Josh: Accommodation at UTA

As I sit writing this post, I am reminded about how quickly time is passing. I’m now over halfway through my exchange which is insane to think about. People often say that time flies when you’re having fun, and as clichéd as it is, it’s so true. It feels like last week that I was nervously hopping on a plane to the other side of the world, but I have to constantly remind myself that it was over two months ago. For this post, I wanted to write about one of the most important parts of any exchange – Housing.

As with most Universities, you have a choice between on and off campus accommodation. There are pros and cons to each, and depending on your individual circumstances, things may differ for you, but I’ll try and explain how I reached my decision and the process surrounding applications.

Living off campus is a bit hit and miss in Arlington, not only because of the fact that most leases require a minimum one year contract, but also because (as I mentioned previously) Arlington does not have any public transport meaning you need to live within walking distance of campus. With these factors, it just wasn’t worth this hassle for me to try and live off campus, especially when I’m only going to be here for four months. But hey, if you can make it work or want to challenge yourself then more power to you!

This brings me to on-campus housing, something I was already familiar with having lived in University Accomodation at UOA for the past year and a half. UTA offers the standard halls or “dorms” and also on-campus apartments, that provide a more independent lifestyle (which includes being able to cook for yourself). Having lived in both types of accommodation before, I definitely had a preference towards a more independent flatting environment, and wasn’t too keen to go back into a hall situation. But like with off-campus housing, all UTA apartments have a minimum one-year lease and unless you can find someone to take over your lease at the end of the semester, all the termination fees fall squarely on you (not something I was keen to be sorting out during exam time). Therefore, I made the decision to live in one of the halls on campus.

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West Hall Exterior

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Floor 3 Common Area

UTA offers 7 different Halls of Residence. I opted to live in West Campus Hall, the newest hall on campus only opening in August and home to about 500 students. Fortunately, one of the worst parts of living in a first year hall in Auckland, the shared bathrooms, were not a problem as each room comes with an ensuite! If you live in a hall at UTA, you are required to purchase a meal plan (optional for people living in an apartment). A meal plan essentially gives you a set number of “meal swipes” per semester that you can use at one of two dining locations on campus. The two locations provide a decent range of food and it’s all you can eat! There are different tiers of plans you can purchase but it would take me an entire post to explain the differences so I’ll just leave it at that, but it is definitely something you want to research thoroughly before you make a decision, because like housing, meal plans are expensive! The benefits to living in a hall are as you would come to expect; a sense of community, ease of friendships, and academic and social support just to name a few. These did play a role in helping me decide where I wanted to live, so it’s important that you give some consideration as to what you want your housing experience to be while on exchange.

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Layout of a standard room at West Hall. You’re not a true Texan until you have a duvet with the Texas State flag on it!

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Most homes in the US have a thermostat that lets you adjust the temperature of your room. Kinda wish they would adopt the metric system though!

The application process for living on campus, or at least living in a hall is extremely straightforward. You are able to apply as soon as you receive your acceptance letter (around mid-April for those studying in the Fall semester). It’s a good idea to start thinking about housing early though, so you know where you want to live once applications open. If you apply early, you’ll likely receive an offer within two days and unlike UOA, accommodation works on a first come first served basis, they even let you select your room!!

Roommates are also a big part of the college experience in the US. Coming from NZ, where this practice is so uncommon, it stressed me out a lot, considering I have never had to share a room before, let alone with a complete stranger. Fortunately, UTA does its best to match you to someone that you will get along well with by making you answer questions on your sleep schedule, study habits and general level of cleanliness to name a few. The whole experience can be a little daunting at first, but trust me, after a week or so, you barely notice it. My roommate and I don’t see a lot of each other, he has a pretty full schedule during the day, and I’m away most weekends, so we really only interact for a couple of hours a day, if that. The RA’s know that sharing a room can take a bit of getting used to, so they have tried to help with the transition by providing “Roommate Contracts” where both parties agree on boundaries for things like cleaning, having people over, and sleeping.

Finally, I just want to leave you with a few tips:

  • Make sure you apply early. I know, I know, the host university has already told you this a thousand times, but seriously, housing fills up fast and you don’t want to be left scrambling to find a room a week before classes start.
  • Don’t be put off by the idea of having a roommate, it serves as a great way to meet people right from the start, and who knows, they may even become a lifelong friend.
  • Take your time in considering what will work for you. Where you live during your exchange plays a large part in your experience overall, and also requires a significant financial investment. So make sure you take the time to assess all the options before you go ahead and apply.

That’s all for this post, I’m currently preparing for my 5 day trip to Alaska which I’m super pumped for. I’m planning to dedicate my next post to travel so stay tuned to hear whether I survive the arctic temperatures! As always feel free to contact me at jwin740@aucklanduni.ac.nz if you have any questions or follow my Instagram @josh.winnie

Cheers for reading,

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Josh: First Impressions of Texas

After over 6 months of preparation, 15 hours of flying, and a few thousand dollars, I’ve made it to Arlington Texas – my home for the next 4 months. So I thought I’d share some of my experiences from these first few weeks in the USA!

Preparation:
It goes without saying, but there is a lot of work that has to be done prior to hopping on the plane, and a lot more once you’ve arrived. Of everything, the Visa and Course Approvals were the biggest headache for me, as each one takes time and requires filling out plenty of paperwork. All students coming into the US require an F-1 Visa, which can sometimes take months to process. I had to wait almost 3 months between filling out my online application, and having my interview at the US consulate, so it is crucial that you apply for the Visa as soon as you receive your acceptance letter. And for anyone stressing about the interview, it was super easy, as long as you remember to bring all the correct paperwork such as your passport and I-20 (provided by your host university). I actually spent more time queuing up than I did in the actual interview!

Flights:

I chose to fly with Air New Zealand from Auckland to Los Angeles with a 2 day layover and then with American Airlines from LA to Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas. I purchased my flights back in May so I could get a cheap fare, this goes against the advice of the US consulate who tell you not to book flights before receiving your visa. So while it makes sense to book early, only do so if you are certain that your visa will arrive in time otherwise you’re looking at a pretty hefty fee to change your flight.

First Impressions of Texas:

Texans are extremely patriotic and are very proud of their state and its history. As it was once its own independent nation, it has a culture unlike any other state in America. The people I’ve met have been incredibly warm and welcoming and are always happy to help a lost and confused exchange student. The place where I’m staying, Arlington, is also the largest city in the US that has no public transport whatsoever! A testament to the fact that Americans drive EVERYWHERE, hence their public transport systems aren’t as well developed as cities like Auckland. This often means you need to be creative with how you get around, whether you rely on Uber, make friends with someone who owns a car, or walk, which I wouldn’t recommend since the temperature reaches well over 30 degrees most days.

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Dallas, just a stone’s throw away from Arlington!
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A cool lil’ mural I found while exploring Arlington

UT Arlington:

UTA is actually of a similar size to UoA (about 40,000 students) however, since there is only one campus, everything is extremely spread out and since all the buildings look relatively similar, it can be tricky to find your way around for the first couple of weeks. However, one thing I love about the campus is that everything is flat, unlike Auckland. I definitely don’t miss walking up the hill from Carlaw Park to the OGGB every day! (Although the temperature difference here definitely makes up for the lack of hills.) UTA is also situated right in the middle of a residential area and unlike NZ, dairies or “convenience stores” are pretty scarce. Fortunately the campus hosts a decent range of food options, a bookstore, and even a free gym complete with a swimming pool!

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Maverick Stampede (O-Week):

UTA’s version of O-Week is a 3 week “stampede” of 42 different events for students to take part in. It all kicked off the MavsMeet Convocation the day before classes. The school spirit in Texas is huge and the Convocation was insane! Motivational speakers, cheerleaders, fight songs, a full school band and confetti truly made it an experience I will never forget. This was followed by an after party with free food, snow cones, live music, and foosball! Other events over these 3 weeks included a foam party, movie nights, super service Saturday, and the activities fair, which is essentially a clubs expo.

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The finale of the Convocation, a full school band!

Classes:

I’ve definitely noticed a difference in the teaching style here in Texas. While in Auckland, most courses have 2-3 lectures per week of a few hundred students, all of my classes at UTA are small teaching sessions of no more than 50 people. This puts a greater emphasis on class participation, and makes it easier for professors to get to know you individually. Also, lectures are not recorded in most US Colleges, again putting a greater emphasis on actually showing up to class and paying attention. The courses here also put less weighting on the final exams (sometimes only about 30%) and opt to spread the workload out over the semester with assignments, tests, labs and quizzes. It’s also not unusual to have 2 finals on the same day as each other as the exam period only runs over about 6 days, rather than 3 weeks like back home.

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I probably look like such a tourist taking a photo of a squirrel

Fraternities:

Greek Life, better known as Fraternities and Sororities, plays a huge role in American College Culture and UTA is no different. I was lucky enough to be invited to my first Frat Party during the first week of classes and it definitely lived up to my expectations. Even if you don’t intend to join a Frat, the parties they host are a great way to meet people, and they are always pretty open during the rushing period. The party I went to had at least 100 people and the fact that you’re from New Zealand is a great conversation starter. And yeah, the movies don’t exaggerate the fact that Americans love their red solo cups!

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Probably the best quality photo I have from the party

Culture Shock:

I feel compelled to talk about this as most people tend to overlook it when coming to the US as the culture shift is not as big as it would be while living in Europe or Asia. For the most part, this is true, however I found that it’s the really subtle differences that add up over time. Things like the climate, time zone shifts, the way Americans speak and interact with you and the way the university operates are all slightly different from back home and can take a bit of getting used to which can leave you feeling pretty drained at times. I’m about a month into my exchange now and I think I’m almost there in terms of adjusting to American culture. Just be aware that culture shock does happen and it’s 100% normal. It always pays to talk to your host university’s international office if it doesn’t feel like it’s getting any better as they have seen it all before and will be able to offer support.

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It always helps to have things that remind you of home when you’re 12,000km away

Travel:

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve caught the travel bug since being on exchange. I’ve already been to LA, Austin, and Salt Lake City. I’ve currently got trips planned to Washington DC, Alaska, New York, and the Grand Canyon, and I’m hoping to get down to New Orleans, Houston, and Nashville before I leave so stay tuned to hear how they go!

Questions:

I’m more than happy to answer any questions you may have about applying/preparing for an exchange, or about the US in general. You can flick me an email me at jwin740@aucklanduni.ac.nz or if you want to follow my adventures then chuck me a follow on Instagram @josh.winnie.

Until next time,

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