Having almost finished the second semester of my freshman year in New York, I have learned a few things that have helped my time in the US run a little bit smoother. With spring being the time when US universities release their decisions on admissions, here are some tips for students who are preparing to set off for the States later in the year.
My first recommendation is to get on Facebook. The social network can act as a great resource and many students will be surprised at the number of groups that exist for UK students who are studying in the US, or vice versa. Joining an online group gives you the opportunity to speak to some people who have already been through the process.
Not only are Facebook groups helpful before you leave the UK but they are also useful when you are studying in the US, too. In the short time that I have lived abroad, I have made friends who have offered me free accommodation in their respective American towns and cities, and acted as tour guides, allowing me to travel to and explore parts of the US that I had not been to before.
My next two tips are about money – possibly one of the most stressful aspects of moving abroad. I found out about TransferWise from a fellow international student who said that, in their experience, the money transfer service was quick, straightforward and reliable.
If you’re less inclined to transfer large amounts of money, or open a US bank account in your first few weeks in the States, consider using the Travel Money Card, which is available from the Post Office. I took this option during my first few weeks in New York as I didn’t feel comfortable carrying around large amounts of money. The card is just like a credit card (without the credit), and you can easily swipe it in shops, however, it is not something for the long term. It can be annoying if you need actual cash, as most US bank machines will charge you to withdraw bills.
Besides cash, setting up a US phone was next on my list of international student concerns. The company that I would recommend is US Mobile, which is online.
Despite not having physical stores, my experience of setting up a phone was easy. I had my mobile unlocked in the UK and bought a US SIM card on the website that was delivered to my campus address. Most universities will let you know your mailbox information prior to your arrival, and if you are organised enough, you can have a SIM card sent to it and your US phone can be set up on your first day.
US Mobile is good for students as there are no fixed contracts. You can easily set the number of texts, minutes and data that you need per month through your online US Mobile account. It is possible to add more to your bundle, or give back what’s remaining, at the end of every month. This latter option was helpful when I realised that I had paid for far too much data and that all campuses have free wi-fi.
My final tip is about flying. If you’re on the East Coast of America, try flying with Norwegian Air. The airline has just started flying to most major UK cities from smaller East Coast airports in Connecticut, Rhode Island and upstate New York. Not only are these flights direct but they are significantly cheaper than flights offered by most other major airlines; I flew direct from New York to Edinburgh for $70 (£50) last semester. With Norwegian Air, you do not get in-flight entertainment and complimentary meals, however, these are available for a small fee.