Resources: Japanese Students – Life in the U.S.

The resources on this page have been developed for Japanese students participating in our short-term research internship programs at Rice University. Some of the resources on this page may also be helpful to other Japanese students planning to do research or study in the U.S.  For specific questions or additional details on your specific program, students should contact your host university in the U.S. and/or program staff/faculty members directly.

Before You Go: Pre-Departure Resources

Introduction Email to Host Lab Professor: Once your research host lab has been confirmed, students should send introductory email to their host professor.  In this email,  you should introduce yourself, briefly describe any relevant prior research you have had, and ask the professor if they can recommend any articles, books, or other resources on your research project/topic you can review prior to arrival.  You can also ask if you will be working with a graduate student or other mentor in the lab and, if yes, for their name and email address you can introduce yourself to them too.  Be sure to check your email at least once per day prior to arrival abroad to ensure you do not miss any important emails from your host professor, lab members, or program faculty. 

For TOMODACHI STEM Participants: The program will provide students with a template/sample email they can use to for initial contact with their host professor.  For more information and a template email, participants should consult the Assignments section in Canvas.

Read/Learn About your Research Topic: Students are also strongly encouraged to read articles/books on their planned topic/research area in English and/or Japanese.  Since you may not yet be familiar with the English language scientific/research vocabulary studying your topic prior to departure in both English and Japanese can be helpful.  You can also ask your professors in Japan if there is a general/introductory textbook on this subject/area that they would recommend you purchase and bring with you to the U.S.  This way, you will have a helpful reference in Japanese that you can refer to while doing research at Rice University. For additional information, see the following sections on our Resources page.  

  • If you have not already done so, carefully consult the website of your host lab professor and try to read/review 1 – 2 recently published articles from their group on your topic or general area of research.  Keep a list of your key questions about these articles to ask your host lab professor and/or lab members about when you arrive.  
  • Research: Overview for Undergraduates 
    • Reading & Understanding Scientific Research Papers
    • Fondren Library: Access for Visiting Students/Researchers at Rice University
    • Literature Reviews 
  • Science Magazine: A wide array of easily understandable articles on science & engineering research topics.  Search for your research topic/project name here first if you are not very familiar with it to get some helpful introductory level information. 
  • Introductory Textbook in Japanese: If you are new to this area of research, it may also be helpful to check-out or borrow an introductory textbook on this field/area, in Japanese, to either review prior to arrival or bring with you to the U.S.  Ask your Japanese professors if they can recommend a good textbook on your general topic/area of research.  



Passport: Your Japanese passport must be valid for at least six months past your date of departure from the U.S. For example, for a program ending on March 24, 2019 we recommend your passport be valid through September 25, 2019. If your passport will expire prior to this date you should renew it now.

Students cannot use the visa wavier program to enter the U.S. if they are doing research at Rice University due to U.S. immigration policies and international student regulations! Students doing research at Rice University must apply for and receive a U.S. visa! 

U.S. Visa – For TOMODACHI STEM Participants:  Undergraduates participating in the TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice University program are required to obtain a J-1 Non Degree Student visa to be able to conduct research at Rice University as a visiting international undergraduate research students. Once you have received your DS-2019 document from Rice University via mail, consult the Assignments section of OwlSpace for additional details on how to apply for your U.S. visa.  

U.S. Visa – For Japanese Graduate Students Doing Research at Rice University: Japanese graduate students will typically apply for a J-1 visa if they will be doing research at Rice.  Speak with the Rice University staff or faculty member who is helping to coordinate your research internship at Rice University to learn more about this process and what forms/information you will need to submit to Rice University in order to receive your DS-2019 form and apply for your U.S. visa in Japan.    

DS-2019:  After submitting the required documents to Rice University, students will be mailed a DS-2019 and other documents from Rice University that you will need to be able to apply for your U.S. visa in Japan. It is very important to keep your DS-2019 and other documents in a safe place and ensure you do not damage or lose your DS-2019. You must bring your DS-2019 with you to the U.S. in your carry-on baggage and show the DS-2019 document and your passport to the immigration officer upon arrival in the U.S.  Do not pack your DS-2019 in your checked luggage!  

Participants in the TOMODACHI STEM program and other undergraduate students, will also be required to apply to enroll in Rice University as a Visiting Undergraduate Student Researcher through the Rice University Office of the Registrar.  Instructions on how to do this will be provided to TOMODACHI STEM students via the Assignments section in Canvas. 

Once you have received your Rice University ID number (either emailed to you prior to arrival or printed on your Rice ID card), you should activate your Rice NetID and password. You will need to visit the Office of Information Technology website to activate your Net ID and Password prior to your arrival at Rice University.  TOMODACHI STEM participants should consult the Assignments section of Canvas for detailed instructions on how to do this.  

It is important you write down your Net ID and password and keep it in a safe place. You may need to use this Net ID and password to login to certain online services while you are at Rice. With your NetID and password you can also access some free resources for Rice University students.  These include: 

  • Free Journal Articles: Free access to full PDFs of many peer-reviewed journal articles from Fondren Library.  You can search the library holdings for free, but to download a full PDF of an article you must login with your NetID and password. 
  • Free Software: Free access or discounted prices on many software programs for students at Rice University.  To view the full list, click here. 
  • Check Rice Email Account: All visiting students are set up with a Rice University email address. To look up your Rice University address, type your first and last name into the search bar in the upper right-hand corner on the main website and then look under the 'People' results in the right-hand menu bar. You will be listed as a visiting student.  While you are at Rice, you can check your email by logging in to the Webmail system using your NetID and password. 
    • Keep in mind that your Rice University email address will expire when your research internship ends. For this reason, most short-term research students continue to use their primary email address for communication with their host lab rather than their Rice University email address. 
    • We strongly recommend students set up mail forwarding in their Rice University email address so that any messages sent here are automatically forwarded to your personal or home university address.  This will help ensure you don't miss any helpful emails from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) and about events and activities that are sent out to students across campus.  

For TOMODACHI STEM Participants: Rice University Transcript and Grade
Upon successful completion of the program, participants will receive a pass/fail grade for the research course they will be enrolled in and will be able to request a Rice University transcript showing their enrollment in the course and course grade. Participants who plan to apply to other programs or graduate schools in the U.S. are strongly encouraged to (and may be required) to submit a copy of their Rice University transcript with their application to any future U.S.-based program they apply to.

Requesting Transcripts: Alumni who would like to request a Rice University transcript, visit the Office of the Registrar website and follow the instructions under 'How To Request' to use the National Student Clearninghouse Transcript Ordering Center.

All J-1 visa holders in the U.S. are required to have international health insurance that meets the minimum federal requirements for the duration of their stay in the U.S. 

For TOMODACHI STEM Participants: The program will purchase and provide students with international health insurance that meets all the required minimum coverage levels through a Tokio Marine Student Secure policy.  Insurance cards and policy overviews for your international health insurance will be emailed to TOMODACHI STEM participants in late December or early January.  Upon arrival at Rice, all TOMODACHI STEM students will be provided with a list of nearby in-network clinics and hospitals that accept your insurance plan.  When seeking medical treatment you should first attempt to use these facilities.

In-Network Providers:  You will be providing with a list of nearby clinics and hospitals that are considered 'in-network' by your insurance plan.  Whenever possible, it is best to go to one of these designated clinics or hospitals.  When you go to a medical provider that is considered 'in-network' by your insurance company they will typically only charge you a small co-pay fee for your visit.  They will then submit the bill for your medical care/treatment directly to the insurance company on your behalf.  The insurance company will then review and pay the appropriate portion of your bill (based on your policy coverage amounts) directly to the medical provider.  If there is any unpaid balance due the medical provider will mail you a bill and you must pay the remaining balance individually.

Out-of-Network Providers:  You can seek treatment at any clinic or hospital in the U.S. under your insurance plan but if you go to an out-of-network provider that does not have a direct relationship with your insurance company you may be asked to pay the full cost of your treatment individually up-front.  Since medical care in the U.S. can be quite expensive, this means you should have a credit card with you to pay this cost. You should ask for a 'detailed invoice' from the doctors office and you will then need to submit this directly to your insurance company along with a 'Reimbursement Claim Form'.  You insurance company will then review your claim form and invoice and contact you if they need any additional information.   Once approved, they will then issue you a check to reimburse you for the appropriate portion of your bill (based on your policy coverage amounts). Any unpaid balance would be your individual cost.



Prior to departure, it is very important to ensure that you are in good health and have adequate supplies of any prescription medication, contacts, etc. that you may need while in the U.S. We strongly encourage all students to visit their health care providers 1 – 2 months prior to departure. It will be much easier, cheaper, and more convenient for you to take care of any health/medical needs while still in Japan. Students should schedule pre-departure health check-ups with the following, as applicable for your individual medical needs.

  • Japanese students should review the Center’s for Disease Control Information for Traveler’s to the U.S. page.
  • Primary Care Physician/General Doctor: To be sure you are healthy overall and address any medical issues as needed. 
  • Dentist: Remember that dental care is not covered by your international health insurance in the U.S. and can be very expensive.  Be sure to complete all necessary general cleanings and take care of any dental work (e.g. cavities) prior to departure.  
  • Eye Doctor (as needed): Remember that eye care is not covered by your international health insurance in the U.S. and can be very expensive. If you wear glasses or contacts, it can be helpful to ensure that your prescription is up to date and obtain an adequate supply of contacts if needed.  We also strongly recommend students bring an extra pair of glasses with them to the U.S. in case your primary pair is lost or broken. 
  • Behavioral/Mental Health Care Provider (as needed):  If you see a therapist/counselor or have any behavioral/mental health condition you are currently under treatment for, be sure to make an appointment with this provider and let them know you will be traveling abroad. 
    • See also the sections on Cultural Shock and Resiliency Abroad under our Topics: Intercultural Communication section on the resources page.  
    • The stress of adjusting to a new culture/working environment can cause a re-occurrence or worsening of some conditions, so be sure you have a plan in place to see out any additional support as needed while you are abroad.  For example, can you speak with your therapist or counselor via Skpe or telephone if needed? 
  • Immunization Requirement For Students 21 or Younger: While no immunizations are required for entry into Japan, you should ensure that all basic immunizations are up to date.  If you are 21 or younger Texas State Law requires all students enrolled as a students, including visiting researchers, to show Proof of Meningococcal Vaccination Record or Waiver. TOMODACHI STEM students who are 21 or younger should consult the Assignments section in Canvas for additional details.  
  • Medical Condition or Food Allergy Translation Cards: If you have any food allergies, dietary restrictions, or serious medical issues we strongly encourage you to order Japanese-English food translation cards from Select Wisely.  These can be very helpful to show the doctor/nurse, waiter/waitress or clerk at the grocery store so they clearly understand what you cannot eat and can give you advice on what is best.  If you are having an allergic reaction you can show this card so that those around you know how best to help.  Carry this card in your wallet/pocket at all times so it is easily available.

Use of Cash/Debit/Credit Cards in the U.S.: Most Americans don't use cash very often, and typically only carry a very small amount of cash with them on a day-to-day basis (<$20).  .  Most people pay for purchases using a credit or debit card whether they are very small or large purchase. There are also some apps, such as Uber/Lyft that require you enter in a credit/debit card number to be able to use.  

Using a Japanese Credit or Debit Card in the U.S.: If you plan to use your Japanese credit or debit card in the U.S. be sure to consider the following. 

  • Call your Japanese Bank or Credit Card Company Prior to Departure:  Be sure to ask the following questions: 
    • Can I use my Japanese credit or debit card in the U.S.? 
    • If yes, are there any international transaction fees or international withdrawal fees that will be charged? For example, what fees will be charged if I use my Japanese card to withdraw money in U.S. dollars from an ATM in the U.S.?
    • Is there a daily limit on how much money you can withdraw via an ATM while abroad from your Japanese bank account?
    • If my Japanese debit/credit card is lost or stolen, how can I get a replacement card while I am in the U.S.?
    • If your debit/credit card PIN number starts with a 0, ask if you can change this as some international ATMS might not accept PINs starting with a 0.
  • Zip Code: There are some instances where you may be required to enter a zip code when using a credit or debit card in the U.S..  This is a security feature and is often required to use a credit or debit card to pay for gas at the pump when at a gas station in the U.S.  Since gas pumps in the U.S. are set-up to accept only a 5-digit U.S.-style zip code (e.g. 77005 for Rice's address) they will not accept the 7-digit Japanese postal code (e.g. 108-0073 for Minato-ku in Tokyo). You should not attempt to pay for gas with a Japanese credit card or debit card at the pump. Instead, look for the number of the gas pump you are at (typically at the top somewhere) and then go into the gas station and either pay the attendant in cash by saying "I'd like to put $30 on pump #X" or ask the attendant to run your credit/debit card through directly from the register "This is an international card, can you please run it through the register because I don't have a US zip code to enter to pay at the pump. I'm at pump #X.". 
  • Getting Cash from an ATM: You can find ATMs anywhere in the U.S. from grocery stores, gas stations, shopping malls, banks, airports, etc. Typically, you can use almost any ATM but you should be aware that all ATMs in the U.S. will charge a withdrawal fee of between $1 – $5 depending on the bank/company.  Withdrawal fees are usually cheapest at bank-owned ATMs and there are two Chase bank ATMs on the Rice University campus. One is in the Rice Memorial Center (RMC)/Student Center and one is in Fondren Library. Using bank-owned ATMs is also usually more secure/safe as they are less likely to be damaged or broken.  

Personal Funds in the U.S. You will need to decide how much money you want to bring with you to the U.S. for costs not paid for by the program/personal expenses. TOMODACHI STEM students should consult our Program Costs Funding page.  You can choose to:

  • Bring all of the money you plan to use with you in cash.
    • You can exchange JPY for USD at the airport in Japan prior to departure or in the international arrival terminal of most U.S. airports. Be very careful with your cash though to ensure it is not lost or stolen.
  • Bring $100-$200 with you in cash and then plan to withdraw additional funds in USD via an ATM while in the U.S. 
    • If you choose this option, call your bank in advance so you are 100% sure your ATM card will work in the U.S. and what fees you may be charged for withdrawing money in USD.
  • Bring $100-$200 with you in cash and put the rest of your personal funds on a U.S. Pre-Paid Money/Credit Card. 
    • Some students may prefer to activate a Pre-Paid International Money card to use in the U.S.  Typically, these cards allow you to add money on your card in advance, add more money online if needed, and have a replacement card sent to you if lost or stolen. This is also a helpful way to budget, as you only add as much money as you plan to use in the U.S. on this card. 

Pre-Paid Money/Credit Cards in the U.S.: Using a pre-paid money/credit card while in the U.S. can be a helpful way to budget for your personal spending.  Simply sign up for your preferred card, add money to it before you go, and then you can use like a regular credit/debit card in the U.S.  Some cards have options where you can transfer/add more money to your card online through a direct link to your Japanese bank account.  These cards also typically have lower or no transaction fees and may not charge ATM withdrawal fees.   If you lose your card or it is stolen you should be able to contact the company and ask them to cancel your existing card and send you a new card.  

It may be very expensive to use your Japanese cell phone in the U.S. and/or your friends and lab members in the U.S. may not be able to call an international phone number. For example, most phones that graduate studnets have access to only allow calls to be make to U.S. phone numbers.  A special code or approval is often required for students to call an international number.  

For this reason, it is strongly recommended that visiting researchers obtain a pre-paid SIM card or U.S. cell phone to use while they are in the U.S.  There are two primary ways to do this. 

  • Option 1: Order a U.S. Sim Card  & Use in Unlocked Phone: Prior to departure you can order a U.S. SIM card to be used in an unlocked cell phone while you are in the U.S.  A quick Google search will give you information on U.S. Sim card options.  If needed, you can purchase a SIM free/unlocked phone from stores or online, such as at, to use with your U.S. SIM card.  
    • TOMODACHI STEM students will be mailed a U.S. SIM card from J1 SIM Cards with their DS-2019 packet.  Students should consult the Assignments section of Canvas for details on how to activate their SIM card and obtain their U.S. phone number.  Students will need to purchase/bring an unlocked cell phone with them to the U.S. to be able to use their J1 SIM card. 
  • Option 2: Rent a Phone in Japan to Use in the U.S.:  There are rental phone services in Japan which will send you the U.S. phone and SIM before your departure and you can send back after your return. Rental phone plans can be expensive. Carefully compare prices including the minutes/texting available, and data limits.  Obtaining a U.S. SIM card to use in an unlocked cell phone will typically be cheaper than renting a U.S. cell phone from a Japanese company.  
  • Option 3: Purchase a Pre-Paid Cell Phone & Phone Minutes In the U.S.: Upon arrival in the U.S., student can purchase an inexpensive/basic pre-paid cell phone and cards to add minutes/data to their phone from stores like Target or Wal-Mart.  The phone plan/costs for these options can be difficult to understand and the cheapest phone options will not have data/wi-fie (just a basic flip phone).  It is recommended that students either use Option 1 or 2 as outlined above as they are easier and typically a better value.  

Only Use Your Japansee Cell Phone On Wi-Fi! in the U.S.! Using your Japanese cell phone abroad can be very, very expensive!   Before you leave Japan, call your cell phone company to find out what the cost will be to use your Japanese cell phone to make calls, send text messages, or use data services (e.g. LINE when not on wi-fi) in the U.S. To avoid excessive roaming/international use charges, turn the data on your Japanese smartphone off and only use your Japanese phone when connected to wi-fi.  The good news is that free wi-fi is available to all visitors at Rice University and is commonly found at many restaurants, stores, shopping centers, coffee shops, and even some parks in the U.S.!  

Checked Luggage: We strongly recommend students only bring 1 checked suitcase with them to the U.S. Though international flights typically allow 2, free checked pieces of luggage if you bring 2 full suitcases with you to the U.S. where will you pack your omiyage/souvenirs when you return to Japan?  Instead, just bring 1 checked suitcase when you come to the U.S. Pack an empty duffel bag in your suitcase, then, when you return to Japan, you can pack your clothing and non-fragile items in the duffel bag and have plenty of room for omiyage/souvenirs in your suitcase.  

Carry-on Bag: Passport, DS-2019, and Important Documents: Don’t forget to hand-carry your passport with you on the international flight! You will need to scan your passport to check-in for the international flight and will need to show both your passport and DS-2019 to the immigration officer upon arrival in the U.S. Other important documents you should bring in your carry-on include: 

  • U.S. Health Insurance Cards
  • Printed copy of your international flight itinerary
  • Address of hotel or housing in the U.S. & your U.S. phone number to fill out immigration forms on the plane 
  • All debit/credit cards and cash
    • Tip: Make photocopies of the front and back of all of the credit/debit cards you will bring abroad in case they are lost or stolen.  

Carry-on Bag: Electronics & Chargers: All expensive electronics should be in your carry-on bag including your laptop, U.S. and Japansee Cell phones, and plugs/chargers.  Don't forget to bring your phone/laptop chargers!

Plug Adapters: The U.S. and Japan both use the two-prong plug style for many electronics and in the U.S. we also use a three-prong, grounded outlet type for some appliances and electronics, but all outlets in the U.S. accept both the two-prong and three-prong grounded plug style. See Plug and Socket types worldwide for more. 

Voltage Adapters: The voltage in Japan is 100 volt and in North America, including the U.S., it is 120 volt.  Since this is so close, most Japanese appliances will work in the U.S. and vice versa but very small, hand-held appliances may get too hot or burn out.  These include hair-dryers/flat irons/curling irons or irons for clothing may burn out. Hotel rooms in the U.S. provide hair dryers and if there is not a clothing iron in the room, you can usually request one from the front desk.  Or, you can buy these items inexpensively at any home-goods/department store such as Target or Wal-Mart in the U.S.; usually for $25 or less. 

Note About Personal Laptops: Most students will typically bring a laptop with them to the U.S. and your host professor/lab will not provide you a computer to use. Since you will likely be using your laptop for research purposes, it is best to bring an actual laptop – not just a tablet.  If you will be doing computational researcher, be sure to speak with your host professor about your computing/software needs and ask if your laptop will be sufficient or if there is a computer at Rice University that you can use.   Be sure you keep your laptop safe and do not leave it unattended (for example in an unlocked office or on a table in a coffee shop when you to the bathroom) as it may be stolen.  

Note About Software: Be sure your laptop has Microsoft Word and Powerpoint installed as you will use these extensively while in the U.S.  If, you have access, try to install an Adobe software that lets you convert files to PDF or find a good PDF converter online that you feel comfortable using. Once you have activated your Rice NetID and Password, you can also download/purchase any of the free and discounted software that is available to Rice students through the IT department.

E-Books: If you use a Kindle or E-reader be sure you download many books in Japanese before you go as it may be difficult to access Amazon Japan to download Japanese language e-books while you are in the U.S. due to regional protections. 

Movies/TV Shows/Videos: Due to regional protections, you may not be able to access/download Netflix or other online videos and TV shows from Japan while you are in the U.S. While online streaming services in the U.S. do have some Japanese language TV shoes/movies, the selection is very limited. It may be helpful to download a few favorite movies onto your laptop or tablet before you go. Some popular online streaming services that you can sign up for a paid subscription to in the U.S. include the following.  They may also have free trials, typically for a period of two-weeks or up to one-month but you must login to deactivate the account before the free trial ends or your credit card will be charged. 



It will probably be very cold on the plane to the U.S. Be sure to wear/bring: 

  • Sweater and/or jacket
  • Scarf and/or shawl (can also be used as an extra, light-weight jacket) 
  • Slippers and/or warm socks
  • Eye mask to help you sleep. 
  • Wear comfortable clothes and layers that you can easily take on/off if you get cold or hot.
  • Due to sitting for so long, your feet/ankles/legs may get swollen.  Wearing a pair of compression socks can help alleviate swelling. 

Travel Pillow

There are many different types of travel pillows, but a small, rectangular memory foam pillow may be most useful for the duration of your time abroad.  The pillows at the hotel may be too soft or too firm for your liking so it can be helpful to bring a small travel pillow that is best suited to how you like to sleep (e.g. stomach sleeper vs. back sleeper vs. side sleeper).  If you bring a small, rectangular travel pillow to use on the plane you can also use this at the hotel to ensure you get a good night’s rest. If you are not very picky about your pillows, a U-shaped or inflatable travel pillow may be best as these are typically smaller and easier to pack.  

Noise Cancelling Headphones/Ear Buds

It can be helpful to have a good, portable/foldable pair of noise cancelling headphones to use both when traveling (there will likely be small children or babies crying on the flight) and while abroad.  Keep in mind that if you have a wireless pair, these may not work with the in-seat flight entertainment.  Since you will likely need to use LINE or Skype to talk with your family/friends back home, if you have a pair of headphones with a built in microphone that would be even better.  This way, when you are talking on the phone or watching TV/movies on your computer you will not disturb your roommates in your hotel room. 

Change of Clothes and Small Toiletries

We strongly recommend bringing one change of clothes and some basic toiletries in your carry-on bag.  This way, if your checked luggage is lost or delayed you have something to wear while you wait for your luggage to arrive.  Also, after a 12 -13 hour flight, you might want to brush your teeth, wash your face, and comb your hair.  Just be sure that whatever you carry-on the plane complies with the TSA Liquids Rules.

  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Floss
  • Facial Wipes
  • Foldable Brush
  • Small Lotion/Moisturizing Cream 

Snacks  – But No Fresh Fruit or Meat/Dairy Products 
You will be served meals on the international leg of flight but the quality of airplane food is often not very good. It can be helpful to bring a few snacks with you on the plane to eat during the long flight.  Good options include trail mix, snack bars, and other types of snacks that travel well

Note: For domestic flight legs within the U.S., meals will not be provided but you can usually purchase food/snack boxes with a credit card.  For example, if you fly from Narita to San Francisco, you will have a meal included on this flight as this is the international flight/leg of your itinerary.  But, for your flight from San Francisco to Houston a free meal would not be provided as this is the domestic flight/leg of your itinerary. 

You cannot bring fresh fruit, meat (including beef jerky), or dairy products into the U.S. due to customs rules. You can be fined if you bring fresh fruit into the U.S. or when you return to Japan from the U.S. If you bring any of these items with you on the plane you must eat/drink them before de-planning/arrival abroad. 

The U.S. Transportation Security Authority (TSA) has also enhanced screening for food items that are brought in carry-on luggage through security screening. We do not recommend you bring any spices or powders (include matcha or Japanese tea) in your carry-on bag. You can bring these items into the U.S., but should bring them in your checked luggage. 

Empty Water Bottle for Flight and/or Reusable Tea Thermos

Vending machines are not very convenient in the U.S.  They can be difficult to find, expensive (sometimes up to $5 for a bottle of water), and typically only have soda or water.  There may be a snack (chip and candy) vending machine next to a soda/water vending machine.  There is typically only one vending machine in each building and some buildings won't have any.  Convenience stores are also not common in the U.S. like in Japan, so you need to be prepared. It can also be very, very difficult to find non-sweetened beverages in the U.S. at gas stations, small stores, or even the grocery store.  

Due to this, most U.S. students carry a re-useable water bottle with them every day. They fill these up with free, clean/safe water from water fountains or sinks.  Tap water is safe to drink in the U.S. though the taste of the water may vary depending on where you are in the country. This is because different regions/cities in the U.S. get their tap water from different groundwater sources and therefore, the mineral content (which makes water taste the way it does) can vary from place to place.  You can purchase reusable water bottles that have built in filters to remove most minerals and therefore make the taste better.  Again, all tap water in the U.S. is safe to drink, some people just prefer filtered water for its taste (or lack of thereof).  You can also purchase a larger Brita Water Pitcher to keep in your fridge at the hotel so you can always fill up your water bottle with fresh, ice cold water. 

When traveling, bring an empty water bottle with you in your carry-on and then, after you have past security/immigration, fill this up for free at any water fountain in the airport.  Drinking lots of water (and avoiding caffeinated beverages, salty foods, and alcohol) on the long international help will also help you stay well-hydrated which can be beneficial to prevent swollen legs and lessen jet lag.  

You could also bring a reusable tea thermos to use for this same purpose. In the U.S., most people drink more coffee than they do tea and most offices/workplaces will not have a hot water kettle/thermos.  Instead, you should fill up your thermos with hot water before leaving home and bring loose tea or tea bags with you.  Even if offices/restaurants have tea in the U.S. it is usually black/English tea bags (typically Lipton) and Japanese style green tea or barley/jasmine tea can be difficult to find.  Some labs/offices at Rice University may have a hot water kettle/thermos/heater if they have many Asian students in their group but this is not common. It is more common to find a coffee maker in offices/workplaces in the U.S. and in your hotel room at the hotel there will be a small coffee maker but no hot water kettle.  This is true of all hotel rooms in the U.S., they typically do not provide a hot water kettle/heater – only a small coffee maker.  Instead, you can simply run water through the coffee maker (without adding coffee grounds) or heat up water in the microwave using a microwave-safe glass and transfer this to your thermos. You can also purchase inexpensive hot water kettles or hot pots at home-goods/department stores like Target or Wal-Mart

In general, you should plan to bring 2 weeks worth of clothing to the U.S. for a 4-6 week stay.  You will have access to coin-operated laundry at the hotel and can easily wash/dry clothes as needed. Bring a wardrobe that can be easily mixed and matched.

Freezing Cold Air Conditioning:  Air conditioning is very, very cold in all buildings in the U.S. and on planes.  You should wear/bring a sweater/light jacket/scarf with you at all times as even if it is very hot outside it may be very, very cold indoors. Trust us on this….. it will be much, much colder indoors due to the heavy A/C than you expect. This is true even in winter in Texas!   If you don't come prepared with a sweater/jacket you will be very, very cold indoors in your lab, office/building.  

Casual Attire: Attire in the U.S., particularly on university campuses, is more casual than in Japan.  At Rice University, most students (and often faculty members too) typically wear casual jeans or shorts and a t-shirt/polo shirt/sweater everyday.  Some professors do dress up a bit more but is not very common to see professors wearing a suit unless they are giving a formal seminar/talk and students typically only wear these if they are interviewing for a job.  

After the Poster Session ~ Ayako Mizuno

Dress Attire: You should bring 1-2 nice outfits to wear at the poster session and for any events/activities that may be more formal in nature such as some of our site visits in Washington, DC.  This does not have to be a full-suit.  Rather, it can be a nice pair of pants and a button-down/polo shirt/sweater for mean (with or without tie) and for women a nice pair of pants/skirt and a nice shirt/blouse/sweater. Some students prefer to wear a suit when giving a presentation as it can help make them feel more confident but you do not have to bring a full suit.  

Shoes: Most research labs will require that you wear close-toed shoes when working in the lab.  Sandals and flip-flops are not allowed.  For all other activities/events any type of casual shoe is okay (sneakers, sandals, flip-flops, crocs, etc.).   Dark colored shoes may be more versatile as the can be dressed up or down depending on the outfit you are wearing. Female college students in the U.S. typically only wear heels or dressy shoes if they are going out at night or for a job interview.  

Slippers: In the U.S., we typically do not take our shoes off indoors in offices or labs.  Some people may take their shoes off indoors at home, but not every family does this. Hotels in the U.S. do not provide slippers!  If you prefer to take your shoes inside, you should bring your own pair of slippers.

Workout Clothes/Swimsuits: There is a gym and pool at the hotel that TOMODACHI STEM students stay at and visiting research studnets at Rice University can request access to the Rice University campus gym, pool, and tennis courts.   There is also a very nice walking/running path that goes all around campus and Hermann Park is just across the street from Rice University and has a golf course and running/walking paths.  If you would like to work out or swim, be sure to pack the appropriate clothing and shoes.  

Weather in Houston: Keep in mind that the U.S. uses Fahrenheit for temperatures!

For TOMODACHI STEM Students: Weather in the spring (February – March) in Houston is unpredictable. It may be cold and rainy one day (or in the morning) and hot and humid another day (or that same afternoon). You may have days where you want to wear sandals or other 'summery' shoes and the next day you may need to wear a warm coat and shoes/socks.Plan to pack and dress in layers that you can easily take on/off as needed.  Weather on the East Coast during the final week may be colder than in Houston – but spring is unpredictable and it could also be quite warm too.   Bring a packable down coat as you can wear this on the plane ride to the U.S. and as needed in Houston or the East Coast but can also pack easily in your suitcase if it is not needed.  You may also want a scarf/gloves to wear on the East Coast. 

Be Prepared for Rain! 
It will rain when  you are in Houston. Sometimes, rain in Houston will be very heavy/hard. Be prepared by always bringing an umbrella with you in your backpack/bag.  If you are walking or biking to/from campus you may want to wear a rain poncho or rain jacket to help you (and your backpack) stay dry.  You can purchase Rice University umbrellas at the campus bookstore which make a good (and very useful) souvenir.  It can also be helpful to keep a pair of water-proof/water-resistant shoes at your office/desk at Rice University in case you need to walk across campus to get lunch or coffee when it is raining heavily out. That way you won't have to wear wet shoes/socks for the rest of the day.  

Be Prepared for Sun!
Houston is much closer to the equator than Japan and, therefore, the sun is much stronger/brighter year round.  Most Houstonians wear sunglasses every day when walking or driving outside.   You should bring/purchase sunscreen and use regularly especially when walking or playing sports outside.  Most Americans do not wear sun hats or use sun parasols/umbrellas but you can use these if you would like.  Typically, Americans just use sunscreen and wear sunglasses on a day-to-day basis but if they are playing sports or attending an event outdoors where they will be in the sun a long time (or at the beach/pool) it may be more common to see people wearing hats. This is because, historically, having a tan was sign of good health/beauty in the U.S. whereas in Japan/Asia the beauty ideal (especially for women) is to be as fair skinned/pale as possible. 

Be Prepared for Mosquitos (and Gokiburi!)
Because it does not get very cold in Houston during the winter (it rarely is cold enough to snow) there are mosquitos year-round. Mosquitos are most prevalent in the early morning or evening/night hours but mosquitos can be found all day long outside in Houston.  If you are allergic to mosquito bites or simply wish to prevent bites, wear light-weight long-sleeves and pants (especially in the early morning/evening) and/or use a mosquito repellent when outdoors, especially in parks or other areas with grass, vegetation, or standing water.  

  • Tip: You may want to buy sunscreen with mosquito repellent in Japan prior to departure.  This way, you can be protected from the sun and mosquito bites at the same time. 

Non-poisonous/non-biting cockroaches (ゴキブリ) and ants are also common in Houston year round.  Students should try to keep their hotel rooms/housing/office/desk as clean as possible to not attract bugs indoors.  Do not leave dirty dishes in the sink and wipe down all counters every day.  The janitors at Rice University only collect garbage Monday – Friday in the morning. Do not to throw out any food waste in your indoor office garbage can in the afternoon, evening, or weekend. Instead, throw your food waste away in one of the outdoor garbage cans on campus.  This will help prevent unwanted 'roommates' or 'office mates'. 

Poisonous Bugs in Texas

  • Dangerous Texas Bugs You're Better Off Avoiding (Houston Press) 
  • Fire ants have spread from South America throughout much of the United States and if their mound is disturbed (e.g. you accidentally sit on or walk on a nest when at a park) they will quickly swarm out of the next to attack/bite the 'invader'. Their bite will cause small bumps/blisters and is very painful but it is only dangerous if you are allergic or if you receive many bites.  At Rice University, the landscapers try to kill/remove fire ant mounds as soon as they are found but they build/re-build their nests very quickly.  Before walking/playing/sitting on a grassy area or in a park, look around to see if you spot any sand-like areas/mounds. If you find an area that has fire ants, simply keep looking for a new spot to sit/play further away.   As long as their nest is not disturbed they usually will not bite you. 
  • Wasps/Bees: Wasps are most often found where there is water as they use this to make the mud for their nests.  If you are outdoors at a pool area (e.g. at the hotel), scan the eaves of the roof to see if there is a wasps nest nearby. Bees can also be found year-round in Houston, though they usually only sting if they are disturbed. If you are allergic to wasps/bees be sure that you carry an Epi-Pen with you at all times and that your friends/colleagues know what to do in case you are stung.  
  • Spiders:  Most spiders you will encounter in Houston/the U.S. are not poisonous.  The most common poisonous ones that you may find is the American House Spiders or Daddy-Long Legs or which may be quite big/scary looking but does not bite.  The two most common poisonous spiders in the U.S. are the Black Widow Spider and the Brown Recluse.  These spiders tend to like dark, cool, woody areas such as piles of firewood or outdoor sheds/garages with lots of wood. If you keep your home/garage/back-yard clean you are much less likely to attract these types of spiders. 


You can easily, and inexpensively, buy all types of toiletries and personal care items in the U.S. at pharmacies, grocery stores, or home-goods/department stores like Target or Wal-Mart. However, the brands and formulations of some of these items will be different that what you are accustomed to using in Japan.  Students may want to consider bringing their preferred brands with them from Japan, particularly if their sensitive skin or allergies of any kind. 

You can bring full size bottles of these toiletries/personal care products with you from Japan, but pack in your checked luggage. If you don't use them all up before you leave the U.S., you can throw them away to have extra room in your luggage for omiyage/souvenirs. 

It is also important to know that most hotel rooms in the U.S. only provide one small, travel size bottle of shampoo and conditioners and a small bar of soap and a hair dyer.  Hotel rooms in the U.S. do not provide toothbrushes/toothpaste, combs/brushes, razors/shaving cream, cotton pads, Q-tips/ear buds, or slippers. 

  • Body Soap
  • Shampoo/Conditioner/Hair Products
  • Face Soap/Moisturizer/Face Creams
    • It will be hot and humid so oil-control formulas may be best
  • Make-Up
    • There are lots of great make-up options in the U.S. and even whole stores like Sephora or Ulta that are devoted just to make-up and facial products.  You can also buy inexpensive make-up at stores like Target or Wal-mart, pharmacies, and even grocery store in the U.S. 
  • Anti-perspirant or Deodorant
  • Acne Medication for Face & Body/Back
    • You will sweat more due to the heat and humidity so may break out more
  • Contact Solution for at least 1 – 2 Weeks
    • You can easily buy more contact solution in the U.S. at any grocery store, pharmacy, or Target/Wal-Mart
  • Feminine Hygiene Produces for Women (Tampons/Pads)
    • You can easily buy tampons/pads at any grocery store, pharmacy, or Target/Wal-Mart  in the U.S. but many women may prefer to use their preferred brand/type from Japan. 
  • Birth Control/Condoms/Sexual Heath
    • If there is any chance you may be sexually active while abroad be prepared and stay safe!

You should bring all prescription medication (medication you have been prescribed by a doctor) with you in your carry-on luggage. It can also be helpful to bring a small travel medicine and first-aid kit with you in your checked luggage that contains some of the commonly used over the counter (OTC) medications you might need for minor illnesses or injuries such as colds, allergies, headaches, etc. 

Brand names and dosage levels of medications in the U.S. will be different than in Japan. If you get sick, it will be easier to have the common medicines you are used to taking in Japan with you in your hotel room.   Keep all OTC medication that you bring to the U.S. in its original packaging and pack this in your checked luggage. Some items you may want to consider including in your Medical/First-Aid Kit are: 

  • Headache/Body Ache Medication
  • Cold/Allergy Medication and/or Nasal Sprays
    • Pills may be more convenient to travel with than syrups
    • There are many trees and flowering plants in Houston year round so if you have allergies be sure to bring some medication with you.  
  • Stomach Medicine for both Diarrhea and Constipation
  • Motion Sickness/Altitude Sickness Medication
    • If this applies to you, be sure you are prepared!  You may get motion sickness on airplanes, buses, cars in the U.S.; particularly on freeways which have very high speed limits. 
  • Hand-Sanitizer or Antibiotic Spray/Cream (e.g. Neosporian To Go)
    • This may be difficult to find in Japan but is very common in the U.S. and can be helpful to use on a small cut/scrape/blister to prevent infection or carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with in your purse/backpack to use as needed. 
  • Band-Aids, Gauze, and First-Aid Tape
    • Blister band-aids are  useful to carry in your day bag
    • Larger gauze and tape can be helpful for slightly larger injuries
  • Itch Cream and Mosquito Repellent 
    • Hot and Humid weather with lots of rain = mosquitos!
    • Mosquito repellent wipes are easier to travel with than spray. Less likely to leak in your bag/suitcase.
    • Rash/itch cream may be helpful too as hot + humid weather = heat rash!
  • Nail Clipper/File or Manicure Set
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors 
    • Useful for many things in the U.S. from removing tags from clothing to opening packages. Many items in the U.S. use plastic, clamshell packaging that can be very difficult to open without a scissors. 
  • Duct Tape or Packaging Tape
    • Helpful to make a quick repair to torn luggage/back-pack or other quick fix-it needs. 
  • Small sewing kit
    • These are not commonly provided in hotels in the U.S. 
  • Face/Sickness Masks: These are not commonly worn in the U.S.  They are typically only used by doctors during surgery (in the U.S. they are most commonly known as 'surgical masks') or by patients whose immune systems are compromised due to a life-threatening illness (e.g. cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy).
    • If you like to wear face/sickness masks when you are ill, or have allergies, you should bring these with you from Japan.   However, if you wear sickness/allergy masks out in public in the U.S. you may receive odd looks or very concerned questions about your health because people may assume you are seriously ill.  

Before You Go: Tips from Past Participants

Preparing for Research  

  • "The most important preparation is for the research – read papers and textbooks as much as possible. I think I struggled with this because I started reading scientific papers with material that I wasn’t familiar with; maybe I should have read through a couple easy textbooks first. The kind of preparation that I believe will help you make the most out of this experience is to read and write a lot, be curious, and try to be knowledgeable. These take a long time to achieve, and I am working on it too; in fact, I think that every human being should continue to work on these throughout his/her life. It’s a constant effort, but these will help you ask better questions, gain important knowledge, and thus maximize your experience in the U.S." 
  • "I regret that I did not read review papers seriously in advance. They give you a big picture of the specific research area that your lab is working on. Thus, as least you should read them. Furthermore, you should remember technical terms in your field. I knew the technical terms in biology so I had little trouble as for the scientific communication, but if you do not know, you should memorize them. Otherwise, it will be more difficult for you to conduct a research and to make a poster in English."
  • "I had a difficulty in communicating with using technical terms so I highly recommend you to learn the basic technical terms in your field in English. Before I went to U.S., my professor at Rice sent me article relating to the project. This was the first time to read a full article and it took a lot of time to read through it. After knowing the way to read article my mentor at Rice and my seniors at my university practiced, I found that I took mistakes. I concentrated on reading sentences one by one but they are mainly saw figures to understand articles. They let me know figures are the core of articles."
  • "I wish I had known more about how to contact in English on email. I was sometimes surprised at the English way of sending email because their message was really direct and I was sometimes upset."

While Abroad – Doing Research and Working with your U.S. Research Group 

  • "At Rice University, I didn’t have an opportunity to work with laboratory members other than my mentor. In the Computer Science Department, students work separately in small rooms and I didn’t share one with other students. If you ask your professor if you can also join the weekly meeting of the research group/lab, you may have opportunity to also meet other laboratory members!"
  • Before coming to the U.S., I expected an advisor would give a student a research topic and a student does an experiment and analyzes a result. After coming to the U.S., I found students design a research more spontaneously than I expected. Ph.D. students are responsible for everything they do. I thought it is more like a job than being a student. When I met my lab members for the first time, I was asked about my background by my mentor and a postdoc My mentor asked me whether I liked the topic or not. At that time, I could not understand why he asked me about whether I liked it or not, because I have never been asked my research interests at my home university from older students or professors. So, I imagined that a mentor would decide everything I do along with the research. However, ideally in the U.S. system I had to propose what I wanted to research by myself though I could not achieve that this time. This is my regret, and I realized I should have proposed what I could and was interested in doing in material science, which is not my field. At that time, I did not realize how I could propose the research theme and in which ways I can work the most efficiently in a different field. This might be difference between Japanese and Americans about what attitude is considered as a good student.”
  • “In my research, there were both successful experiments and those which finished as failures. The biggest thing I learned in this program was the importance of perseverance. Even if I cannot reach satisfying result, I will never lose my curiosity toward natural phenomena and the application of it toward the real world.”
  • In my lab, I have also been struggling with my ‘Japaneseness’, particularly my value of wanting/seeking understanding. I thought it was rude to ask questions if I didn’t fully understand it first, but here, it is actually rude not to ask questions. At first, I didn’t understand most of what my mentor was talking about, but I kept listening thinking that I could just take notes about the words I should look at and I could try to understand later. However, in that way, I was wasting the rest of my time in the lab. Since I didn’t understand basic part, it was almost impossible to understand the other parts. As I began to understand that it was actually rude not to ask questions, I decided to ask every question that came to mind. I have been asking so many questions since then, but my mentor looked far from irritated, even looked happy. Therefore, I will keep trying to understand as much as possible by asking questions.”
  • "I think you do not need to bring much from Japan because you can buy almost anything from daily stuffs to food in U.S. In addition, you will buy souvenirs in U.S. so you had better to have some space to your baggage when you leave Japan. In fact, the baggage of the most of members were overweight when we got on the plane to return and we struggled with packing."
  • "I recommend future participants bring business cards, compression socks (to wear on the long plane ride) and leave-in conditioner."
  • "If your luggage is not overweight, I recommend to bring miso soup with you. Miso soup is the one thing that I missed in the U.S."
  • "Bright a packable, light-weight down winter coat and wear this on the plane as it will be very cold on the international flight." 
  • "I found that I don’t have a taste for fat, and that it is better to avoid fatty foods like cheese or meat with a lot of fat. If you have a taste like me, I recommend you look for salads and vegetarian food. They are healthy and tasty, which I didn’t expect before going to the US."
  • "I really enjoyed shopping cosmetic products at Sephora! I bought many mini-size lipsticks and perfumes, which were good omiyage for my friends!"

Before you Go: About Rice University

Rice University As a leading research university with a distinctive commitment to undergraduate education, Rice University aspires to path breaking research, unsurpassed teaching and contributions to the betterment of our world. It seeks to fulfill this mission by cultivating a diverse community of learning and discovery that produces leaders across the spectrum of human endeavor. Rice’s small size allows personal interaction between students and professors, while our eminent faculty fosters the intellectual excitement of a major research university. At Rice, undergraduates and graduate students at all levels participate in cutting-edge research with world-class faculty in the humanities, social sciences, engineering and natural sciences.  Premier architecture and music professors enhance classroom experiences with their exceptional talent and artistry. A Rice education offers personal involvement and excellence in programs that prepare graduates for a changing world; throughout the world. At Rice, we take knowledge seriously. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun, because we do. But in the deepest sense, we understand that only those things taken seriously are really fun. If you like this idea, you will like Rice and the many programs we offer on campus.  When you study or conduct research with Rice, you’ll get more than just a world-class education: The university offers tremendous learning experiences in the classroom and out — across campus, in the city and throughout the world. With more than 3,500 undergraduates and more than 2,800 graduate students, Rice offers the best of both worlds: an exceptional educational experience offered by professors who know your name For more about Rice University, see the following website pages:


Campus Tours


Community Engagement

Art & Music

Campus Life


International Students & Diversity

Other Schools & Programs

School of Engineering & School of Natural Sciences

Before you Go: About Houston

Houston is America’s fourth-largest city and it is a cosmopolitan destination, filled with world-class dining, arts, hotels, shopping and nightlife. Take a stroll through the historic Heights, spend the day exploring the Museum District or head down to Space Center Houston. Later on, grab a bite in one of dozens of award-winning restaurants, or hang out with the cool kids on Washington Avenue. There’s always something to do in this Southern hospitality meets urban chic city. Come explore YOUR Houston!

The city attracts visitors and transplants with a wonderful mix of world-class arts, booming business, pro sports and award-winning cuisine. Not surprisingly, businesses also recognize the allure of Houston’s offerings.  Twenty-five companies on the Fortune 500 list call the Energy Capital of the World home. Aeronautic research is unsurpassed at NASA headquarters—the facility responsible for putting the first man on the moon—and Texas Medical Center remains the largest in the world with 47 highly lauded research and treatment institutions.

The Houston region is now the most diverse area of the U.S., surpassing New York City in 2017.  Many people say that Houston is a “window into the future”.   Census projections have opened a window into the America of 2050, “and it’s Houston today,” said Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University. “This biracial Southern city dominated by white men throughout all of its history has become, by many measures, the single most ethnically diverse major metropolitan area in the country,” Klineberg said. “Who knew Houston would turn out to be at the forefront of what’s happening across all of America?”. Newcomers have long been part of the Houston story, a city of migrants from across the U.S. that later became a city of immigrants — and their children. From 2000 through 2013, the Houston metropolitan area’s immigrant population grew at nearly twice the national rate.

Houston is the fourth most populous city in the nation, and is the largest in the southern U.S. and Texas. The city of Houston has a population of 2.96 million people and the Houston metro area, comprising Harris County, has an overall population of 4.53 million people. For more details see the latest U.S. Census Bureau data tables.

Major sightseeing spots include the NASA Johnson Space Center, San Jacinto Monument, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston Museum of Natural Science and Bayou Bend. Houston also has a Theater District second only to New York City with its concentration of seats in one area, and it is home to the professional sports teams for baseball (Astros), basketball (Rockets), football (Texans) and soccer (Dynamo).

Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other city. We have more than 11,000 restaurants, ranging from award-winning and upscale to memorable deli shops. For more information see the Visit Houston website.

For TOMODACHI STEM Participants:  Click here to view the Houston Scavenger Hunt (Coming in January 2019) 

Education in the U.S.

You will likely have many questions about what education in the U.S. is like, particularly for undergraduates and graduate students. The following websites and resources may be helpful for you to review to learn more about this topic. While you are at Rice University you will learn more about graduate study in the U.S. from Prof. Kono and from a group of Japanese students at Rice University.

Students may also want to review the links below for further information:

U.S. vs. Japanese Education

A key difference between the U.S. and Japan is our academic calendars.  Exact start and end dates vary by school district or university/college but typically U.S. schools run on a semester based system with a long summer break. The typical semester calendar is:

  • Fall Semester: mid-August to mid-December
  • Spring Semester: early-to-mid January to early-to-mid May
  • Summer Break: May, June, July

There are some K-12 schools that use a year-round academic calendar and some universities/colleges are on the quarter system or a trimester system.  Therefore, the exact start and end dates of the school year will vary depending on where you go to school in the U.S. For more, see 'What is the Difference Between Quarters, Trimesters, and Semesters in the U.S.'.

Flexibility: A hallmark of the U.S. educational system is its flexibility and a belief that there is a 'right' or 'best' fit for each individual learner. This means there are many options for education in the U.S. Flexibility and variety are built into the very structure of the educational system as, in the U.S. system, state and local government have primary responsibility for education. This means that the federal government, the Department of Education, does not mandate one curriculum/textbook/teaching style to be used in all schools nationwide.  Instead, textbook/curriculum choices are made at the local level, through the local school board, or at the state level through the 50 state-level Departments of Education.  What, how, and when you study certain topics may vary in different cities and states in the U.S. though, in general, the overall curriculum for each age group is quite similar. 

Student/Parental Choice is a key issues in K-12 education and there are a variety of types of K-12 schools in the U.S. that parents can choose to send their children to.  Some types of schools in the U.S. include the following: 

  • Public Schools: Most common.  Free.  Most commonly funded through a combination of  state funding and local property taxes.  Some limited funding from federal government as, in the U.S. system, state and local government have primary responsibility for education. 
    • Houston Independent School District (The Local Public School District/System) 
    • Since public schools are funded through local/city property taxes, many Americans move to a suburb just outside of a large city, such as Pearland or Sugarland just outside of Houston, as these school districts tend to be smaller, have fewer students, there are more homeowners, and therefore, more property tax revenue that can be used to fund the school. When you buy a house in the U.S. most people want to buy a home in a 'good' school district. This is determined by high school graduation rate, percentage of graduates who go on to college, and class size. 
  • Magnet Schools: In the U.S. education system, magnet schools are public schools with specialized courses or curricula (often in STEM or the arts). "Magnet" refers to how the schools draw students from across the normal boundaries defined by authorities (usually school boards) as school zones that feed into certain schools.
  • Private Schools: Private schools in the United States include parochial schools (affiliated with religious denominations), non-profit independent schools, and for-profit private schools. Private schools charge varying rates depending on geographic location, the school's expenses, and the availability of funding from sources, other than tuition.
  • Charter Schools: Charter schools in the United States offer primary or secondary education without charge to pupils who take state-mandated exams. These charter schools are subject to fewer rules, regulations, and statutes than traditional state schools, but receive less public funding than public schools, typically a fixed amount per pupil. There are both non-profit and for-profit charter schools, and only non-profit charters can receive donations from private sources.
  • Homeschooling: Some parents opt to teach their children at home and this is called homeschooling.The three reasons selected by parents of more than two-thirds of students were concern about the school environment, to provide religious or moral instruction, and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools. Often, parents form homeschool networks to share information and resources such as extracurricular activities and specialized courses students can take in their local area. 

Enrollment in Higher Education: Another key difference between the Japanese and the U.S. system is that students may enroll in higher education at any age. While most Americans  enroll in college immediately after graduation from the 12th grade (about 18-19 years old),  not everyone takes this typical path. Some non-traditional paths for higher education and employment in the U.S. include: 

  • Workforce To University: Some students will begin working immediately after graduating from high school and then, later in life, decide to 'go back to school' and enroll in an college or university.  You can go back to college at any age – from 25 to 35 to 45 to 55 to 65 or older.  Many universities offer part-time enrollment options, evening courses, or online courses to make it easier for students to balance work, family, and educational commitments. Non-traditional students are typically older than the average college student, so they are often called non-traditional students. 
  • Community College: Some students enroll in a 2-year, community college after graduating from high school and receive an Associate's degree upon completion. They can then transfer to a four-year university to complete their Bachelor's degree OR they may find a job. Tuition rates are low at community colleges, so this can be an economical way for students to complete their first two years of a Bachelor's degree before transferring to a four-year university or college. 
  • Military Service: Some students join the military and then go to college after they complete their military service.  If you take this route, most military veterans will qualify for the GI Bill which means the U.S. government will fully pay for their college education.
    • Or, students may opt to enroll in the ROTC program while in college. In return for college scholarships to help pay for their degree, ROTC students commit to joining the military upon graduation for a period of time and typically can enter at a the higher-rank of officer due to having already completed a college degree. . For example, at Rice University there is a Navy ROTC program.   
  • Bachelors Degree –> Workforce –> Master's/PhD:  It is also not uncommon for students to graduate with their four-year bachelor's degree and then begin to work at a company or in industry.  Then, it is possible for you to 'go back to school' to complete your graduate degree at any time.  Some companies even offer funding through tuition reimbursement programs for current employees to pursue graduate degrees; either as part-time or full-time students. Many, but not all, graduate programs offer part-time enrollment options, evening courses, or online courses to make it easier for students to balance work, family, and educational commitments.

Job-Hunting in the U.S.: This flexibility and the ability to move in and out of higher education at any time is very different from the Japanese system, largely due to the impact of job-hunting season and corporate hiring practices that give preference hiring young, recent graduates during a set period of time each year in Japan. 

In the U.S. there is no one 'standard' hiring season and it is easy, and expected, that U.S. workers will change jobs/companies multiple times and at multiple points in their careers. Companies hire workers at all levels (entry-level, mid-level management, and senior executives) and are always accepting applications for available positions. If you want to change jobs to pursue a new opportunity you can easily do this by simply searching for job openings online and submitting your resume and application at any time of the year.  Young employees often work in their first job for a period of between 1 – 3 years and then apply for promotions within the company or new jobs at other companies to 'grow' their careers.  For more see 'How Long Should an Employee Stay at a Job?'.

But How do U.S. Students Find a Job? Undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni may utilize the services of their university career services offices, such as the Rice Center for Career Development, at any time.  It is up to the individual student to identify, apply, and follow-up with the companies/jobs they are most interested in seeking.  So, in the U.S. system, you can apply for and find your first job as a college senior or in your final year of graduate studies or, in some cases, you may graduate without having a job and then can apply freely to any company at any time of the year.  Many undergraduates also apply to so summer internships of between 1 – 3 months with companies the summer after their sophomore (B2) or junior (B3) year.  The hands-on experience they gain working in a company as an intern can be beneficial to their resume and most companies strongly encourage prior interns to apply for open, entry-level positions in their senior (B4) year.  Graduate students may also have the option to do company internships during their summer breaks as well depending on their program requirements and funding.  

Geographical Flexibility & Mobility: This flexibility is also due, in part, to the fact that Americans tend to be highly mobile and are not afraid to move across the state or country for educational and career opportunities at any age. This has an impact on the educational system and hiring practices in the U.S. as well. 

  • Relocating as a K-12 Student: When parents relocate due to job opportunities or other reasons, children enrolled in K-12 will also change schools as well.  Most parents try to relocate during the summer break from mid-May-early August so the move does not impact their children's current school year.  This is not always possible though, so sometime K-12 students must change schools during/in the middle of the academic year.  This can be challenging, but does regularly occur, so most teachers and schools have programs in place to help new students adjust. 
  • Relocating as a University Student: Many, but not all, American students will apply to universities and colleges in other towns or states in the U.S. Some students choose to apply to a university in a town/state that they have always wanted to live in or in a region of the U.S. where they believe there will be better job opportunities after their graduate.  
  • Relocating as a Graduate Student:  In the U.S. system, it is not common or recommended for students to stay at the same university for graduate school.  Instead, students in their senior (B4) year who want to go to graduate school will apply to the specific Master's or PhD programs they are interested in at universities nationwide.  For more, see the section on Applying to Graduate School in the U.S.
  • Relocating for Career Opportunities: Recent graduates or workers in the U.S. system may apply for any job they are interested in at any time, and in any location.  Relocating for a new job is very common in the U.S. and, over their lifetime, most American workers will have had a number of different jobs, at different companies, and often in different locations throughout the U.S. If one spouse relocates for a new job, typically, the entire family will relocate with them with the other spouse finding a new job and any children enrolling in new schools.  It is not very common for the mother and children to stay in one town and the father to work in a different city or state in the U.S.  This is partially due to geography as traveling across a state in the U.S. or between states in the U.S. can be time-consuming and very expensive. 
  • Relocating to 'Move Home' or Be Closer to Family: However, location is often a highly significant factor in decisions Americans make about where to go to school or what jobs to apply to.  How important location is may vary at different stages in your life.  Many (but not all) young Americans move away from home to attend college or their first job. Many (but not all) Americans will then want to move back home or move to be closer to family in their late 20s/early 30s when they start having children or in their 40s/50s if they need to care for elderly relatives. Even during retirement age (60s/70s) many Americans still move. This is often to be closer to their adult children and grandchildren even if this is not in their hometown or home state or to live in a retirement community/location of their personal preference (e.g. 'Snowbirds' who live in Minnesota in the summer but may have a condo in Arizona or Florida in the winter).  

Geographical mobility is a key aspect of the flexibility you find in the U.S. educational system and career planning and many Americans will work a variety of jobs in a variety of locations throughout their lives. Some Americans study and work away from their 'hometown' or 'home state' their entire lives and others move away from 'home' for a period of time, but may seek to return 'home' at a certain point in their life.  

Higher education in the United States is an optional final stage of formal learning following secondary education, often at one of the 4,495 colleges or universities and community colleges in the country. Students traditionally apply for admission into colleges individually, there is no university entrance exam. Schools differ in their competitiveness and reputation. Admissions criteria involve the rigor and grades earned in high school courses taken, the students’ GPA, class ranking, and standardized test scores (such as the SAT or the ACT tests). Most colleges also consider more subjective factors such as a commitment to extracurricular activities, a personal essay, and an interview. While colleges will rarely list that they require a certain standardized test score, class ranking, or GPA for admission, each college usually has a rough threshold below which admission is unlikely.

All 4-year universities in the U.S. have in common is the foundational belief that a bachelor’s degree should provide students with a well-rounded education that enables them to not only take coursework in their chosen major/subject area (such as engineering) but also requires them to take liberal studies/general education coursework in subjects like history, social sciences, humanities, etc. to provide them with a broad understanding of education and learning overall.

Students have a great deal of flexibility and independence in choose their  major and courses at the undergraduate level and it is not uncommon for students to double-major.  For example, an Electrical Engineering major might also have a second major in Business, Asian Studies, Economics, or another field that is of personal interest to them and aligns with their future goals.

Then, as you progress through master’s towards your Ph.D. your scope of study/focus becomes narrower towards the research topic that is of greatest interest to you.  Therefore, most PhD students would not take coursework outside of their required degree coursework but undergraduates can take classes in any department/field that they are interested in.

In the U.S. there are many different type of institutions of higher education from 2-year or community colleges, to liberal arts colleges, to research intensive universities with more than 4,726 degree-granting institutions for students to choose from.  For a helpful overview, see Education USA’s Understanding Higher Education in the U.S. 

Public vs. Private Colleges & Universities in the U.S.: The United States has a wide variety of institutions that provide higher education. There are so many options that it can be very overwhelming for international students to understand the different choices. One of the more common questions asked by international students is what is the difference between a public and private university?

A public university, also commonly called a state university, is funded by the public through the government of that state. For example, the University of Texas, Austin is a public university and is funded by the state of Texas. Every state in the USA has a public university or college. A private university is not funded or operated by the government. For example, Rice University is not funded by the state of Texas, but is partially funded by endowments which are given by private donors. Every state in the USA has private universities or colleges. Public vs. private just denotes how they are funded.  It does not imply any difference in quality or academic rigor.  

Liberal Arts vs. Research Intensive Universities: At the undergraduate level there are two broad categories of types of 4-year institutions, liberal arts colleges vs. research intensive universities.

  • Types of Universities in the US
  • Liberal Arts College or Research University
  • 6 Key Differences Between Liberal Arts & Research Universities 
  • Liberal arts colleges tend to be:
    • Be smaller than research universities.
    • Ratio of faculty-to-student is generally low.
    • Tend to focus on a well-rounded general education.
  • Research universities tend to be:
    • Large schools dedicated to education and producing knowledge through the research that professors conduct.
    • Courses are offered in both large lectures and seminars.
    • In addition to teaching, professors also conduct their own research and teach and mentor their advanced-degree students.
    • smaller and only offer bachelor’s degrees (perhaps a few master’s) and the faculty and students focus most of their time on teaching and classroom based learning. 
  • Combined 3+2 Engineering Programs: Students may even combine degrees between two types of schools in the U.S. system, typically called a 3+2 program.  For example, a student could receive a Bachelor's of Arts (B.A.) degree in Asian Studies at a liberal arts school in 3 years and then transfer to a research university for their last 2 years of study to receive a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in an engineering field. Though it will take these students a total of 5 years to graduate, instead of the typical 4, at the end of that time period they will have completed two degrees from two different universities.  
  • Similarities and Cross-Overs: However, these categories do have significant cross-over and there is great variance depending on the specific university you enroll in and the program you enroll in at that school. For example:
    • Rice University is a research university but it is a small university similar in size to many liberal arts colleges with a very low 6:1 ratio of students to faculty and enrollment of just 3,910 undergraduates and 2,809 graduate students. 
    • Many liberal arts school also offer some research opportunities to their students.  These may be with faculty at that liberal arts school or in research labs of nearby/partner universities.  
    • All universities in the U.S., including research universities, offer a wide array of classes and programs in the liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, and other fields  This is because, in the U.S. system, even if you are majoring in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Rice University (a research university) you still have to take about 2 years of general studies/liberal arts classes in other fields.  This is because, within the U.S. system, we place a high value on students receiving a 'well-rounded' college education where they can learn to make connections between different disciplines (interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration).  For example, at Rice University, students must, in addition to the required courses in their major, meet the following: 

University Rankings: The U.S. government does not provide any official ranking of universities.  However, there are many other national and global ranking systems and U.S. universities do value these as one way to attract good students.

For High School Students Applying to College: University rankings can be helpful for U.S. high school students when they are deciding which universities to apply to.  See section below on Applying to College for more information. 

For Graduate Students: At the master's and PhD level, it is more important to look at the rankings and research strengths of the specific academic department or program you are interested in rather than the university overall.  This is because, at the graduate level, you apply for admission at the academic department/program level not to the university. 

  • For example, Rice University is ranked No. 14 among the best national universities in the 2018 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” guidebook. This ranking is just comparing Rice University to other U.S. institutions.  In addition, four academic subjects at Rice University were ranked among the top 100 worldwide in the 2018 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Global Universities.” Physics is No. 26, materials science is No. 29, chemistry is tied for No. 48 and mathematics is No. 89. This ranking is comparing specific academic programs at Rice University to other academic programs worldwide.
  • In 2018, U.S. News and World Reports ranked Rice University's graduate programs in Engineering #29 nationwide.  Within specific graduate degree programs,  the Bioengineering graduate program is ranked #9 nationwide, Physics is #26 nationwide, and Atomic/Molecular/Optical Physics is #10 nationwide. Therefore, you see that each individual graduate program, and even specializations within the same program, may vary in rank.  When applying for graduate school, it is the research topics/projects offered by that specific program, the professors you can work with, and that program's standing in your preferred research field that matters more than any overall, university ranking.

Exam Based Admission vs. Application Packets: One key difference in the U.S. is that to there is no formal/standardized university exam system like there is in Japan, China, and many other countries in Asia. Instead, high-school students typically in their senior (B4) year and their parents research which universities and colleges they believe would be good fits for them and send 7 – 10 (or sometimes more) applications to the individual colleges they are interested in. As part of their application they are typically asked to submit:

  • Personal Statement
  • Resume
  • SAT or ACT Test Scores
  • Transcripts
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Supplemental Essays
  • Portfolio of Past Work
  • Interview (not always required)
  • Financial Aid Paperwork/FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Students will typically submit their application packets in early to mid fall and will receive admissions decisions letters sometime in mid-spring.  At the undergraduate level, applications are reviewed by university admissions offices and they do not admit students by test scores or grades alone. Rather, they look at the 'whole picture' of the student's application packet and try to select students that will help comprise a diverse and representative student body.  Everything in your application packet matters and high school students often spend a lot of time focused on not only getting good grades but also are involved in many student clubs, organizations, and volunteer activities to make their resume 'stand out' from the other college applicants.  Even if you have a 4.0 (straight A's) and perfect ACT or SAT scores you may still not be accepted to all of the colleges you apply to.  Therefore, most students will choose to apply to a range of 7 – 10 schools with some being schools they are confident they will be accepted to and others being their stretch/reach school/s that are very competitive and that no matter how excellent your application is you may still not be accepted.

For more on applying to college in the U.S. see: 

With so many choices and variety of types of schools and programs how do U.S. students decide where to apply for their undergraduate degree?  

  • Applying to Top Ranked Schools:  Regardless of whether they are public or private, most good students will want to apply to a range of schools including some that are top-ranked universities. Some may be nearby, some may be across the country in another state. Americans, in general, are not afraid to move long distances for good opportunities – including higher education even though they may only be 18 at the time of enrollment. Students and parents often consult the U.S. News and World Reports rankings to help them research various universities and programs at institutions nationwide.  Some information in these reports is free, for others you have to pay a premium or subscription fee.
  • Applying to Nearby Schools You Know Well:  There are colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and often students will apply to a couple of schools in their home state or near their hometown.  These may be a mix of public or private universities. Some students prefer to attend a university in their home state or near their home town to remain close to family/friends but other U.S. students will apply and want to attend a university in a different state/region of the country. It varies by personal preference.
  • Applying to In-State Public Universities: Most students will apply to at least 1 public university in their home state as, if accepted, they will then qualify for discounted, in-state tuition. This is because part of the funding for public schools comes from state tax revenues and, if your parents have been living in that state and paying taxes there, then you will qualify for a discounted tuition rate.  'Out of State' applicants from other states will not qualify for the 'in-state tuition' rate if, for example they live in Texas but apply to a public university in California.
    • Some public universities also grant 'in-state tuition' status to international degree-seeking students. Check with the individual schools you are applying to so you can determine what tuition rate is charged for international, degree-seeking students.
  • Applying to Reciprocity Public Universities: Most states have consortium agreements that allow students from nearby states to enroll and pay a reduced tuition rate.  This is typically called reciprocity and, for example, Minnesota public universities have reciprocity agreements with Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota. It also has an agreement with the Canadian province of Manitoba, and a limited agreement with Iowa Lakes Community College in northwestern Iowa.  So, when applying to public universities students often consider applying to public schools in neighboring states as well as in their home-state.
  • High-School Counselors and Teachers:  High school counselors and teachers often play a vital role in not only encouraging students to apply to college but giving them advice/guidance of the types of schools/programs they may be interested in.
  • Campus Visits:  Many students and parents also visit a number of college and university campus in the summer following their junior (B3) year.  During these campus visits they tour the university, learn more about the financial aid process, and often have the opportunity to speak with professors or other students in the academic fields that they are interested in. If they play sports or are involved in a student club/activity they may also want to learn more about opportunities to continue to pursue those activities while in college.
  • Quality of Life: Since U.S. students typically apply to between 7 – 10 (or more) schools they can, theoretically, receive many offers of admissions and then have to choose which one is 'best'.  Sometimes, this is an easy decision to make based on cost/ranking/academics but often the top students must make difficult choices between admissions offers to many top schools.  Quality of life often is one key factor that students weigh when deciding where to go to school. Not just which university or program is best but where will I be happiest?  Which schools offer a diverse campus where there are other students like me? Where I will enjoy living? Which schools provide specialized opportunities such as study/research abroad, internships, or other activities/program that might help my long-term goals? Universities in the U.S. often try to develop attractive campus, dormitories, gyms and other amenities that highlight the 'quality of life' students who attend that university may have.  There are even special ranking systems based on student happiness, diversity, and other quality of life factors.

Other Resources on Applying to College

Competition: Applying to university in the U.S. is a competitive process and there is no exact science that will guarantee admission to a specific university or college.  High-school students must work hard to prepare a high-quality application packet that is customized to each school they are applying to.  They must research those schools and consider which ones will be a 'good fit' in terms of their academics, location, cost, and other factors.   Some parents even pay outside companies/consultants to help their children prepare their college application essays, supporting documents, and provide advice on specific schools. 

Universities also compete with each other to admit their top choice students.  Since students apply to multiple schools, and may have admissions offers from a competing university, schools have to develop attractive financial aid/award packages to their top candidates to ensure those students will choose to come to there.  This is also why universities and colleges invest a lot in Quality of Life factors (see below).

However, this competitive system can also privilege those with the financial means to be able to afford to send their children to better high schools (either by paying for private school or moving to a city/town with a good school district) and who can afford to pay for supplemental tutoring, standardized test prep for the SAT or ACT, and for consulting companies to assist with preparing university application packets.  Students who are economically disadvantaged may not have access to the same resources to help them through the college application process.  This has led universities to develop bridge programs and K-12 outreach programs to help middle and high school students from economically disadvantaged areas learn about college and how to apply.  For example, at Rice University these programs include a range of student programs under our K-12 Initiatives project, other outreach programs, R-STEM Programs for Students, and some student clubs/organizations that provide tutoring or college application/preparation workshops for students in the Houston community.  

Financial Aid: How to pay for college is a top concern for most students and parents.  In short, attending college in the U.S. is very expensive and the cost of attendance continues to rise each year. In the U.S., all citizens are eligible to apply for the FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  This will determine if, based on your expected family contribution, you qualify for any federal grant or loan based aid.  Students will also submit financial aid paperwork to the universities they apply for and institutions may award supplemental scholarships, grants, work-study, or loans to off-set the cost of attendance.  Students and parents may also apply for private education loans from banks if they still need additional funding after applying any federal or university funds.  Students will also often apply to external scholarships from foundations, agencies, and other organizations.

Students often think attending a public university will be cheaper, particularly if they live in that state and can pay discounted 'in-state' tuition. However, sometimes it may be cheaper for students to attend a private university that has a large endowment and that can offer more institutional financial aid to incoming students. 

For example, at Rice University admitted undergraduate students whose family/parental income is below $80,000/year receive full funding through a combination of grants, work study, merit aid (if qualified) and institutional funds. They will not be required to take out any loans to pay for their cost of attendance. Therefore, it can be advantageous for students to apply to a mix of public and private universities and compare the actual cost of attendance in the spring once they receive their admissions letters and institutional financial aid packages.

Graduate Students:  For more on funding for graduate school, see our Graduate Student Resources section. 

International Students: Financial aid available for degree-seeking international undergraduate students will vary by university and students should consult the financial aid office of the individual school/s they are applying to.  For example, at Rice University limited financial aid is offered to degree-seeking international undergraduate students.

Majors/Field of Study: When you are accepted into a U.S. university you are not admitted into a specific program as a freshman (B1) student based on your admission exam scores.  Rather, you indicate in your application which major/field you are most interested in but U.S. university students do not official declare their major typically until the spring semester of their sophomore (B2) year.  This means that during their first two years of undergraduate study students take a variety of introductory level classes in fields that they are curious/interested in. Then, based on which classes they feel are the best fit they will then 'declare their major' but they can 'change majors' at any time.  However, changing majors after your sophomore (B2) year will likely extend the amount of time it takes to complete your undergraduate degree.

Double Majors/Minors: In the U.S. it is not uncommon for students to double (or even triple) major or add minors to their degree.  For example, at Rice University a student may be majoring in Electrical & Computer Engineering and have a double-major in Asian Studies with a minor in International Business.  Adding double majors/minors to your degree requires that students be highly organized and ensure that they meet the minimum credit and course requirements for each program.

Academic Advising:  Due to its flexibility and wide array of course choices, the U.S. system can be confusing for undergraduate students to navigate. What classes should I enroll in?  What order should I take my classes in?  How can I add a minor or double majors?  What if I want to change majors? How can I transfer schools?   To answer these questions, universities have developed a robust series of offices and faculty/staff that serve as academic advisors and mentors to students.  For example, at Rice University, these offices include: 

Visiting researchers from Japan are often a bit surprised at the large number of international students at universities in the U.S. In particular, many science & engineering graduate programs in the U.S. have high numbers of international students compared to the numbers of American students enrolled in their programs.

At Rice University, the Office of International Students and Scholars puts out an annual International Statistics report that may be interesting to review. If you are interested in nationwide numbers, see the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors Report which highlights data on international students in the U.S. and the numbers of American students studying abroad. In Japan, MEXT reports on the numbers of Japanese students studying abroad annually as well.

You may also want to read the Institute of International Education’s 2015 report on “What international students think about U.S. higher education.” You can download this report for free online.

How many Japanese students are there at Rice University?

  • Overall, the population of Japanese students at Rice is quite small in comparison with students from India, China, or South Korea.  But, because Rice is a small university, it is easy for most Japanese students on campus to meet and get to know each other along with Japanese faculty and staff members too.  There tend to be more Japanese students at universities on the West Coast and East Coast, but the population at Rice is growing.  There are also increasing numbers of Japanese students coming to Rice as short-term visiting research students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. We hope the numbers of degree-seeking Japanese students at Rice will continue to grow too.  For more on the international student population at Rice see the most recent annual report from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS).

What about American students studying abroad?  How many and why do they go overseas when the U.S. has such great opportunities for students at home?

American students study abroad for a number of reasons.  First, many believe it is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and they may have always dreamed of living in Japan, for example, since they were a young child and first watched anime.  Second, many students believe it will provide them with language and intercultural communication skills that will make their resume more competitive and attractive to future employers.  For more on alumni impact of study abroad see this new study released by IES, a study abroad program provider. American students also study abroad because they want to gain fluency in a language or want to study a language that is not offered by their home university.

However, it is important to realize that only a very small percentage of U.S. students do in fact study abroad, currently about 10% of U.S. graduates overall. At some universities the percentage of students who study abroad is higher, but overall it is similar to Japan where only a few students choose to spend a summer, semester or academic year abroad as undergraduates.

All U.S. universities will have an International Student office whose role is to oversee the immigration/visa status of all international students and employees at the university.  Typically, they focus on working with students at the undergraduate and graduate level though they may work with post-doctoral researchers as well.

In addition to advising students on staying in compliance with the rules of their U.S. visa, the international student's office will usually offer programming designed to assist international students with integration into U.S. university life.  Most international students form close relationships with advisors in their international student office and these advisors can be excellent people to turn to for questions that you may be uncomfortable asking your professor or advisor.  They are accustomed to getting questions on a wide array of topics from visa questions to academic to personal to questions about U.S. culture/society – feel free to ask them anything! If they don't know the answer they will likely direct you to the best person or office on campus to ask.

For example, Rice's Office of International Students and Scholars offers free English conversation classes, programs for international spouses, and International Culture Night, and cultural programming for students including visits to NASA, museums, and sporting events in and around Houston.

English Language Resources

Food in the U.S.

Medical Resources in the U.S.

See also the section on Health Insurance under the Before you Go: Pre-Departure Steps section of this page. 

The U.S. has a tiered medical healthcare system and whether you go to a doctor’s office, urgent care clinic, or hospital will depend on the severity of your symptoms or illness. This is because the cost of medical care/treatment varies with hospital emergency rooms being most expensive. Visiting student researchers are not eligible to use the Rice University Health Clinic on campus as that is only open to degree-seeking students. Instead, for most minor illnesses visiting student researchers should visit an urgent care clinic or clinic in a pharmacy/store.

For TOMODACHI STEM Participants: Upon arrival at Rice University, students will be given a list of the nearest clinics to campus that would be convenient to visit and are included as ‘in-network’ on your health insurance plan to use in case of illness. If you become ill and need to see a doctor, call program staff immediately and we will attempt to arrange for someone to go with you to the appointment.

Clinics in Pharmacies (CVS or Walgreen's):  Some pharmacies in the U.S. offer small medical clinics that do not require an appointment and typically offer fast service for minor illnesses. Hours vary by location but they are typically open Monday – Sunday.

Urgent or Express Care Clinics:  Some medical centers offer urgent care or express care clinics for treatment of minor to intermediate medical issues without an appointment.  Urgent care clinics triage medical care, meaning if someone with a more serious illness or injury comes in after you they will be treated first and you will need to wait.  Depending on the clinic and day/time the wait can be quite short (~20 minutes) or much longer (up to a few hours).  The wait time will be much shorter for minor/regular illness or medical care than it would be in a hospital emergency room. Hours vary by location but many are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Doctor's Office: If you have an on-going medical condition or need to see a specific type of doctor you will need to make an appointment and find a doctor that is accepting new patients. Doctor's offices are typically only open from 9:00 – 5:00 PM, Monday – Friday. If the doctor's office does not accept your insurance plan they will likely refer you to a different doctor. Look up the list of in-network doctors on your insurance plan website or call your insurance company to ask for a referral to a doctor in your local area.

Hospital Emergency Rooms (ERs): ERs should be use for life-threatening emergencies only.  ERs triage medical care with those who have the most serious illness or injury being treated first. If you go to an ER for a non-life threatening emergency, such as a sprained ankle or the flu, you will be put at the bottom of the list and will have to wait for many hours, perhaps even a full day, before you are treated.  ERs are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you visit a doctor and they have prescribed special, prescription medication that you need to take you will usually be given a piece of paper that you will need to take to a pharmacy and give at the counter. When you drop off/pick-up your prescription you should also give your health insurance card at the counter.  They will then 'run' your insurance to see how much of the medication cost your insurance will pay and tell you what the balance is that you will need to pay individually.   

Sometimes, the doctor's office may be able to 'call in' your prescription to your preferred pharmacy for you. They then electronically transfer your prescription request to the store and you don't have to bring in the written form as the doctor has already 'called it in'.  If they offer to 'call in' your prescription the nearest pharmacies to the hotel would be: 

  • Kroger grocery store pharmacy at 7747 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77030 
  • CVS pharmacy at 7900 S Main St, Houston, TX 77030
  • Target pharmacy at 8500 S Main St, Houston, TX 77025 

If you need a refill of your medication, you would visit the same pharmacy to request another bottle if the doctor has prescribed more than the original bottle/number of pills you were dispensed. 

RX Medication & Health Insurance: Not all health insurance plans in the U.S. provide coverage for prescription medication and the amount of the cost that your insurance will pay varies for each medication.  You may need to pay the full cost of the medication up-front/individually and then file a claim for reimbursement from your insurance company.  Be sure you understand how your health insurance plan handles prescription medication.  

Most general medicine for minor aches and illnesses can be purchased without a doctor's prescription at grocery stores, pharmacies, or home good/department stores like Target or Wal-Mart in the U.S.  These medications are commonly called Over the Counter (OTC) medications as you do not need to see a doctor or get a written prescription to purchase. This includes medicine for headaches, fevers, muscle aches, cold, allergies, diarrhea, constipation, and other minor illnesses. You can also purchase band-aids, antibiotic ointment, and many other necessary first-aid supplies.  

U.S. vs. Japanese Brand Names: Brand names, dosages, and instructions on how to take this medication will be different from the medication you are used to taking in Japan. When you are sick, it can be difficult to know what type of medication you should buy and you may not feel like going to the store to buy medicine. Instead, plan to bring your own first-aid kit with you to the U.S. with your favorite/commonly used Japanese medicines.  That way, if you feel ill you can simply go back to your hotel room to take your headache pill or cold medicine rather than having to figure out which American brand to buy.  

No Powder OTC Medication: One difference is that most medications in the U.S. are sold as either syrups/liquids or in pill form that you will swallow with water.  You will not find many cold/allergy medications in the U.S. in powder form and that you add to hot water/tea.  If you don't like to swallow pills or liquid/syrup medicine, bring your preferred cold/allergy medications with you from Japan. 

Travel Medicine/First-Aid Kit:  See the Before You Go: Pre-Departure Resources section of this page for tips on what common medication and first-aid supplies you may want to bring with you from Japan in a small, travel first-aid kit.  This way, if you are sick, you can easily take the medication you are most used to. 

Cold/Allergy Medication with Pseudo-ephedrine: There are some medications in the U.S. that can legally be purchased/used for their listed/prescribed medical purpose only.  However, they have the potential to be used illegally as well; usually by extracting one of their ingredients to use to make a different illegal substance. For these types of medication, special databases have been created that stores are legally required to use to track who is purchasing these types of medications and in what quantities.  If someone is flagged in the system for purchasing too much of this medication then the pharmacy/store may refuse to sell more to that customer or may give that customers name/information to law enforcement.  

The most common situation where you will find this is if you purchase a medication that contains the ingredient pseudoephedrine.  For example, the allergy medication Sudafed or some other cold medications.  This ingredient is a very effective decongestant and is legal and commonly available in the U.S.  However, pseudoephedrine is also an ingredient that can be used to make some illegal drugs/substances.  To prevent people from buying or stealing Sudafed with this ingredient to use to make illegal drugs, the actual boxes of medication are kept behind the counter and there may be limits on how many boxes you can buy.  Typically, there will be a paper slip that you take from the aisle and you show this at the pharmacy counter to purchase your medication.  This is still considered an Over the Counter (OTC) medication as you do not need a doctor's prescription/note to purchase it in limited quantities.  

However, in Japan, pseudoephderine and some other common medications in the U.S. are illegal substances! If you purchase allergy/cold medication from a pharmacy/store in the U.S. that was stored 'behind the counter' this means it likely contains pseduoephdrine and you should not bring this medication back with you to Japan. See Importing or Bringing Medication into Japan for Personal Use for an overview of which common OTC/Prescription medications you can obtain in the U.S. that you should not bring back with you to Japan. You can also buy allergy/cold medications that do not contain this ingredient.  These boxes will be out on the store shelves and you can just take directly to the register to purchase.

Click here to download a PDF Medical Vocabulary sheet in Japanese and English. If you need to see a doctor, it may be helpful to bring a printed copy of this sheet with you to be sure you clearly describe your medical condition/issue.  

Other Topics: Daily Life in the U.S.