International Student Support Office: American Measurement and Time Conventions

Hello, friends! A big part of the transition to life in America is adjusting to conventions of measurement and time. This blog post is kind of a fact sheet, with different types of information. I understand all these names and details can be overwhelming, so I made some bad, low quality memes (with Blien and Isabel’s assistance, of course). Feel free to skim through this post now, and come back whenever!

Eastern Standard Time (EST)

The United States has four main time zones: Pacific Standard Time (PST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), Central Standard Time (CST), and Eastern Standard Time (EST). This means that you need to convert time between different American cities; it’s important to keep this in mind when you’re interviewing with an organization in a different time zone, watching a live television broadcast, or talking with a friend in another part of America. Here’s a handy guide for the time difference between the different zones-when it is 9:00 a.m. in California (PST), it is 10:00 am in Denver (MST), 11:00 am in Chicago (CST), and 12:00 noon in New York (EST).

Pennsylvania is in Eastern Standard Time (EST), so please make sure that all your digital devices and apps (like Google Calendar, for example) are set to EST.

Daylight Saving Time

Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually called Daylight Saving Time, and not Daylight Savings Time. It’s certainly okay to say it either way though!

During Daylight Saving Time, clocks are set forward one hour. It begins on the first Sunday in April and ends on the last Sunday in October. The mnemonic: “Spring Forward, Fall Back” will help you remember how to set your clocks. While Pennsylvania conforms to Daylight Saving Time, the state of Indiana doesn’t. For more information, here’s a pretty thorough explanation of the history and reasoning behind daylight saving:

The days in April and October when the time shifts can be disorienting, just because you gain/lose an hour of your day. My first year at Haverford I didn’t fully understand daylight saving, so I was struck unawares. Another effect of daylight saving (in combination with other geographical factors) is that the days feel shorter during the winter, and much longer during the summer. This can be strange to adjust to, but you learn to tailor your day around the number of daylight hours.

International Time Conversion

Another aspect of time conversion is figuring out the best time to reach people back home. International students often feel caught between their life at college and their life in their home country. Being able to connect to family and friends was crucial for me as an incoming first year. It might take time to be able to convert time in your head, but once you have, things will be much easier. For example, Philly is nine and a half hours behind my city Bangalore, or ten and half hours during daylight saving. I know now that the best windows of time to reach my family is either 10 p.m.-1 a.m. or 10 a.m.-2 p.m. This is just a matter of practice!

Systems of Measurement

Since America doesn’t use the metric system, they have the United States customary/standard units instead. Here’s a conversion table for the most commonly appearing units:


Fahrenheit is to describe temperature in America. If you, like me, come from a country that uses Celsius, this can be confusing. While I still am not proficient in the Fahrenheit scale, here’s a handy chart on Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion. It should be helpful in getting a rough sense of what Fahrenheit temperatures mean:

F C Description
212 100 Boiling point of water
98.6 37 Normal body temperature
86 30 Hot summer day
72 22 Room temperature
68 20 Mild spring day
50 10 Warm winter day
32 0 Freezing point of water
20 -7 Very cold winter day


Calendar dates

Calendar dates are written the opposite way to most countries, here in the United States. Looking at deadlines used to stress me out in my initial months at Haverford, because I’d still read the date as I did in India. While dates are written as month/date/year in the US, many other places write them as date/month/year. For example, if the date is May 29, 2018, this would be written as 05/29/2018 in the U.S. This is understandably counter-intuitive, but thankfully, most paperwork will indicate how they want you to format the date.

Pro tip: Just write out the name of the month if instructions aren’t clear, or while you’re still adjusting to the American system.

Bonus!!: Electrical Voltage

Only the below two plug types will work in the United States; please make sure you purchase electrical/travel adapters. Adapters will allow you to plug your device into American electrical sockets. Plug A can work in both types of sockets, so you can use them in a wider variety of situations.


Type A                                                  Type B

Photos are from

It’s a good idea to invest in one or two, since they’re an essential item. Multi-plug adapters are useful, because they can charge multiple devices at once. I recommend buying adapters that come with USB ports; I have one, and it has served me well.

The standard voltage in the United States is 120 V, and the standard frequency is 60 Hz. If you are bringing electrical appliances from your home country, please make sure they are the correct voltage and frequency, because adapters can’t modify this. Keep this in mind as you’re shopping for college. It might be easier to procure some items in your home country, but they may not work in the United States.

(This material has been adapted from older versions of the International Student Resource Person (ISRP) Training Guide)

P.S.: Have post suggestions? Have feedback for my memes? Here’s the form to submit them! I’m also more than happy to answer any questions, and speak about my experience as an international student at Haverford! I’d love to know more about you as well. Feel free to email me at, or find me on Facebook.