Coming to Rice as an international student

By Utana Umezaki: Rice is always welcoming international students and has many cultural events/communities that you can be part of!

International love!

Are you interested in applying for graduate programs at Rice as an international student? Do you have any concerns about staying at Rice for about five years to obtain your degree? Here, I share my experiences/resources as an international student at Rice! I hope these encourage you to join our community. :)

Miss your home country/region?

According to the report from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), we have more than 2000 degree-seeking international students from about 100 countries/regions. Rice is always welcoming international students and has many cultural events/communities that you can be part of. For example, Culture Night is one of the biggest annual events. Multiple cultural graduate student associations hold booths for serving authentic dishes from their countries. I hosted a booth as a member of the Japanese Graduate Student Association last year. I was very happy to see many people enjoying Japanese food. The Culture Night is the best opportunity to share dishes from your home countries/regions and try multiple foods from different countries/regions.

Additionally, there are a lot of places you can feel like you are in your home country/region, because Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. Because I am Japanese, I frequently go to Japanese grocery markets. There are many authentic Japanese restaurants around campus. Hermann Park, which is a beautiful park located to the right next to Rice campus, has a Japanese Garden. I also visited Chinatown and Koreatown; both are located about 30 minutes drive away from Rice. It is very nice to have such places nearby campus, especially when you miss your countries/regions.

Worry about English?

It is always difficult to study away from your home country/region. And it will be much more challenging if you will study in your second, third, or more languages. I felt the same way before coming to Rice. So, I would like to share what I did to improve my English communication, writing, and presentation skills.

First, you should talk a lot in English! When I first came to Rice, I could not catch the conversation in the first round most of the time because it was too fast for me. I needed to ask to repeat the conversation or slow down multiple times until I fully understood. I felt bad about it at the time, but it turns out most people understood our challenges because they are surrounded by large international populations. It has been three years since I came to Rice as a graduate student, and I have a less difficult time communicating in English (of course, I still have some hard times, though). You may be overwhelmed with languages for a while, but you will get used to them eventually. Please don’t be afraid to communicate in English. :)

Second, I recommend you use all the resources that Rice has. I took some casual classes at OISS, which helped me to learn some idioms/slang. I also enrolled in two English classes when I was a first-year student (UNIV 600: Introduction to Academic Reading and Writing for International Graduate Students; UNIV 601: Oral Communication Skills for International Graduate Students). These courses helped me to practice reading/writing academic reports and making effective presentations. Furthermore, the Center for Academic and Professional Communication (CAPC) helps us to improve our written and oral communications, such as scientific writing, fellowship applications, in-class presentations, conference presentations, and so on. You can schedule one-on-one consultations and can obtain advice on your writings/presentations.

Worry about a place to live?

Finding a place to live while you're trying to move to a new country is not easy. Therefore, first-year graduate students at Rice have priority to live in on-campus housing: Rice Graduate Apartments (RGA), Rice Village Apartments (RVA), and Rice Village Townhomes (RVT). I lived in RGA in my first year, and I think it was the right choice for me. Based on my experiences, I recommend you to live in one of the on-campus housing for your first year because of several reasons:

First, on-campus housing is relatively safer than off-campus housing. All residents and staffs of graduate housing are members of the Rice community. Also, the Rice neighborhood is one of the safest areas in Houston, and all housing are close to campus. Rice University Police Department (RUPD) patrols around graduate housing, too. If you do not want to walk to campus, you can always take the shuttle to go to campus. The shuttles run from 7:30 am to 10:30 pm every 15 minutes all weekdays. You can also ask the Night Escort service when you want to go back to graduate housing after 10 pm. The service will be available from 10 pm to 6 am Sunday to Thursday and 10 pm to 3 pm on Friday and Saturday. You do not need to worry about walking back alone in the dark if you live in on-campus housing.

Second, you do not need to worry about having furniture, internet and water contract, and a car. All bedrooms of graduate housing are fully furnished, and the rent price includes internet and water. You only need to choose your electricity. I really liked having Rice network services because I could access many papers without connecting to Rice VPN. For your grocery shopping, you can take Graduate Shopping Shuttle. The shuttle runs from 10 am to 3 pm Saturday every 30 minutes. This will take you to the HEB on Buffalo Speedway. You can get groceries and daily necessities from there. The HEB also has a pharmacy, so you can get some medicine, too. Additionally, there are several restaurants, another grocery market, and a pharmacy near the HEB. So, you can wander around the neighborhood without a car. 

I hope these tips have helped you feel more at ease about beginning your graduate studies in the United States! Remember - you are welcome here!

Abou the Author: Utana Umezaki is a Ph.D. student in Chemistry. She graduated from Doshisha University in 2019 with a B.S. degree, and joined Rice after participating in the TOMODACHI STEM program.