The jobs InterExchange Work & Travel USA participants accept are seasonal and workloads depend greatly upon the weather. Do not be alarmed if during some weeks the work is slow and you’re not receiving as many hours as usual. Other weeks may be busy with many extra hours. Please be as flexible as possible when it comes to scheduling time off and work shifts. If there are any problems that you cannot resolve by speaking with your employer, please contact the InterExchange office in New York.
Helping Our Participants Gain a New Understanding of the USA
Cultural exchange occurs when people gain more in-depth understanding and knowledge about another country, its culture, customs and day-to-day practices through person-to-person contact. Our participants as well as our hosts embrace this aspect of InterExchange programs and understand its importance whether they’re part of a seasonal business, a camp, a family or a professional environment.
The United States is called a “melting pot”: a place where people of many different backgrounds live. It is a culture that is continually being reshaped and redefined as more people from other countries learn about the U.S., but it is also influenced by the visitors who share information about their cultures when they interact with people who live in this country. One of the best opportunities you will have over the course of your time in the United States is to learn more about American culture. That’s what cultural exchange is all about.
We’ve created a list of recommended sites and activities for you to enjoy while you’re in the U.S. Take a look and discover new places and aspects of American culture!
You can also read more about U.S. culture in the Inside the USA handbook.
InterExchange will invite you via email to cultural events hosted for exchange students in your area. You can also read about cultural events on our blog.
Dealing With Culture Shock
Culture shock is described as the anxiety, feelings of frustration, alienation and anger that may occur when a person is placed in a new culture. Many of the customs here may seem odd or uncomfortably different from those of your home country. Being in a new and unfamiliar place can be challenging even for the experienced traveler, and some feelings of isolation and frustration are totally normal. Participants experience culture shock to varying degrees; some hardly notice it at all, while others can find it very difficult to adapt to their new environment. Many may not attribute their problems to culture shock. Whatever the case may be, understanding these issues and why they happen will help you.
You can learn more about culture shock—including symptoms and tips for coping—in the Inside the USA handbook or on our website at www.InterExchange.org/american-culture/culture-shock.
All InterExchange Work & Travel USA students are covered by basic minimum wage laws and overtime as it applies from state to state. As of July 24, 2009 the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage was set at $7.25 per hour. Where state or local law requires a higher minimum wage, the higher standard applies. If an employer deducts housing or transportation from a paycheck, the FLSA requires that such deductions be voluntary and not include a profit to the employer or any affiliated person. Paying a student for the “season” or a set wage for a “week” is not permitted as per InterExchange policy.
If you have a problem with an employer because of underpaid or unpaid wages, or unfair termination of employment, please call InterExchange and we will help put you in contact with the Department of Labor for the state you are living in. The Department of Labor in your state will instruct you how to file a claim against your employer. InterExchange will provide you with assistance and/or any letters you may need for completing a claim form.
Regardless of how much work experience you have had, there are many unique features associated with working in the United States. Sometimes, things that would be considered normal in your home country are not acceptable in American workplaces.
- Come to work on time. Punctuality is very important and repeated lateness can lead to your being fired from your job.
- Treat customers with respect. Smile! A common phrase in American business is, “The customer is always right.”
- Use “Please” and “Thank you” a lot.
- Work quickly and efficiently. Time is money, and workers are expected to have a strong work ethic.
- Try new things: new foods, sights and activities.
- Meet new people. Americans are generally friendly and outgoing and curious to learn about your home country.
- Take care of personal hygiene. Take a shower every day. Wear deodorant. Beards and mustaches should be kept neat. Brush your hair. Long hair should be pulled back.
- Communicate with your boss. Many misunderstandings are simply due to a lack of communication.
- Be patient. You may feel that the American culture and English language are overwhelming at first. Keep in mind that with time, you will learn and understand more.
- Dress neatly and conservatively.
- Practice your English as often as possible!
- Report any problems to InterExchange.
- Expect special treatment. As a co-worker you will be expected to work just as hard as your American counterparts.
- Get fired. Lateness, theft, drinking on the job, drug use or disobeying employer rules are all grounds for dismissal.
- Run away. You are expected to work for the entire time stated on your contract (unless there are extreme circumstances).
- Begin work at a job until it has been approved by InterExchange.
Below are some characteristics typical to Americans. Remember these are general and everybody is different.
- Do not be surprised if your boss is younger than you are, or if your co-workers are of a different race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. America is quite diverse and this is one of its strengths.
- A professional, mature, responsible and respectful attitude is expected at work. Flirting or physical contact is frowned upon and can get you in trouble.
- Life in the U.S. is fast-paced, so time management is important.
- Privacy is thought to be the right of every individual.
- Americans can be very blunt and honest.
- Ignorance about life outside the U.S. is common.
- Americans like to joke, smile, laugh and talk. They like direct eye contact, but do not like to be touched or stand too close to one another while talking.
- Nudity is not accepted in public.
- Many Americans greet each other with “Hi” or “How are you?” People that you see in elevators or in the street will often say “Hello” even though you do not know them.
Whether your employer is providing housing or you arranged accommodations on your own, it is important that you clearly understand all the rules and regulations relating to your housing. Ask your employer or landlord for a clear explanation of housing rules, in writing whenever possible, to avoid misunderstandings during your stay. If you need to pay a housing deposit, ask for a printed receipt and make sure you understand the conditions under which the deposit will be returned. Treat your accommodations and neighbors with courtesy and respect. In some places, laws may prohibit excessive noise between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
Your housing must be safe, affordable and located at a reasonable distance from your job. Do not agree to live in overcrowded conditions that can put your safety at risk or violate housing laws.
Please visit our Housing page for more information about securing housing in the U.S., types of accommodations, tenants rights and safety fire codes: www.InterExchange.org/wt-housing
For information about estimated cost of living for Work & Travel USA participants in the U.S., please visit: www.InterExchange.org/wt-cost-of-living
InterExchange has arranged special discounts at U.S. hostels in major cities for our participants. Please visit your SEVIS dashboard to download the list of affordable hostels and discounts.
There are different ways to find employment in the U.S. You can do it on your own, ask for help from the InterExchange representative in your home country, or apply to the InterExchange Job Placement program to find a suitable position for you.
Many students are able to pre-arrange jobs for themselves before they arrive in the U.S. through our Self-Placement program.
If you decide to find a position in the U.S. on your own, before you begin your job search you should prepare a professional resume and cover letter to highlight your previous professional experience. To see examples of a cover letter and resume, visit our Resources page at: www.InterExchange.org/work-travel-usa/resources
These online resources are helpful when looking for a job and have information about job openings all over the U.S.:
When conducting your job search, exercise extreme caution and beware of:
- People charging money for jobs
- Jobs that ask for pictures of you
- Jobs paying an unusually high wage or salary
- Companies without websites
Always make sure that the positions you are applying for are not on the list of prohibited jobs (see Chapter 1 of this handbook).
If you are looking for a second job when you are already in the United States, the best way to look for one is in person: inquire at local businesses about openings and fill out an application form. It is recommended to follow up with the employer after a couple of days if you do not hear from them. Check “Help Wanted” sections in local newspapers and contact the employer to set up an interview. Inform your friends and colleagues that you are looking for a job so they can refer you to potential employers in the area.
Remember that our Work & Travel USA program is a cultural exchange program first. While work is an important part of your experience, you should always plan for free time to relax, meet new friends and experience U.S. culture. Research opportunities in your area to attend American sports events, local fairs, concerts and festivals, visit local museums, historic sites, scenic areas, travel to major cities and participate in group events organized by InterExchange or your employer. Look at our online resource of cultural activities, the InterExchange Cultural Compass, which highlights opportunities in all fifty states: www.InterExchange.org/american-culture
When finding a place to live, make sure that your place of work can be reached easily by public transportation, walking or biking.
If you don’t have access to a car, look at local transportation options like buses and train systems in your area. Plan your travel time to allow enough time to get to and from work easily and safely.
If you need to bike to work, or you ride in your free time, please follow these safety guidelines:
- Always wear a helmet. In many states, this is the law.
- If you ride at night make sure your bike has reflectors and lights on the front and back.
- Assure bicycle readiness. Make sure your bicycle is adjusted properly.
- Scan for traffic and signal lane changes and turns.
- Obey all traffic laws.
- Never wear headphones while biking.
- Cars and bikes drive on the right side of the road.
- Secure your bike with a lock when not in use.
- Do not wear dark clothes since it reduces your visibility on the road.
For helpful tips on biking, driving and walking safety in the United States, visit www.InterExchange.org/american-culture/safety-and-transportation.
You are here to have an incredible experience. You will work hard and it may be challenging, but you will also have a lot of fun with new friends, travel and adventure. It is essential that you treat everyone with respect at work as well as in your free time. You should insist on being treated with respect, too! Harassment in any form is never acceptable. Being drunk or getting caught up in the moment is NEVER an excuse for behavior that is disrespectful or hurtful to others.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is behavior that is uninvited, unwanted and unwelcomed by the recipient. The behaviors include physical contact, verbal abuse, gestures or written messages.
Sexual Harassment Includes:
- Continuous idle chatter of a sexual nature
- Sexual slurs, innuendos and other comments about a person’s clothing, body and/or sexual activities
- Continuous and unwelcome flirting
- Lewd remarks or suggestive sounds such as whistling, wolf calls or kissing sounds
- Implied or overt threats if sexual attention is not given
- Repeated unsolicited propositions for dates and/or sexual intercourse
- Jokes or comments based on sex
- The use of graphics or other materials degrading persons based on their sex
- Unwelcome touching or ogling
- Coercion, with the promise of reward
- Unwanted physical contact such as patting, pinching, stroking or brushing up against the body
- Attempted or actual kissing or fondling
- Physical assault
- Coerced sexual intercourse
You Could Be a Victim
Who are the victims? Anyone, male or female, young or old, can be the victim of sexual harassment from someone of the opposite, or the same sex. Bosses who promise to assist with changing visa status or offer additional pay or hours in exchange for sexual favors are breaking the law.
Taking Action Against the Sexual Harasser
If you are being harassed, take action to stop it. Some options available to you are:
- Say no. Make it loud and clear. A harasser does not expect confrontation.
- Keep records of all incidents and confrontations.
- Find witnesses or others who will back up your claim.
- Get support from a friend, employer, or anyone else you trust. Make sure you don’t keep it bottled up inside. The more help you get, the faster the harasser will stop.
- Call InterExchange immediately.
Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on gender. It may be less direct than sexual harassment. If you think you may be being treated unfairly because of your gender, get support from someone you trust and call InterExchange to discuss the issue.
For more information visit The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission online at: www.eeoc.gov.
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (WWTVPRA) of 2008 protects the legal rights of certain employment or education-based non-immigrants—including J-1 Exchange Visitors—against abuse and discrimination while visiting the United States.
Among other protections, you have the right to:
- Be treated and paid fairly
- Not be held in a job against your will
- Keep your passport and other identification documents in your possession
- Report abuse without retaliation
- Request help from unions, immigrant and labor rights groups and other groups
- Seek justice in U.S. courts
- Be aware of all the laws that protect you: travel.state.gov
- For your safety, know the signs of human trafficking to make sure you don’t become a victim: www.InterExchange.org/trafficking/