ticket, you must either move your car or add more coins to the meter before the time expires.
Renting a Vehicle
There are certain requirements and restrictions connected with renting a vehicle. If you want to rent a vehicle, telephone or visit a rental agency. Most agencies are listed in the telephone directory's yellow pages. Ask for information, procedures, and rates (see preceding section on Automobile Insurance).
If you purchase or rent a bicycle, it is a good idea to lock it when you leave it unattended. A bicycle shop can advise you on a secure locking system, and also provide you with advice on safety precautions. Most military installations require certain safety equipment when riding a bicycle aboard the base, e.g., helmets, flags, reflective clothing, etc.
Motorcycles and other two-wheeled vehicles with motors are another relatively inexpensive form of transportation. However, they are also the most dangerous forms of transportation because of their high speed and lack of protection. Most States require that these vehicles be registered and that their drivers be licensed. Most States also require a special course be taken before a license can be issued, as well as require drivers to wear protective helmets.
In addition, most military installations require that motorcycles and similar vehicles be registered with the military security office. Motorcycles usually must be parked in spaces especially designated for two-wheeled vehicles. It is generally illegal to park a motorcycle on a sidewalk and, in some cases, parking areas designated for cars.
Important: When involved in a vehicular accident, you must comply with local laws. Please check with your International Military Student Officer for proper accident reporting procedures.
Personal Safety and Useful Tips
Unfortunately, there is crime in the United States. You should be especially careful until you know the area and are familiar with the community. For example, there may be parts of town you should avoid. Every military installation has security police to help keep the area safe. Remember good judgment, taking proper precautions, and following the rules of common sense can significantly reduce chances of having an unpleasant and perhaps harmful experience.
Basic safety rules include the following:
In some areas, it is not safe to walk alone at night. Always ask someone to accompany you if you are not sure about going somewhere on your own.
When you leave your room, apartment, or automobile, be sure all doors and windows are locked. Never leave valuables, especially cash or credit cards sitting out in the open even if the door is locked.
Do not carry too much cash or wear jewelry of great value.
Never accept a ride from a stranger. Do not hitchhike and do not pick up hitchhikers.
Be careful of wallets and purses, especially in crowded, metropolitan areas where there may be pickpockets or purse-snatchers. Other attractive personal property, such as cameras, stereos, computers, bicycles, etc. should be locked up in a safe place when you are not around. Do not be careless with your property.
If a robber threatens you, at home or on the street, try not to resist unless you feel your life is in danger and you must fight or run away. Give up your valuables as calmly as you can and observe as much as possible about the robber to tell the authorities when you report the crime.
When traveling in the United States, be sure to carry your passport and other identification papers with you.
For access to military bases, exchanges, commissary, routine or emergency medical care, etc., check with your International Military Student Officer for more details.
Contraband, e.g., weapons such as firearms, knives etc., non-prescribed controlled substances, and drug paraphernalia, is prohibited aboard U.S. military installations. You can be in serious trouble if contraband is found. Additionally, many types of contraband are illegal anywhere in the U.S.
If you are arrested, the International Military Student Office is the best place to call for help. Do keep the International Military Student Officers' telephone numbers handy!
Unlike most countries, the United States does not use the international metric system for measuring size, weight, distance, or temperature. Below are some of the more common measurements you will probably encounter. Americans have resisted the elimination of their unique systems in spite of Government efforts to convert to the metric system.
Approximate Metric Conversion
1 mile 1.6 kilometer
1 yard 0.9 meter
1 foot 30.48 centimeter
1 inch 6.4516 centimeters
1 acre 4046.9 meters
1 pound (16 ounces) 497.6 grams
1 ounce 31.1 gram
1 gallon (4 quarts) 3.78 liter
1 quart (4 cups) 0.95 liter
1 cup 0.24 liter
32 degree F 0 degree C
68 degree F 20 degree C
95 degree F 35 degree C
To determine the Celsius(C) temperature equivalent from the Fahrenheit (F) scale, subtract 32 from the Fahrenheit temperature and divide that number by 12.8.
Military Rank Insignia
To view the ten grades for commissioned officers, four grades of warrant officers, and nine grades of enlisted personnel used in the U.S. Armed Forces, click here
Now that you have had a chance to read about the good and the bad in America, please keep one idea in mind; you can be a goodwill ambassador for your country while in the U.S.A. Americans are by nature a friendly, open-minded people make an effort to meet as many Americans as possible during your stay in America.
At the 162 W, you can be assured that you will receive the very best training. Remember, if you should ever encounter a problem or have a question and you do not know where to turn, visit and talk with your International Military Student Office staff. They will make every effort possible to help you.