Perfect Degree of Housing
A guide to choosing the right accommodations in the United States for international students.
The idea of studying abroad is full of exciting possibilities, but the wrong choice of accommodations can mar it all. For some, the university-offered housing options are wonderful choices. Rita Dasgupta, a recent graduate from the University of Southern California (USC), wanted to stay close to campus. “I signed my acceptance and immediately signed up for my housing,” she says. “The USC housing website had floor plans and pictures of the rooms. I loved them!”
Most university apartments are usually shared and that might not work for everyone. Also, applying on time is important. Sananda Mukherjee, a recent architecture graduate from USC, lived in private housing during her graduate studies. “Campus housing was my first choice, but by the time I applied for it, all spots for the year were gone,” she says. “So it didn’t work out in my first year. By the time I reached my second year, I knew the area well enough to choose housing to my liking. I did not want to share an apartment or room with anyone else and that was also one of the reasons that deterred me from USC housing.”
Making matters simple
Housing matters can get confusing for international students, since few have friends or family who can actually check out an apartment before they sign the lease.
“The most common trend for students coming from India is to search for roommates and hurriedly sign a lease without seeing the place in person,” says Mukherjee. “My advice to them, and I feel very strongly about this, is not to commit to a place where you’ll possibly be spending the next two years of your life without seeing it.”
Saif Sahin, a third year Ph.D. student at The University of Texas at Austin, also has some advice for students from India. “Start looking as early as you can,” he says. “Check out as many options as possible, at least at a preliminary stage. Also, try to stay close to campus, as it makes life and work a lot easier. Don’t worry too much about prefurnished housing, but also don’t buy expensive new furniture. You can get a lot of what you need from other students who might have too much or are leaving and want to sell their furniture for cheap.”
“For students coming in from India and abroad, university accommodation is a practical choice,” says Hemlata Jhaveri, associate director of residence life in the Division of Housing and Food Service at The University of Texas at Austin. “At UT, we have over 7,000 single or shared living spaces. Our residence halls on campus are open to both graduate and undergraduate students.”
University residence halls are much-maligned spaces, often thought unfit for graduate students, but that isn’t always true. “While mostly undergraduates live there, we have strict ‘no noise’ policies after 10 p.m. and designated study times,” says Jhaveri. “Graduate students find it close to libraries and, during exams, find it easy to walk back to their dorms after late study sessions in the library.”
For those opting for private housing, it is imperative to know which telephone numbers and people you can turn to in case of an emergency. “When choosing roommates, make clear right at the start what is okay and what isn’t,” says Jhaveri. “It may seem hard and you may not want to do it, but it makes issues simpler in the long run.”
Finding a perfect place may seem confusing, but as Mukherjee says, “Arrange for temporary housing for the first one or two weeks and check out places. It’s a myth that the ‘good ones’ are taken before you even land here. Try not to be with the same community of people. You have come for new experiences and to meet new people. Let that happen.”
Paromita Pain is a journalist in Austin, Texas.