GUIDE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
On behalf of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, I would like to welcome you to our
community. I hope that your stay will be successful and enjoyable. I have prepared this
guide to assist you with some of your initial questions, and I hope that you will continue
to find it a useful resource in the future. Anytime you have questions or concerns
please do not hesitate to contact me, I am happy to assist you.
Office of Student Affairs
Adjusting to a New Culture and Country
Adjusting to life in a new country is an on-going process with many challenges. You
may experience a wide range of emotions and reactions to your new environment.
There are ways to make this process enjoyable and rewarding.
While no two people have the same experience, there are some common feelings
among international students studying in the U.S. During your first days you may feel
eager, excited and happy in your new surroundings. Often, however, the novelty may
wear off and you may experience difficulty adjusting to your new life. Things may not
be as easy as you had expected and you may find yourself feeling homesick,
frustrated, angry or depressed. Many students report physical complaints, such as
feeling tired, head and stomach aches and lack of concentration. These are temporary
and natural reactions to living in a new culture. To help yourself get through this
period, there are things you can do to feel better:
Keep an open mind and avoid stereotyping.
You will meet many different people while in the U.S. Remember that there are always
many different ways of doing the same things. Stay open to cultural differences, it is
likely that you will learn from them.
Talk about your culture and adjustment process.
Your peers are interested in learning from you about the experiences you bring with
you as an international student. As well, they are interested in helping you learn about
their culture. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You
should feel free to approach any of the SMFA faculty or staff if you are feeling
overwhelmed by this new culture. You are part of a community that wants to help you.
Professional counselors who are sensitive to international and multi-cultural issues are
also available at the School (see SMFA Resources – Counseling Services).
Depending on your cultural background you may have reservations about speaking to
a professional counselor. Keep in mind that this is a valuable and acceptable service
that you should make use of if you need it.
The more you use English the more fluent you will become. Don’t worry about making
mistakes, you will learn from them. Being able to communicate will help you feel more
comfortable and confident.
Keep a sense of humor.
Some misunderstandings that result from cross-cultural communication will make you
look back and laugh.
Give yourself time to adjust.
Take time to learn about the community you are living in. Read local newspapers and
magazines. Go to local art shows and performances. Most importantly, participate in
the school community.
The following are a list of resources at the SMFA that may be of particular interest to
you as an international student. For more information and a complete list of resources
please see your Student Handbook.
The Writing Center
If English is not your first language, you may find that you need help when writing
papers and essays. The Writing Center offers free services to Museum School
students to help them improve their writing skills. For hours or to make an appointment
to meet with a counselor call 617.369.3866 or contact the Academic Affairs Office for more
Because you are far from home and do not have your usual support system of family
and close friends, you may find it helpful to consult a professional counselor when
dealing with issues of adjustment, depression, or just feeling overwhelmed. Counseling
Services at the School are offered through the Boston Institute for Psychotherapy
(BIP). Appointments can be made by calling BIP at 617.566.2200 or stop by the
Counseling Office located in Room B025 in the lower level of the B-building.
Staying Informed at the Museum School
All SMFA students are assigned School e-mail accounts. E-mail is the primary means
by which you will receive many important announcements and notices. For more
information on SMFA e-mail accounts contact the Student Affairs Office at
617.369.3619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Important information that needs your immediate attention is often placed in your
student mailbox. Mailboxes are located on the 2nd floor, B side of the main building.
Check your mail often!
Home Mailing Address and Telephone
Be sure to keep your mailing address and telephone number up to date so that we can
communicate with you by mail or phone. You can make changes to your contact
information via your mySMFA web account or through the Registrar’s Office located in
the Mission Hill Building.
Look for postings on SMFA and non-SMFA events and information on the bulletin
boards in the corridors, by student mailboxes, and in classrooms.
The SMFA website has several campus calendars including Exhibitions and Public
Programs calendar, Student Life calendar, Academic calendar and more. Calendars
are updated often, so check the website regularly, www.smfa.edu.
Living in Boston
Boston is an exciting city to live and study in. It is rich in cultural diversity. Get a map and
guidebook and start by exploring some of the different areas of the city. You are certain
to discover new things as well as find something that reminds you of home.
When living in a large city it is always important to be mindful of your personal safety.
The following guidelines will help keep you safe. As well, the School offers personal
safety workshops at the beginning of each school year. These workshops will prepare
you for what to do if you find yourself in an unsafe situation.
-Do not carry large amounts of cash.
-Do not travel alone after dark.
-If walking at night, stay on busy, well-lit streets.
-If carrying a purse or bag, keep it close to your body.
-Do not display money, jewelry or other valuables.
-Do not let strangers into your apartment building unescorted.
In the event of an emergency, dial 911 on any telephone for immediate assistance
from police, fire or medical officers.
Getting Around Town
Boston is a very compact city making it easy to get to most places without a car.
Walking and biking are the best ways to get around and see the city. A good map is
essential. Boston’s public transportation system is referred to as the T. Buses and
trains provide service to most areas of the city. The MBTA also runs commuter rail
service to outlying areas. Discount Semester Passes, which allow unlimited usage for
a set fee, are available through the Business Office at the School (deadlines apply,
contact the Business Office for more information). For more information on public
transportation visit the MBTA web-site www.mbta.com. Also, there are many taxi
companies in the area. Look in the phone directory under Taxicabs.
Getting Out of Town
Bus, rail and air transportation is available from Boston to destinations across the
country. The Amtrak train system and Greyhound bus service operate out of South
Station (red line). Amtrak offers special rates on rail-passes to international students.
For more information on train service visit the web-site: www.amtrak.com or for
information on bus service: www.greyhound.com.
New England Holidays
Most of New England celebrates the following national, state and local holidays. Banks
and Municipal buildings will be closed on many of these dates. Contact individual
businesses about holiday schedules.
New Year’s Day – January 1
Martin Luther King Day – Third Monday in January
President’s Day – Third Monday in February
Patriot’s Day – Third Monday in April – Massachusetts holiday only
Memorial Day – Last Monday in May
Bunker Hill Day – June 17 – Boston holiday only
Independence Day – July 4
Labor Day – First Monday in September
Columbus Day – Second Monday in October
Veteran’s Day – November 11
Thanksgiving Day – Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day – December 25
Money & Banking
There are several banks in the Boston area. The major banks in Boston are Bank of
America, Citizens and Sovereign. You will find a full-service branch or ATM
(Automated Teller Machine) on most every corner. You can find listings of local
branches in the phone directory or on the internet. Once you have chosen a bank, visit
the local branch and speak with a bank official to open an account. Many banks have
special plans for students. You will need two forms of identification (passport and
school ID) and a small deposit to open an account. It is a good idea to open a
checking account in the U.S. You will have faster access to your funds, and money
from home can always be wired to your account.
How to Wire Money to the SMFA: If you want to pay your tuition bills by electronic
wire transfer directly to the SMFA, instruct your bank to send a wire of federal funds
Bank:Bank of America
Boston, MA 02110
Account Name: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Account Number: 46865005
ABA Number: 026009593
SWIFT Code: BOFAUS3N
Reference: The Museum School
Please, remember to reference the student’s name and The Museum School. Also
please send or fax a receipt from your bank with the date and the amount of wire to
the SMFA Business Office, 230 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115. The fax number is
CBP – United States Customs and Border Protection: Government agency
responsible for immigration inspections at U.S. points of entry, for border patrol and
D/S – F-1 students are admitted into the United States for the Duration of Status or until
the program of study is completed. Students must maintain legal status during their
program of study (see Your Responsibilities).
F-1: This refers to the visa category under which non-immigrants are allowed to enter
the United States to pursue a “full course of study” towards a specific educational or
professional objective at an academic institution that has been designated by the U.S.
government to offer courses to such students. Once the educational or professional
objectives have been attained, the F-1 student is expected by the U.S. government to
return to her or his residence abroad.
ICE – United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Government agency
responsible for immigration inspections, detention, removal, intelligence and SEVIS.
ISA – International Student Advisor: May also be referred to as the DSO or
Designated School Official. This SMFA administrator can assist you with immigration
issues as well as provide support with non-immigration related issues that affect
international students on campus.
I-20 – Certificate of Eligibility: To obtain F-1 status, the student must receive a Form I-
20 issued by the school she or he wishes to attend. This form is used by the student for
travel and reentry to the U.S. (see Travel Outside of the U.S.).
I-94 – Arrival/Departure Record: When you arrive in the U.S., you receive a Form I-94
which shows the port and date of entry and type of visa classification. This card indicates
how long you may stay in the U.S. and must be surrendered upon departure. Most
students will find the notation “F-1 D/S” on the card. This means you may stay in the
country as long as you maintain student status. The I-94 card will be stapled inside your
Passport: You must keep your passport valid for at least 6 months into the future. While
in the U.S., extensions can be granted only by your country’s consulate or embassy.
SEVIS – Student and Exchange Visitor Information System: SEVIS is an internet-
based system that provides users with access to accurate and current information on
non-immigrant foreign students, exchange aliens, and their dependants. Schools and
exchange programs will transmit electronic information and event notifications to the
BICE and the Department of State (DOS) throughout a student’s stay in the United
Status: This is the agreement under which students remain in the U.S. and dictates the
regulations governing each student’s stay. It is the responsibility of each student to
maintain her or his status. A student is said to be “in status” if she or he is abiding by the
regulations governing her or his status. A student is said to be “out of status” if she or he
is not abiding by those regulations.
USCIS – United States Citizenship and Immigration Services: Government agency
responsible for applications and petition adjudications of immigration services and
Visa: This is the stamp in your passport that allows you to apply for admission into the
United States at the port of entry. The visa only allows entry into the U.S. and does not
indicate the length of stay. The length of stay is determined by status. In other words, a
visa may expire while you are in the U.S., you will only need to renew the visa if you are
travelling outside of the U.S.
F-1 students are admitted to the U.S. for the sole purpose of studying at the college or
university that issues them an I-20. In order to maintain status, students must:
• Maintain “normal progress” towards degree completion by taking a full course of
study at the institution you are authorized to attend, unless authorized in advance by
• Have a valid, current I-20 from the institution you are attending for the program that
you are enrolled in. Follow proper procedures for program extension and change of
program (See Common Immigration Procedures - Change to a New Program and
• Maintain a passport that is valid for at least six months following the end of your
program of study.
• Do not use visas which are inappropriate for full-time study such as a tourist visa or
• Limit employment to 20 hours per week on campus. Do not engage in unauthorized
• Notify the International Student Advisor of any change in your program of study
including leave of absence, study abroad, change in degree level, etc.
• Report change of address to the ISA within 10 days of the change so that your
SEVIS record can be updated.
• Do not travel outside the U.S. without proper re-entry documents.
• Follow proper notification procedure when transferring institutions.
• Abide by any special requirements such as Special Registration.
There are strict penalties enforced if you should “fall out of status.” If you find yourself
out of status, please notify the International Student Advisor at once to file for
“reinstatement of status” (see Common Immigration Procedures – Reinstatement)
International students should:
• Keep copies of all official documents related to nonimmigrant status.
• Keep all I-20s that have been issued to you even after they expire.
• Never throw away old forms regardless of whether or not they are valid.
• Keep a photocopy of your I-94 card with other important documets.
Travel Outside of the U.S.
When traveling outside of the United States certain documents will be needed for re-
entry. You will need a valid passport with a valid F-1 visa stamp. (If your visa has expired
or is issued for a single entry you will have to apply for a new Visa at a U.S. consulate
outside of the U.S.) Also, you will need your Form I-20 with a valid signature from the
International Student Advisor (ISA). If the signature on the last page of your I-20 is more
than 6 months old you should get a new signature before traveling. School transcripts
and current financial documents are also suggested but not required documentation for
Travel to Canada. Some students may need a Canadian visa to enter Canada. Check
with the ISA or visit the web-site: www.cic.gc.ca for more information.
Employment, as defined by the USCIS, is any type of work performed or services
provided in exchange for money or other compensation. F-1 students are permitted entry into the
U.S. for specific purposes (study, research, etc.). The USCIS has restrictive employment
regulations, particularly for off-campus employment. Any off campus employment,
paid or unpaid, must be authorized before engaging in work.
Please see the International Student Advisor if you are thinking of pursuing employment
Students may work on campus up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and 40 hours
per week during breaks and holidays. For information on jobs available on campus, see the
Student Employment Office.
There are two types of off-campus employment opportunities available to F-1 students;
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). Practical
training employment must be directly related to your course of study and you must be
in legal F-1 status for one full academic year before applying for authorization.
CPT is defined as training that is an integral or important part of your established
curriculum. CPT must be an internship offered for SMFA credit and approved by the
Director of Career Services. Employment authorization for CPT is granted in writing
by the ISA. All paperwork must be completed before you begin working.
OPT is defined as temporary employment in the field of study for purposes of gaining
practical experience. Students are eligible for twelve months of practical training.
OPT is available to students both before and/or after completion of their studies.
Employment authorization for OPT must be applied for directly to the USCIS. This
process can take up to 90 days. You are not permitted to work until you receive your
Employment Authorization Card from the USCIS. Applications for post-completion
OPT must be submitted to the USCIS prior to the date of completion of studies.
Social Security Numbers
Students must obtain a Social Security Number to be eligible for payment of wages.
Please see the ISA for instructions on obtaining a social security number.
Common Immigration Procedures
Change to a New Program
The USCIS must be notified when a student changes programs within an institution.
For example, if you start your studies at the SMFA in the diploma program and then
change to the BFA program you will need to obtain, from the ISA, a new Form I-20 with the
new program information. You will also be required to provide new financial
documentation for the new program.
Although an F-1 student is admitted to the U.S. for the “duration of status,” to complete
an educational program, the student must actually complete her or his program before
the program completion date indicated at item 5 on her or his current I-20. If a student
will not complete the academic program by that date, she or he must apply for a
program extension. Application for program extension must be made to the ISA in a
30-day period before the completion date on the I-20. There are restrictions on who is
eligible for a program extension.
Students who have violated status, may be reinstated to lawful F-1 status by the
USCIS if the student has not been out of status for more than 5 months and can
establish all of the following:
a) Establishes to the satisfaction of the USCIS Director that the violation of status
resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control or that the failure to
receive reinstatement to lawful F-1 status would result in extreme hardship to the
b) Is currently pursuing, or intending to pursue, a full course of study at the school
that issued the I-20;
c) Has not engaged in unauthorized employment; and
d) Is not deportable on any ground other than failing to maintain status.
Alternately, students who have fallen out of status may opt to depart the U.S. and seek
re-entry with a new I-20. Upon re-entry into the U.S., the student will gain a new F-1
status that is seperate from the previous status. This means that the student will have
to maintain that status for one full academic year before being eligible for any F-1
student benefits such as CPT and/or OPT.
If you feel you may have violated your status, please discuss your situation with the
To transfer your F-1 status to a new school, you must notify the SMFA ISA of your
transfer. Your SEVIS record will then be released to the new school. You should
consult the international office at your new school regarding their specific transfer
procedures. Failure to follow proper transfer procedures is a violation of your student
Your visa may expire while you are in the U.S. without affecting your status. However,
you must always have a valid visa to re-enter the U.S.
Renewing your visa is similar to obtaining your first visa. To obtain a new visa, you
must visit a U.S. Consular Office abroad, preferably in your home country, and apply
for the visa. (If you apply in a country other than your home country there is a greater
risk of having your application denied.) New visas cannot be issued within the U.S.
At your visa interview, you will need to present to the Consular Official the following
items: your authorized I-20 (get a new signature from the ISA before leaving); new
financial documentation; a letter from the ISA stating that you are a registered student
and making progress toward your degree; your official school transcripts; and your passport.
You may also be asked for proof that you intend to return to your home country after
completing your studies. Do not talk about ties or employment you have in the U.S., unless
asked about it.
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute
When you need immigration assistance, please allow proper time for processing.
• Signature on I-20 for travel – 1-3 days
• Program Extensions – 1-2 weeks
• School Transfer – 1-2 weeks
• Curricular Practical Training – 1 week
• Optional Practical Training – 2 months or more
Where is my Consulate?
To find the nearest U.S. location of your home country consulate or embassy visit the
State Department web-site
http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/fco/ or ask the International Student Advisor.
Everyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status, is responsible each
year for submitting an income-tax statement to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
International students whether they work or earn income while in the U.S. or not, must
file an appropriate return each year. Information pertaining to tax requirements for
international students will be distributed each spring via e-mail and mailbox.
Being on probation has no immediate effect on your visa status as an international
student in the United States. However, if you fail to make up your missed credits and fail
to receive full credit in subsequent reviews, you will be placed on suspension. Once on
suspension you will be unable to return to the SMFA until readmitted (see the SMFA
Student Handbook for guidelines). For international students, being placed on
suspension means that you have fallen “out of status.” This means you will have to leave
the country or transfer to another school. Depending on your options for re-admission to
the SMFA you may face difficulties when re-entering the U.S.
If you are having difficulty in your studio or academic work, please talk to the ISA, faculty
mentor, or your advisor. There are many resources at the School to help you improve
Leave of Absence/Withdrawal
If you take a leave of absence or withdraw from the School, you have essentially given
up your F-1 student status and must leave the U.S. within 15 days unless you will be
transferring to another school. If you would like to return to the SMFA, you will need to
obtain a new I-20 from the SMFA. You will need to present to the ISA current financial
documentation. If your F-1 visa has expired, you will also need to get a new visa.
Web Resources for International Students
If you do not have your own, there are computers throughout the School that are
available for student use.
Living and studying in the U.S.
Living in Boston
www.uscis.gov (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services web-site)
www.unitedstatesvisas.gov (visa information)
www.irs.gov (the Internal Revenue Service web-site)