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Living in the U.S.

As an exchange visitor in the United States you will face many challenges. However, you will come through this experience with a deeper understanding of the American culture and society and a more thorough appreciation of your own strengths. This page provides valuable information regarding U.S. laws, culture, customs, and traveling.

Life in Arizona

Learn more about the state of Arizona and the cities of Phoenix and Tempe. See what there is to do around ASU’s four campuses.

Climate in Phoenix
Phoenix receives an average of 7-10 inches (17 - 25 cm) of rain per year, and boasts over 300 days of sunshine every year. People who live in Phoenix like to say that we have autumn (fall colors, warm days and cool nights) for two weeks in late November or early December. Frosts do occur, but rarely are they severe. In winter, Phoenix receives some rain from storms that enter the U.S. from the northern Pacific. During the hot summer months of July and August, humid tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico and central Pacific brings moisture which results in occasional severe thunderstorms and dust storms, called monsoons and haboobs.

Here are the average temperatures you can expect to experience in Phoenix (in Celsius):


Source: Weather.com

U.S. Laws

The United States and the State of Arizona have "Zero Tolerance" laws regarding the use of controlled substances (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, crack, etc.). If you are convicted of violating U.S. drug laws, you will be deported after serving your sentence and will not be allowed to enter the United States again.

Students unfamiliar with American laws often find themselves being stopped by a policeman and given a ticket for jaywalking, or crossing the street outside an intersection or a designated crosswalk. Pay attention to traffic signals at intersections and only cross when the green pedestrian light is on. The fine may be as high as $100.00.

Car Towing When Illegally Parked
Students may find that their car has been towed away when it violated parking rules. Street signs indicating when and where it is permissible to park in a given zone are posted on every street. FIND THE SIGN, READ IT AND FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS! Otherwise you may need to retrieve your car from a police parking lot and pay a $15-$100 fine.  Parking is very limited around the university and cars are towed regularly.

The Boot 
The boot is a metal device that is locked onto your vehicle wheel. If you have not paid for parking tickets within 7 days, your car may be "booted," which means that you will not be able to drive your car until all fines have been paid.

American Culture and Social Customs

Cultural Adjustment
Adjusting to American society and particularly to the University community usually takes some time. Many things seem new and different and it is natural to feel somewhat disoriented when you first arrive. If you have a hard time adjusting, contact the GEO, talk to other international students who have been here longer than you have, or call Counseling and Consultation (480-965-6146) or Student Mental Health Services (480-965-4726) to talk to a counselor.

Other international students have mentioned that misunderstandings are most likely to occur with respect to dating practices, the very informal style of dress among students, the emphasis on self-reliance and independence, and the impersonal attitude of people towards each other. Many students have found that although Americans are generally friendly and willing to help, close friendships usually develop slowly.

Taking advantage of every opportunity to meet people, and becoming involved in clubs, activities, and social events, will be the most helpful procedures for social adjustment to the campus and United States. Involvement in these activities will provide you with many new friends and experiences, and will also enable you to discover commonalities and differences between your home country and the U.S. In addition, you will become more familiar with your new surroundings and the many resources available to you for your enjoyment. Be yourself, but try to remain open to learning about American customs!

The custom of dating is not practiced in many parts of the world, and in countries where it is practiced, the custom is generally not the same as in the United States.

When a man invites a woman to join him in a social activity, such as dinner, a movie, the theater, a concert, or a dance, each of the participants as well as the event itself is called a "date." Traditionally, it has been customary for the man to pay all the bills but student life is often different. A "Dutch treat" is the name given to the occasion when each pays separately. Depending on the situation, the woman may offer to pay the bill for the "date" or the man may pay the complete cost.

Invitations and Hospitality
Most people in the United States consider punctuality very important. It is customary to respond to invitations promptly and to honor appointments. If you have promised to go to a home or to meet someone, you should do so at the agreed time. If you will be late or will not attend at all, you should call or text the person so that they will not wait for you.

The custom of bringing a gift of food or drink is common and appreciated by your hosts when visiting their home for the first time. After the event, it is considered well-mannered to call or send a thank you note to your host or hostess.

Often Americans will open their homes to foreign students on special holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. It is normal to accept an invitation that has been arranged by a mutual acquaintance or through a service organization, even if you have not previously met the host and/or hostess.

Compared to some other cultures, Americans seem warm and open with new acquaintances. However, this does not mean that close friendships are forming. Friendship patterns are generally seen as casual and not normally of an intimate nature. Casual friends are made in class, in laboratory, and in buildings where students live. "See you soon," "Drop over sometime," or "We will have to get together soon" are friendly ways of saying, "Goodbye." These should not necessarily to be interpreted as invitations or promises of invitations. Similarly, the phrase, "How are you?" does not require a long response; a simple, "Fine, thanks" is appropriate.


  • When talking with someone, Americans typically stand about two feet apart. Standing closer than that will make people uncomfortable.
  • When greeting friends, it is common to hug, but not to kiss on the cheek.
  • In general, friends of the same sex do not hold hands.
  • Use your index finger to point, but it is considered rude to point at a person.
  • A pat on the back is a sign of friendship.
  • There are many ways to get the attention of a waiter or waitress: make eye contact and raise your eyebrows or briefly wave to get their attention. To ask for your check, make a writing gesture or mouth the word "check". (Snapping your fingers or whistling at the waiter or waitress is not considered appropriate!)
  • Direct eye contact shows that you are sincere, but it shouldn't be too intense. In the Southwest, people of Hispanic or Native American background may look away to show respect.
  • When sitting, Americans often look very relaxed. In some situations, they may prop their feet up on chairs or furniture.
  • When giving an item to someone, it is acceptable to offer it with only one hand.

Traveling and Tourism

Travel within the U.S.
There is a Greyhound bus station in Tempe, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is five miles from ASU. It takes about 6 hours to drive by car to Los Angeles, San Diego or Las Vegas, and one hour to fly by plane. It is possible to get low cost air tickets to southwestern cities and often to other parts of the country as well. Mexico is only four hours by car from the ASU campus.

Travel outside of the U.S.
Information on entering and exiting the U.S. can be obtained at the International Students and Scholars Center (ISSC). You MUST have your DS-2019 form signed at BEFORE you leave so that you will be allowed to re-enter the U.S. Contact the ISSC as early as possible BEFORE YOU LEAVE.