I graduated from Saratov State Socio-Economic University in 2004. The field of my scientific interests is Soft Computing and its applications in economics and finance. The University I was placed in is North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Following the traditions of Fulbright program, its grantees share their experience with others who take part in this competition. That’s why, herein I write about my experience. Of course, everything I wrote here is mainly about North Carolina, Raleigh. However, there is a possibility that similar facts may take place in other states.
Renting an apartment
As soon as I found out that I was a finalist I began my finding of place to live (May 2006). All information about on-campus living was on the website of the University. Based on that information I corresponded with some reasonable (in regard to rent) dorms. Some of them were full for the fall. Since the University was closed for the summer, this correspondence was slow. That’s why, you had better to hurry up and begin your search for an apartment as soon as possible. At that point I needed to find the place to live just for the first time. As a result I found an unfurnished studio apartment within 30 minutes of walk from the university (in fact, it’s not far). The rent was $515 per month without electricity (gas, water, cablevision and internet were included in the rent). There were refrigerator and stove in the room that’s why the main problem was to find a bed. Fortunately, it was possible to rent a bed ($5 per month).
Also, you can get in touch with Office of International Scholars and Students Services because I could have requested a room for 2-3 days while looking for an apartment. Additionally, they offered picking up international students from the airport and I took advantage of this opportunity.
Those of you who plan to rent a room on campus should take into account that many (but not all) dorms are closed for winter and summer breaks. Thus, in some dorms students have to find other places to live for these periods. But this is not a big problem because as of my university there were many ads that offered rooms for winter breaks. However, the apartment I live in is working all year round.
It is very convenient to rent a room on campus because:
Laundry, computer labs, study rooms are very close to get to.
If you have any problem (clogged drain, broken heater etc.) you can address the issue to the main office and it will be fixed the same day.
You don’t have to count on buses to get to the University.
Social Security Number
It was a funny story. The main obstacle was that the letter from Fulbright office that should have helped in my getting this number wasn’t enclosed to my Welcome Package because of some reason. I wrote many messages to my regional IIE representative but there wasn’t any reply. Time was passing. I made many calls to her and left voice messages. The response was the same. As a result, I went to the place where people get this number, filled out the form and got the number without the letter.
I had thought that this was a too strong phrase. Of course, the culture is different but use of such a word "shock" had been thought to be inappropriate. But as it turned out it was a right word. Just imagine, on my first day in North Carolina when I was walking on the street some passerby told me "How are you doing?". I turned around to say "Fine" but he wasn’t waiting for it and kept on going. The second passerby did the same. To be honest, I thought that it might have been too obvious that I was a stranger or there was something wrong with my clothes. But afterwards I found out that it was a simple demonstration of their politeness.
These smiles on every face you see begin to irritate you over time because they are unusual for our culture and we aren’t used to give a smile to any person we see. You walk on the street, think about something and notice that all people you encounter are smiling. Of course, you have to smile in response and in fact you are walking on the street smiling. In Russia people would wonder if there is something wrong with that guy. But over time you get used to it.
Buying of some important things for house
Almost all the things for my house I bought in one store nearby. This is a huge store where one can buy almost everything for his house. Later I found out that there are many stores of that kind all over the city. Initially, it was difficult, for example, to decide what collection of saucepans to buy because there were a variety of them. But in any event, it’s good when you can choose.
That’s why, you can ask anyone about the place where you could buy the things for kitchen, for example. They’ll give you directions to the store where you’ll buy everything. For example, I asked about it in the main office of my dorm and they not only told me but also gave me a tour by car through some important stores nearby. You should write a list of things to buy before your arrival to US. It will help you.
It’s also possible to buy some things via www.craigslist.com because many students leave and they have to get rid of many things. But this is a personal matter because for some people it may be unpleasant to use used plates and spoons.
Some churches organize fairs where you can buy almost everything for your house. That’s why, pay attention to the ads in your University. Also, you can ask the staff of Office of International Scholars and Student Services about such opportunities. As a rule, they know it. In any event, those people who work in Office of International Scholars and Student Services can help you with many issues including purchasing of a cell phone and opening a bank account.
The cuisine here is completely different. That’s why, I would recommend to cook by yourself because, first, it’s cheap and second, it’s healthy (the meal the Americans eat is a snack in our understanding). For guys I would also recommend to write in advance a list of receipts of dishes they usually have at home (soups, second dishes etc.).
This issue is much easier after you have lived here for a while. Initially, I spent some days to buy shoes, jeans etc. because the clothes that is sold in cheap stores is not the same as we see in Russia. That’s why, when you see these worn jeans and strange shoes you think that you are in trouble and have to find another store to buy the things. But the same happens in that next store. When you go to the University and see what American students wear you come to conclusion that those jeans were good and the shoes were perfect. Americans are not so concerned about dressing. They wear everything that is convenient. You should take the clothes only for the first time. However, if you take more you loose nothing because you will have more time to look around and get used to the culture.
However you know the English language you will not know the kind of language they use here because it varies from one state to another. That’s why, you should know that sometimes you will not understand what people want you to do. Pronunciation here varies as well. For example, many afro-americans speak in such a manner that it is really difficult to understand them. The easiest language to understand was the language I heard during lectures because you know in advance what the instructor would be telling about. Of course, for the first time it was a little bit difficult to try to understand the issue in question but in one month I could listen without much effort.
As you probably know the educational system of US is completely different from that of Russia. The study here is very hard. The simple proof is that in Russia I had 10 courses per semester and have lots of time whereas here I have only 3 classes and don’t have free time at all. There are many homeworks and readings. But always keep in mind that you mustn’t leave anything that was not well understood. The main reason is that you will not have time to understand it thereafter. If you didn’t understand something you are welcome to attend office hours. The study tempos here are very fast. If you do everything as fast as possible you’ll do it by the deadline; otherwise you may be short of time. This is what the professors want. Their goal is to keep students always working. It’s worth noting that professors here are very competent in their field of interest. That’s why, the level of education here is high. Be careful with deadlines for homeworks. If your homework is late it’s not accepted.
Driver’s license and car
Russian driver’s license is valid for 60 days after arrival to US. Thus, after 2 months you have to get driver’s license of the state where you live. It’s easy. The whole procedure took me only 2 hours and I got driver's license. The questions I was asked were very simple but in any case you have to prepare for the exam. On-road test is a demonstration of your ability to drive and to obey to the rules.
Purchasing a car is more complicated matter. It is possible to buy a car for $600 (one may find such offers on www.craigslist.com) but how long this car will serve you isn’t known. You can buy a good car for $3,000 but be careful and you had better ask someone who is an old hand in cars to help you. You can also buy a car from dealers because they fix the car before they sell it.
Invitation of relatives
To invite my folks I went to the Office of International Scholars and Student Services where I got the forms that I had to complete for each person I wanted to invite. The main field in that form was the one where I had to prove my ability to support financially those whom I wanted to invite (afterwards, it turned out that this information wasn’t so important for getting the visa in embassy). Once I completed the forms I was told to go to the bank and ask for a Public Notary. In presence of that person, I signed the forms. Then, I sent the forms via the internet to my relatives.
Phone calls to Russia
I want to let you know that the use of phone cards is very expensive. I used them only in my first days in the USA when I didn’t have an access to neither computer nor cell phone. These phone cards promise you very small cost of one minute but they didn’t indicate fees to connect, maintain and disconnect the call. As a rule, the latter fees are about 70% of the money you pay for the card. That’s why, to call to Russia I use Skype program that is available to download from www.skype.com. The program is very simple to handle. You setup it in you computer (or any computer in the university), put some money in skype-account via the internet and buy microphone (and earphones if you don’t have sound in the computer). But prior to it you have to open a checking account in bank, because to transfer money to you skype-account you need a credit card. The cost of one minute is 0.04 euro.
That’s all about some important issues. Of course, it’s not possible to write about everything. That’s why, if you have questions feel free to email to KrubtsovK83@Kmail.ruK (! please, remove all "K" symbols !).
In conclusion, I’d like to thank the staff of Fulbright program for their professionalism, concern and patience.
I wish you only the best,