Life and Culture in the U.S.
Adapting to a new environment is not easy, especially if there are many differences in language and culture. Undergraduate students living on campus will find assistance in adapting to life at Eastern from their resident director (RD) and assistants (RA). Other students can often tell where to find things and how to get places. Graduate students will find assistance from their program coordinators and academic advisers. Scholars will find assistance from their academic department heads. The Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISSS) is available to all F-1 and J-1 visa-holders (and their F-2 and J-2 dependents) to answer questions and direct them to the resources they need. New internationals may experience culture shock or simple anxiety about being far away from home. These emotions are normal, but if a student feels overwhelmed, he or she can seek support from the Student Development Office. There are counselors and chaplains who can provide emotional support.
There may seem like an endless list of things to be arranged in order to set up basic living capability. Graduate students living off campus and commuting to classes require an additional independence that undergraduate students living on campus don't need to worry about. Scholars may be accommodating family members as well. OISSS can provide any official papers you need. Here is some important information.
Finding Medical Services
All first-year international students are required to purchase the student health plan. Unlike many other countries, the U.S. does not have a public health system, so the only way to get medical treatment when needed is to have health insurance. Information about the student health plan is available by inquiring of the student health center at (610) 341-5955.. Students with spouses and children may find better insurance plans for their family members through other insurance companies. A comparison of plans and prices can be found at www.hbdc.com or www.healthplan.net. Short-term scholars must have travel insurance to cover the duration of their stay. J-1 professors under teaching contract with the University will receive an employee insurance plan.
We do not recommend travel insurance alone for students, because the coverage is often inadequate once the student is living in the U.S. Travel insurance may be purchased in addition to the student plan.
Basic medical services are available at the student health center on the St. Davids campus, but the student or scholar may need to use a local doctor's office for greater services or a hospital for emergency treatment.
Certain immunizations will be required of internationals coming to the U.S., and other immunizations will be required by the Pennsylvania Department of Health for all university students in residence halls. Some immunizations can be administered at the student health center upon arrival. Please fill out and submit the university health forms. You can download the form from our website. More information about required immunizations can be found on the website.
Using Public Transportation
The public transit authority in the greater Philadelphia area is called SEPTA.
Eastern University's main campus (St. Davids) is located just a few blocks from the R-5 Paoli/Thorndale regional rail line and the Bus 105 route, and just one mile from the Norristown high speed line. To learn more about the various subway, train, bus and regional rail routes, go to www.septa.org. You can purchase tokens or monthly passes to use SEPTA. Public transit is more accessible in the Philadelphia urban center, and less so the farther out into the suburbs you go.
Social Security Number (SSN)
Although almost every process will request this personal identification number, it is not legally required in all instances. You can indeed open a bank account and sign a rental agreement without one. As a non-immigrant visa-holder, you will only need a SSN if you will be employed, either on-campus or as part of a curricular practical training required by your program.
Before a student can be paid for campus employment, he or she needs a social security number (SSN). Government regulations state that an F-1 or J-1 student must first have a campus job and can only apply for a SSN 30 days or less prior to the start date of the employment. The student must have a letter from the campus employer and a letter from OISSS in order to apply for a SSN. After making application, the student normally receives a social security card in the mail in 2 to 4 weeks. The student may begin working while waiting for the SSN to arrive. Students should be careful to keep the social security card in a safe place, and should never give out the number indiscriminately. The social security number can be stolen by identity thieves and sold on the black market, causing undue hardship to the student.
More information can be found at: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10096.html
PA Drivers License
Eastern University is accessible by public transportation, but some students and scholars decide to get a drivers license and purchase a used car. You will need either a SSN or a letter from the Social Security office stating that you have applied or you were denied a SSN (in which case you will not be taking employment). You can also get a PA State identification card in lieu of a drivers license if all you need is a personal identification credential. More information about drivers license or state ID cards can be found online at: http://www.dmv.org/pa-pennsylvania/drivers-license.php
Apartment Rental Agreements
Many apartment leasing offices require documentation before agreeing to rent an apartment to you. They may request a SSN, a credit history, references, etc. You should explain that you are an international student or scholar at Eastern University, and do not have the same documents a US citizen would have. Ask what other options you might have to provide alternative documents. You may request a letter from OISSS to confirm your visa status, you could show that you have applied for a SSN. If one leasing office stubbornly refuses to deal with you, go to another apartment complex instead. Graduate students and adult students may want to investigate the Village Apartments located on the west campus at St. Davids. Contact the University Housing Office for more information. Undergraduate students (under age 21) are expected to live in campus housing.
Purchasing a Used Car
Similar documents may be required of you if purchasing a used car. Again, ask what other options you have. Generally speaking, however, you will need to get the drivers license first and purchase automobile insurance before you can finalize the purchase of a car. You may find it easier to deal with a private individual who is selling a car, rather than a used car agency, but in any case be careful. If possible, take an American friend with you. You may find websites that connect persons who are selling their possessions to persons who are looking to buy something, as well as printed and on-line classified sections of local newspapers. If purchasing the car from an individual, you will need the services of an auto tag and licensing center to change the car's title and registration over to your name and to get a legal license plate. These services are necessary, and they are not very expensive.