Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Helpful Tips for New Students

Do you have questions about adjusting to life in the U.S.? Look below for some helpful tips.

Adjusting to Life in Grad School and the U.S.

We hope you are enjoying and adjusting to your program and life at the Institute. Throughout your program you may find that you have questions about the academic culture here at MIIS or about American culture in general. Read below for some helpful tips on adjusting to grad school and life in the United States. If you have additional questions do not hesitate to contact the Center for Advising and Career Services or the Office of Student Services.

Adjusting to Academic Culture

There are many things that can impact your performance in the classroom; here are some tips on how to help manage issues such as stress, classroom culture, and academic integrity.

Academic Integrity

The Policies and Standards Manual provides all students with important information about Student Code of Conduct and provides definitions on what is considered “cheating” and “plagiarism.” Even if you are familiar with these terms, it is good to review this information and to notify the appropriate office if you feel that there is a student violation. Violations of the Student Code of Conduct is taken very seriously and could lead to academic discipline and even dismissal.

View the Policies and Standards Manual.

It can also be found from the main website, by clicking on the “Students” link in the "Go Links" menu (in the upper right hand corner, just above the search field).

Classroom Culture

Classroom culture varies across the globe, and this may be your first experience inside an American classroom.  Perhaps you are accustomed to studying at a university where students mostly take notes and have little opportunity/experience to participate in discussion.  You may have noticed that many classes at the Institute encourage and/or require participation and that this makes up a part of your final grade in the class. You may get perfect grades on papers and tests but get a mediocre grade in the course because you did not contribute to class discussion. It may be difficult the first and second time you raise your hand to speak, and you may find that it gets easier the more you do it. Most real learning takes place when you do something that was difficult at first.

Improving Your English

Many students would like to speak their second or foreign language without mistakes, and it’s important to remember that we all make mistakes! If you are interested in improving your English, there are many things that you can do.

  • Participate in a student club – some student clubs provide opportunities to engage in public speaking and others provide a forum to speak with native speakers about subjects/topics who you may share a common interest with;
  • Find a language partner – There are lots of ways to find a language partner.
    • You can submit an application for the Conversation Partner program. The Conversation Partner Program connects students who are looking for a speaker of your native language and is a way to be connected.
    • Post a Language Partner Request on the Facebook page, or on the iLearn page. This resource is available to the MIIS community.
    • The Office of Student Services can also post a flyer with information about your request.
  • Talk with your classmates. There may be someone in your program who is looking for a language partner as well.

Please keep in mind that every language has idioms and slang expressions. If you hear an expression that you are unfamiliar with, it can be helpful to ask someone what it means.  This can be a great way to learn expressions and feel confident when using them for the first time.


It is normal to feel some stress during your program. Graduate work is demanding and can lead to time of high stress. Students are encouraged to lead a balanced life and to engage in stress reducing activities as often as possible. These activities may include time with friends, a trip to the city, an outing to a movie or a physical activity such as a game of tennis or a short run.  It is important to stay healthy and make some time for yourself.

If experiencing stress with a class, you can reach out to the professor.  Many professors offer office hours and talking with them about an assignment or reading my help reduce your stress level.  The Center for Advising and Career Services is also available to talk with you about your classes, program and any questions you may have about completing your degree.

All MIIS students have the opportunity to talk with a professional counseling service through our Student Assistance Program with Well Connect.  Well Connect provides confidential sessions to students and connects them with a professional in the Monterey community to talk about: academic stress, depression, roommate conflicts, and money matters – just to name a few.  If you are interested in scheduling time to speak with someone, please visit Well Connect's website  or call 1.800.326.6142. You can also find additional information on our Health & Wellness pages >>

Adjusting to American Culture

Adjusting to the cultural norms is difficult no matter where you travel. Add in the additional stress of adjusting to graduate school, and you have a recipe for disaster. Here is some general information about how to adjust to American culture and resources for making that transition a smooth one.

Nonverbal Communication

You may feel uneasy in some social situations because you are unfamiliar with nonverbal behavior or nonverbal communication.  These nonverbal cues include eye contact or speaking distance, to name a few.  Unfortunately, there is no dictionary on nonverbal communication.  You can always ask someone about this or learn from observing body language, intonation of voice, and eye contact from other students.


This means, "Try new things, explore opportunities, be inventive!" Your primary reason for being in graduate school is to earn your degree. Be sure to allow time for yourself and time for new experiences.  This could be as simple as going for a walk, spending a day at the aquarium, or exploring the coast line.  Or it could be the experience of visiting a new city, eating at a new restaurant, or obtaining your driver’s license.  Whatever it may be, "Go for it!"