International Student Services works in concert with the Office of Student Affairs and Services staff and faculty members throughout the Institute to support our international student population. International Student Services is committed to providing the tools and support necessary to foster growth and success for the Institute’s international students.

Best wishes to you as you grow to become an important part of the vibrant Institute community! Consider joining one of our student clubs or groups focused on inclusive community building.

Immigration Information

As an international student you have an obligation to understand and maintain your F-1 non-immigrant status. Making assumptions about immigration regulations or relying on the advice of friends is the quickest means of falling out of F-1 status. If you have any questions or concerns about your own F-1 status please contact us.

An F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by a United States Consulate abroad to an alien who plans to come to the United States to pursue full-time studies at a U.S. educational school or institution. Generally, the U.S. Consular Office has total discretion to grant or deny the visa. Foreign students who wish to obtain an F-1 visa must plan to pursue a full course of study in an approved academic institution in the United States.

When admitted into the U.S. on an approved F-1 visa, that student becomes an F-1 status holder. For those who are already in the United States on another non-immigrant status, such as B-1/B-2, H-1, etc., they may apply to change to F-1 status in the U.S. or travel outside the U.S., apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy and gain F-1 status by presenting the F-1 visa upon entry to the U.S. As long as your activity in the U.S. reflects the intent of your F-1 documents your F-1 status is maintained.

The spouse and/or unmarried, minor children of F-1 holders are eligible to come to the United States on an F-2 Visa. People in F-2 status may remain in the U.S. as long as the principle F-1 student maintains valid status. People in F-2 status are not eligible to engage in a course of study or work in the U.S.

Maintaining your F-1 non-immigrant status is your responsibility. International Student Services is here to assist you in that goal. Please refer to the list below for a reminder of your obligations to maintain your F-1 status.

  • Maintain full time enrollment

F-1 students must be engaged in a full course of study every academic session or semester except during official school breaks as defined by their program of study. Students must make positive progress in that course of study. There are limited exceptions to the full course of study requirement which must be approved by International Student Services in advance.

  • Limit on-line enrollment

No more than the equivalent of one course or 3 credits per session or semester may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken on-line or through distance education.

  • Reporting your local address

Report any change of U.S. address to International Student Services within 10 days of your move.

  • Work only when and where authorized

Please refer to the “Employment” section of this module for information on employment eligibility options, restrictions and benefits.

Report any changes in the information stated on your I-20 to International Student Services so an updated I-20 can be issued for you.

You must contact International Student Services at least 30 days before the end date on your I-20 if you will need additional time to complete your academic program.

  • Transfer Out

In order to transfer your F-1 status to another institution to engage in a program of study you must coordinate the release of your SEVIS data to your new institution. Please contact International Student Services at least 30 days prior to the start date of your new program to discuss the transfer of your SEVIS records.

  • Reinstatement

F-1 students who do not follow F-1 regulations are considered to be out of status. Students who have fallen out of status are not eligible for travel signatures, employment eligibility, transfer to another school, or program extension. To regain F-1 status an application for reinstatement must be filed with, and approved by, USCIS. Please contact International Student Services as soon as possible if you believe you may be out of status.

F-1 students may leave the U.S. and return in F-1 status provided they have the correct documents with them upon re-entry. To reenter in F-1 status students must present a valid I-20 from the school they are attending with a valid travel signature from a Designated School Official on page 3. F-1 students must also present a valid passport, valid F-1 visa, and valid EAD and offer of employment (if on Optional Practical Training). To obtain a travel signature please contact International Student Services.

F-1 students who plan to travel to a country other than their home country must check with the Embassy of the country they are planning to visit to inquire about specific entry procedures. The site provides links to the websites of many foreign embassies in the U.S.

Students in F-1 status have a few opportunities to secure employment.

  • On-campus Employment

F-1 students may work on-campus. This is a benefit of the F-1 status. Students may seek employment on the campus itself or at one of the educationally affiliated hospitals provided the employment is related to the student’s field of study. As the primary purpose of an F-1 student is to pursue a full course of study, employment while enrolled is limited to no more than 20 hours/week while school is in session. Students may work 40 hours/week during recognized school breaks.

As an F-1 student you will need a Social Security Number in order to sign onto payroll.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is employment authorization used for an integral part of an established curriculum" and "directly related to the student's major area of study." CPT is defined as "alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school." CPT is authorized on-campus by the Designated School Official. If your program requires any such employment experience please contact International Student Services to discuss CPT.

As an F-1 student you will need a Social Security Number in order to sign onto payroll.

Optional Practical training (OPT) is temporary employment for up to 12 months to gain practical experience in a student’s field of study. Students are eligible for OPT following one academic year. An academic year is 12 months for many of the Institute’s programs. Students may opt to use their OPT while they are enrolled. Pre-completion OPT must be part time a 20 hour/week or less. Students may use a combination of pre- and post- completion OPT although most students wait until they have completed their academic programs and apply for post-completion OPT. Post-completion OPT grants full-time employment eligibility for up to 12 months.

OPT is recommended by the Designated School Official. Once securing the recommendation an F-1 student applies for OPT approval with USCIS. Once approved USCIS will send the student and Employment Authorization Document card (EAD). The student’s employment eligibility dates are noted on the card. The student may not begin employment until the start date on the card has come to pass. Students on OPT must report change in address and all employment changes and periods of unemployment to International Student Services. Students may accrue up to 90 days of unemployment while on OPT.

None of the academic programs at the Institute qualify for the 17 month OPT STEM extension.

  • Social Security Number (SSN)

A Social Security number (SSN) is issued to track earnings over a worker's lifetime. A Social Security Number is not employment authorization. Students holding F-1 status who are employed in the U.S. must apply for a Social Security number. Dependents in F-2 status are not eligible for a Social Security numbers. In order to issue a Social Security Number, the Social Security Administration requires evidence that you are eligible to work in the U.S. Present your passport, I-94 card, I-20 and indicated documents for the type of employment you have secured:

    • On-campus employment: An original letter from a DSO showing that you are authorized to work on-campus and; Letter from the hiring department verifying that you have accepted a job offer
    • Curricular Practical Training: Letter from the employer verifying that you have accepted a job offer
    • Optional Practical Training: Employment Authorization Document

The Social Security Administration must also verify your immigration documents and status with Immigration before issuing the Social Security number. Note that new students may not apply for an SSN earlier than 10 business days after arriving in the U.S.

A Social Security number is not required to obtain a driver's license, cell phone, credit card, insurance, admission to an academic institution or other "non-work" reasons.

Students who will not work on campus but who receive a taxable scholarship can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) for tax purposes).

Living in Boston

Becoming comfortable with your new life in Boston will make your experience at the Institute that much more successful and rewarding. The following topics are presented to help you in getting to know Americans, understand your own adjustment to life in Boston, find an apartment in the Boston area, learn about the quirks of Boston English and more.

Find a Place to Live

The United States is a culturally diverse country, and it is especially so in metropolitan areas such as Boston. Most people in the US are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants from all around the world. This multiculturalism can be comforting for international visitors; it can also make it hard to identify the cultural practices of “typical Americans." However, there are some general trends of social interactions that are particular to Americans. These cultural norms can be surprising to people who come from different backgrounds. Below are some qualities and characteristic trends found in American culture. It is important to note that as with all generalizations, sometimes these trends do not apply. As always, the best way to learn about new culture is to interact with locals!


Individuality is highly valued in American culture. Americans often identify themselves as separate individuals before identifying with their family, a group, or the nation. American children are often taught that understanding and relying on oneself is crucial to success in adult life. This does not mean that Americans do not form strong social networks or familial bonds. Rather, taking an interest in improving oneself is thought to benefit the majority. This individualism can be seen as rudeness by people from more collective cultures, but this is not the intention.


American society is based on the ideal that “all men are created equal." While there are many economic, social, and cultural differences throughout the U.S., in theory, everyone should have an equal opportunity for success. Because of this emphasis on equality, Americans tend to disregard social status in everyday interactions, and only acknowledge these differences in subtle ways. People from other cultures who hold higher social positions sometimes feel that Americans do not treat them with enough respect. On the other hand, Americans may feel offended if they feel they are not being treated equally.


Partially due to their sense of equality, Americans tend to be very informal. Dress, especially in an educational setting, can be very casual. This informality also lends itself to friendliness. Americans are quick to say hello to friends and casual acquaintances alike. Often Americans will ask “How’s it going?” as a way of saying hello. While this informality can be startling if you are not used to it, Americans mean it as a warm and friendly gesture.


Americans can seem to always be in a rush. Efficiency is a highly regarded trait, and Americans can seem impatient. In general they put a great value on time. Punctuality is important in both business and social settings and arriving late can seem rude and unprofessional. If you are going to be more than ten minutes late for an appointment, it is advisable to call ahead to let them know you are going to be late, or will be unable to attend. Meetings with friends can be more casual, but again, it is nice to keep people updated on your arrival status. Not all Americans are on time and everyone is late sometimes, but it is a good idea to keep punctuality in mind while in the U.S.


Americans believe that being direct is the best way to communicate, and, that often, it is the only way to be heard. To people from different backgrounds, this can seem aggressive or rude. The importance of individuality in U.S. culture has fostered a sense of competitiveness which has, in turn, led to the need to be heard. Americans are not shy about defending their opinions. Honesty and openness are valued, and being direct is often seen as a way to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings. Americans may think that they are helping resolve a situation by being clear and direct, while someone from a different background could see this as being aggressive. Keep an open mind, and give people the benefit of the doubt. More often than not, people are just trying to be clear, open, and friendly.

Culture shock is the natural reaction to a series of transitions that occur when one is uprooted from one’s familiar cultural environment and transplanted into a new situation where the language, gestures, customs, signs, and symbols that have previously helped us to make sense of our surroundings suddenly have no meaning or have new meanings. Most of all one has lost familiar social supports (family, friends, classmates, coworkers) and is having to begin again in a world where things are unpredictable. While the term “culture shock” implies something immediate, the onset is usually gradual and cumulative.

How can I avoid culture shock?

Since culture shock is a natural response the strategy should not be how to avoid it but how to manage it. Being able to anticipate the feelings you may encounter and having an understanding of the cycle of adjustment should help minimize much of the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States. While at times it may be an unpleasant experience to go through, adapting to a new culture provides great opportunities for personal growth and development.

What are the stages of culture shock and cultural adjustment?

Honeymoon Stage

When you first arrive, the differences you observe are new, exciting and interesting. You are optimistic and likely to focus on the positive aspects of your new environment.

Negotiation Stage

After a period of time, a few weeks or a few months, the excitement of experiencing a culture becomes tiresome and could cause anxiety. You feel frustrated by the effort everyday activities seem to require. During this phase you may feel loneliness, helplessness, sadness or depression, fatigue, acute homesickness, and a desire to withdraw. It is very important during this stage to remember that this is normal and your fellow international students are experiencing, or have experienced, this phenomenon. Reach out to them or a trusted advisor for support.

Adjustment Stage

Gradually you will grow accustomed to the new culture and create new routines to go about your daily life. You know what to expect in most situations or have developed the confidence to ask questions to seek understanding. In short, your new life starts to make sense.

Mastery Stage

You are able to fully participate in the host culture. You are not “Americanized” but you have achieved a cultural flexibility commonly referred to biculturalism.

How long will it take for the unpleasant symptoms to go away?

Sometimes the symptoms of the Negotiation Stage last just a few days, but more commonly, a few weeks or even months. Your friend may appear to adjust easily while you are suffering miserably. Several different factors, such as your pre-departure expectations, coping skills, and any past experience living overseas can affect the degree to which a person is affected by culture shock making each individual’s experience unique. Also, people often move back and forth between the stages throughout their stay.

The feelings and symptoms of culture shock will dissipate with time. There are a number of tips and tricks for hastening the adjustment process. Be proactive in getting to know your new environment. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new whenever you have the opportunity. Keep an open mind and a healthy sense of adventure. If you find yourself in a low place where you are having difficulty coping, or you are experiencing severe symptoms of culture shock, seek counseling immediately.

In U.S. culture where individuals often live apart from the social support network of family and friends, it is normal to seek counseling in times of emotional distress. There are many caring, qualified professionals such as social workers (MSW), psychologists (PhD or PsyD) or psychiatrists (MS in psychiatry) who can listen and provide the support you need to help you through a period of difficulty. International Student Services is also available to listen and provide referrals.

Suggestions on how to make your adjustment as smooth as possible.

  • Realize that what you are going through is normal. Remember that the unpleasant feelings are temporary, natural, and are common to any transition that a person makes during their life.
  • Be patient and give yourself the time to work through this process.
  • Take good care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, learn relaxation and stress reduction techniques.
  • Maintain a sense of humor. Be able to laugh at yourself and at the predicaments you get into.
  • Resist the temptation to constantly disparage the host country. Begin to consciously look for logical reasons for anything in the United States that seems strange, confusing, or threatening. Most importantly, when you are having a difficult time, do not be afraid to talk to someone, especially if you are thinking of leaving the U.S. You can always talk to family, friends, members of your host department or our staff who have a lot of experience with this process. Professional counseling is a wonderful resource, is available free to all students, and is often part of an employee’s health plan.

Reverse Culture Shock

Do not underestimate the adjustment that will be required when you return home from your sojourn. People go through a similar series of stages upon re-entry to their home culture.

Books to help you through your transition:

The following books are published in the U.S., but may be found on or at a local bookstore or library once you arrive.

  • American Ways: A Guide for Foreigners in the United States by Gary Althen. Intercultural Press; 2nd edition (2002)
  • Stress Management for Dummies by Allen Elkin. IDG Books (1999).
  • Transitions by William Bridges. Addison-Wesley Publishing (1980)
  • Beat Stress with Strength: A Survival Guide for Work and Life by Stephanie Spera and Sandra Lanto. Park Avenue Books (1997).
  • Living in the U.S.A. by Alison Lanier. Intercultural Press (1988).
  • A Foreign Visitor’s Survival Guide to America by Shauna Singh Baldwin and Marilyn M. Levine. John Muir Publications (1992)

The following websites will lead you to more information to help you adjust to your new life in Boston. Some sites offer information on multiple topics while others are more focused specific information. If you discover a particularly helpful website please share it with us.

Provides an interactive map of apartment cost, size and availability, rental sites, and information on weather, transportation and things to do in Boston.

Insights on renting your first apartment including tips for long distance apartment searches, understanding your lease, tips on dealing with roommates and furnishing on a budget.

Popular website used by Bostonians for local news, weather, and rental information.

Official website of the public transit (buses, subways, trains, and water taxis) system serving Boston and the surrounding suburbs.

American slang and common colloquialisms defined.

International Student Services

MGH Institute Logo on stone

International Student Services works with the Office of Student Affairs and Services to support our international student population.

Jessica Upton

Manager, Center for Career and Professional Development Office of Student Affairs and Services Center for Career and Professional Development

Jillian Sheehan

Enrollment Advisor Office of Enrollment Services