Life in Minnesota

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Minnesota Culture

"Minnesota Nice"

Ask any American what they think Minnesotans are like, and you’re sure to hear that word: nice. The polite, helpful, and non-confrontational attitude found in this state has become very iconic. Some outsiders love the attitude, since it means you feel welcomed and you know that you can find help if you have a problem. Others think it is frustrating because they feel like Minnesotans don’t act “real;” they see the politeness as a mask that hides what a Minnesotan really wants to say or do.

For better or worse, "Minnesota Nice" is a huge part of the culture in this state, and it is important that you understand how to interpret this attitude. Check out this fun video from Twin Cities Public Television to learn more:

Shopping and Eating

There are numerous small shops, groceries, and eateries around campus. On the Minneapolis campus you will find most of the shops and eateries in Stadium Village (near the residence halls) and in Dinkytown (just north of campus).


If you wish to purchase items for your room or apartment (such as sheets, pillows, lamps, clocks or kitchen utensils) you should consider making a trip to Target or IKEA. Items are very reasonably priced at these two stores. Other popular places to shop include The Mall of America, The Quarry, Rosedale Center, and Twin Cities Premium Outlets.


University cafeterias may not be open when you arrive on campus, so we have compiled a list of popular restaurants and groceries.

Acadia Cafe Afro Deli Al's Breakfast
Bombay Palace Burrito Loco Chipotle
Copper Pot Five Guys Gandhi Mahal
Haiku Japanese Bistro Hong Kong Noodles India Palace 
Jambo! Kitchen Jimmy John’s Keefer Court
Kimchi Tofu House Kowloon Mesa Pizza
Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill Namaste Cafe  Pagoda
Punch Pizza Qdoba Shuang Cheng
Tea House Chinese The Republic Town Hall Brewery

There are multiple grocery stores near campus which are accessible online or by lightrail or bus, such as:

Coborn's grocery delivery service
Cub Foods (grocery store)
CVS and Walgreens drug stores (limited food selection)
Fresh Thyme (grocery store)
Little India (Indian grocery store)
Shanghai Market (Asian grocery store)
Shuang Hur (Asian grocery store)
Target Express in Dinkytown (limited food selection)
Towfiq Grocery (Somali grocery store)
United Noodle (Asian grocery store)
Whole Foods Market (upscale grocery store)

Cost of Living Chart

The following is a sample cost of living chart for an average college student living in the Twin Cities. Your actual expenses may be more or less, depending on your spending habits.

Restaurants $10-20 (add 30% for tax and tip)
Half gallon of milk $1.50-2.50
Loaf of bread $3.00-4.00
Apples $1.50-3.00/lb.
Meat for sandwiches $6.00/lb.
Bottle of soda $1.50
One-way bus or light rail ticket $2.00-2.50 (depending on time of day)
Taxi from airport to University $30-50
Uber/Lyft from airport to University $20-25 

Things to Do


The Twin Cities is home to a nationally recognized music scene, including two world-class orchestras, several community orchestras and chamber groups, and scores of rock, jazz, folk, blues, country, and other music clubs. This is the home of Prince, Bob Dylan, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, and others.


A much-celebrated theater community with more than 80 professional theater companies—including the nationally renowned Guthrie and the Penumbra (the first professional black theater company in the country)—are located here.


Every April, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festive shows hundreds of foreign film at theaters in or around St. Anthony Main (north of the Minneapolis campus). There are a vast array of commercial theaters located nearby, featuring everything from art films to mainstream Hollywood hits.

Visual Arts

Those wishing to see art can visit many locations including the University's Weisman Art Museum (located on campus), Minneapolis Institute of Art, Walker Art Center (one of the premiere modern art museums in the country, including an acclaimed outdoor sculpture garden), the Minnesota Museum of American Art, and hundreds of privately owned galleries.

Lakes, Parks, and Outdoor Recreation

A huge park system runs throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. It includes a network of parkways, waterways, walking and bicycle paths, nature trails, and cross-country ski trails, and it is accompanied by the hundreds of lakes in the metro area for boating, swimming, wind-surfing and ice skating.

And More

Minnesota has professional baseball, football, hockey, soccer, and basketball teams; two zoos; shopping, night life, restaurants, and the Mall of America (or “mega-mall”). Another great resource is the Twin Cities Multicultural Directory which allows you to search for a range of different churches, services, etc. 

In the words of one exchange student: “It’s not a problem of finding something to do; it’s a problem of not having enough time to do everything!”



According to U.S. immigration law, international students are eligible to work on campus for up to 20 hours per week during the semester and 40 hours per week during official school break periods. However, you should not rely on receiving a position to fund your stay in the U.S.. In addition, most international students find the required course load (students must take a full load of classes) very challenging and sometimes overwhelming. Thus, we recommend that you do not rely on earning income during your first semester on campus.

Working on campus means that you are employed by an office or organization of the University, and you receive a check from the University’s central payroll office. Working for a local restaurant or any other private organization is illegal.

Most student jobs are posted online. Since most employers seek students to begin work immediately, we suggest that you wait until you arrive on campus before beginning your search.


The Twin Cities benefits from a variety of public and University transportation options. Students can access free campus buses and/or buy an inexpensive semester-long pass for local buses and light rail train lines.

On-Campus Transportation

The University has a great free campus bus system for getting around. Find bus stop locations and check their frequency.  

Additionally, there are two more travel aides on campus that are especially helpful late at night: the Security Monitor Program’s free escort services, and the free Gopher Chauffeur.

  • Safe Walk will send a uniformed escort to walk with you at night on campus or in the surrounding areas. Just call 612-624-WALK (9255).
  • The Gopher Chauffeur is a University ride program provided by Boynton Health Services. Call to reserve a pick-up at 612-388-6911.

Metro Transit

Metro Transit is the name of the Twin Cities's bus and light-rail system. Stops are located throughout the University campuses for easy access, and can take you almost anywhere.

Metro Transit’s website provides schedules, fare prices, maps, and travel options for your convenience. If you prefer a hard copy, the University also has popular bus schedules in the student centers (Coffman Memorial Union and St. Paul Student Center), and in the West Bank Skyway.


Minneapolis and St. Paul are known for being bike friendly. Biking is a popular way to get around campus and the surrounding neighborhoods. We even have multiple short-term bike rental options.

A bike-share program called Nice Ride has stations all over the Twin Cities, including many on campus. These bikes are designed for short rides, and they can be rented for one trip or by monthly or annual subscriptions.  

Some students may wish to purchase a bicycle to use on campus and around the Twin Cities (there are numerous bike trails within the city, near its many lakes, and throughout its regional parks). There are several bicycle shops near campus and even new bicycles are reasonably priced. The University’s ReUse Center also has an auction of used bikes twice a year. A high-quality lock is recommended (like a U-bar or Kryptonite). Any bike store will have books and maps of bike trails in the area.

International Drivers License

Because of the good public transport system in the Twin Cities, it is not necessary to drive while in Minnesota. However, some students want to take extended road trips outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. If you would like to rent a car and need a valid driver’s license you can find more information here.

Campus Safety

SAFE U: Campus Safety

Safety and security are among the University of Minnesota’s top priorities. The University has its own professional police force, the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD). The 911 Dispatch Center monitors nearly 2,300 security cameras on campus around the clock. There are 200 yellow phones for emergency, medical, and service-related calls, and 20 blue-light emergency call boxes located throughout campus. The University provides a free escort service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In the event of an emergency on campus, such as criminal activity and severe weather, the University uses multiple methods to notify the campus community and general public about the nature of the emergency, how to respond, class or event cancellations, and campus closure.

SAFE-U is the University's emergency notification text messaging system. Contact [email protected] to add numbers or update your phone number. This is mandatory.

You can report a crime that is not an emergency to the University of Minnesota Police Department at 612-624-2677 or submit an online police report.

Avoid walking alone especially at night.

  • Call UMPD’s Safe Walk service at 612-624-9255 (4-WALK) for a free escort between any campus locations and your housing. For more information, visit UMPD.
  • You can also call the Gopher Chauffer at 612-388-6911 for Free Safe Ride Home between 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

If you experience sexual harassment or assault, relationship violence, or stalking, consider calling the Aurora Center 24-hour help line at 612-626-9111. It is a fully confidential and free service.

Gun-Free Campus

University policy prohibits students, employees, or visitors to possess or carry a weapon while on University property, except for authorized personnel such as police officers and military personnel. More information at the Board of Regents Policy: Possession and Carrying of Weapons.

Alcohol and Illegal Drugs

The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21. If you are under 21, you cannot possess or consume alcohol. Providing alcohol to anyone under 21 is also illegal. Read more in the University's policy on alcohol. Drinking in a public place, such as a park, is illegal. Never accept drinks from strangers. Do not leave a drink unattended at a bar or party. The purchase, use, possession, or distribution of any drugs considered to be illicit, illegal, or a controlled substance is prohibited by state and federal law.

Equity and Diversity

Under state and federal law and University policy, all students have an equal chance to participate and succeed in academic activities without discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, and sexual orientation. The University values diversity and strives to be free from discrimination and harassment.

The University currently has more than 5,100 international students from 130 countries enrolled at the University. Of the 900 student organizations registered with the Student Activities Office, more than 150 have a multicultural focus. The University of Minnesota made the top 25 list of most GLBT-Friendly campuses in the U.S. and hosts 40 GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi and transsexual) student organizations and initiatives. International GLBT discussion and support group information is available on the ISSS website

While studying in the U.S., you may find yourself confused or upset by experiencing stereotypical assumptions, name-calling, accusations, and discriminatory remarks. Prior to departure, take some time to research the U.S. cultural norms, customs, immigration patterns, historical and current conflicts, political policies, and laws. Understanding these will help you avoid frustration and anger, which could lead to confrontational and dangerous situations.

If you experience any issues with discrimination, contact GO Minnesota staff. You can also reach out to the University's Bias Response and Referral Network.

Timely Warnings

The University of Minnesota issues Timely Warnings to the campus community for crimes that occur on University property or in areas adjacent to campus. The Department of Public Safety is required to issue Timely Warning Notifications for crimes that meet the criteria under the Federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. These warnings are not meant to scare or upset students, but to inform them of crime information.

Timely Warnings are distributed via email to all University of Minnesota Twin Cities students, faculty and staff. Because a well-informed community is an asset to public safety, Timely Warnings include as much information as possible about the incident and the suspect – including the detailed description of a suspect as provided by the victim. That may include a complete physical description of the suspect such as race, approximate age, height and body type, as well as any unique identifying characteristics such as an accent, a distinctive article of clothing, or a vehicle used in a crime.

Personal Safety

Plan for Emergency Communications: Emergency Contact Card

You will be provided with an emergency card at orientation. Keep this card with you at all times and make sure that it includes the following information:

  • U.S. home address and phone
  • 911 and non-emergency phone number
  • Escort Service Number
  • Gopher Chauffeur number
  • Aurora Center phone number
  • GO Minnesota Contact
  • ISSS Contact
  • Embassy or consulate of your home country in the U.S. (phone, email, address and website)

Make several copies: one for you to carry with you at all times, one for home right next to the phone or bed, and another for your family.

If you have a smart phone that works in the U.S., it is highly recommended that you install the University of Minnesota App on your phone. Also, add all of your emergency contact information to your smart phone.

Safeguard Important Documents, Personal Information, and Valuables

Take special care of your travel documents, such as passport, visa, and tickets, keeping them with you in a safe, secure place.

  • Make a photocopy of your passport including all the pages that have any entry clearances or immigration stamps, and keep this copy separate from your passport.
  • If you do lose your passport, contact your Embassy and GO Minnesota staff immediately and give them your passport details
  • Do not give your name, telephone number, home address, or e-mail address to someone whom you do not know well.
  • Never give out your personal information, credit card number, or Social Security number through email.
  • Do not leave your property and valuables unattended or unsecured.
  • Bring enough cash to cover your immediate needs. Bring a credit card, if you have one.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you when you are out. Carry a minimal amount of valuables.
  • Be aware of others around you at cash machines, and try not to use cash machines at night or in poorly lit areas.
  • Give up your valuables if you are threatened. Do not resist. Your life is most important and is not replaceable.
Friendships and Relationships
  • Never get in a stranger’s car or go alone to a stranger’s home.
  • Never hesitate to say NO. Saying NO does not make you a ‘rude’ person. If you really want to be very polite, then you could say, “No, thank you.“
  • Avoid confrontation. It is better and safer to walk away if you are being provoked or hassled.
  • Meet a date in a public place or stay around others. Avoid isolation and darkness, especially at the beginning of a new relationship.
  • Go to parties with your friend and look after each other. Always have safe transportation home.
Housing Safety
  • Do not prop open entrances to buildings.
  • Always lock your door, especially when you are inside sleeping or when you go out.
  • Never open the door for strangers. Use door peepholes. Ask for ID or meet them in the hallway.
  • Know the neighborhoods and neighbors where you live and walk around. Know what stores and restaurants are open late as a temporary safe haven.
Sexual Harassment and Assault

Sexual harassment and assault is a very serious and complex issue around the world. Sexual and relationship violence may not be openly discussed in your country, but sadly, it does occur all across the world. In the U.S., 86% of sexual assault victims are female and 14% are male. Regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, socio-economic status, ability, physical appearance, or nationality, sexual or relationship violence can happen to anyone.

Laws on and definitions of sexual assault, harassment, and rape in the U.S. may be different from what you have learned in your country. In the U.S., sexual harassment and rape are very serious crimes. All forms of sexual harassment are illegal. Regardless of the cultural context, please know that you always have the right to feel safe. It is NEVER your fault if you are sexually assaulted or abused.

Sex without consent is considered rape. If you are in an uncomfortable situation, be direct by saying "No," "Stop that," "I don't like that," or "I don't want that." Leave and get yourself somewhere safe, then talk with someone you can trust in the U.S. immediately. Consider reporting to GO Minnesota program staff or calling the Aurora Center's 24/7 helpline at 612-626-9111 as soon as possible.

The Aurora Center is a fully confidential service, and you can request someone who can speak your native language.

Legal Resources

In the unlikely event that you run into any legal problems while a student at the University, you may contact University Student Legal Services for assistance.