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One of the first important decisions any new international student to an American university faces is regarding housing. While all the University locations have adequate housing to accommodate ever increasing student population, the quality of apartments varies drastically.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while searching for an apartment to rent for the duration of your studies.
Don't commit till you inspect: The internet makes it possible for students in India to shop around and sign up for rent apartments here before they even board the flight. The rule about quality of any information you find on the internet applies in this case as well. So take it with a pinch of salt and do not get into contracts that you will regret as soon as you land and see the place in person.
While renting an apartment remotely might appear as a good way of planning ahead, almost all the universities have India Associations that provide temporary accommodations to new students for few days while they find a place for themselves.
Use that service or stick around for the first couple of days with kind-hearted seniors whom you have met on networking websites and visit the different apartments in person before signing up.
Cheap will be cheap: Money is foremost in the mind of new students, especially if they have student loans to worry about. So it is natural that they are attracted to the cheaper apartments in the market. But cheaper invariably means lower quality.
While it may be true that some of the costlier places might be overpriced for what they have to offer, the reverse is never true. Cheaper apartments definitely mean lesser amenities, unreliable maintenance, older construction and another set of problems. This doesn't mean these are unworthy of living in since strict inspections from the cities are enforced. But shelling out a few more dollars could get you substantially better quality.
Opinions matter: Before signing a lease for an apartment that appeals to you, it is a good idea to listen to what others who have experienced the place have to say. Here the internet comes in handy. Running a dearch on the prospective apartments' name along with words like "sucks", "bad", "horrible" and anything else you can imagine can bring up interesting results!
Also, you will surely find a lot of "seniors" from India who are more than willing to give you their expert opinions freely. Listen with an open mind but decide with a sharp one.
Safety first: It is very important to find out whether the neighbourhood you plan to live in is safe. Make sure the area is adequately populated.
Go for places with reputed management. Ensure ample street lighting. This is important if you are looking for a place closer to campus which you can walk or bike (meaning bicycle) to instead of driving.
Many students get attracted to apartments that are closest to campus. Staying in those could blur the home and workplace boundaries. It becomes very easy to think about going home while at work and going to school while at home.
For some this may lead to time management issues. Keeping some distance between apartment and department helps you plan your work hours better at school and relax better at home.
Ambience: All the university towns have "little Indias" which are apartments almost completely rented by Indian students. While it might look like the safest thing to do, the downside must be kept in mind. Education is the fundamental reason (at least on paper) you have come abroad. "Little Indias" tend to be crowded places with "friends" dropping in to visit you almost round the clock.If you are the type who needs a little privacy and quiet to concentrate on your work, this may not work for you.
Secondly, one of the greatest experiences from an international university is getting a global feel and exposure. However patriotic you are, graduating without making a single friend from another country does not bode well in a world where careers mostly involve multinational companies. It is advisable to choose apartments which have a fairly diverse tenant population.
Noise pollution can be a problem even if the apartment has reasonable sound insulation. Avoid renting apartments too close to main roads, railway tracks, power plants or construction sites.
The contract: The lease is a legal contract. And the rule of law is one of the fundamental pillars of a developed country. It is absolutely important that you read and understand all of it before signing up.
Pay special attention to clauses about terminating the lease. Find out what are the steps necessary to end the lease and how much it will cost you to break it before the duration (usually 9 or 12 months).
If you are not sure about your decision, it is better to sign up for a month-to-month lease. It might cost a bit more but it will work out a lot cheaper than trying to wriggle out of a 12-month lease after only two months.
If the apartments are good quality, then you might be able to find someone to sublease it to which makes getting out easier. Enquire about the maintenance policies, regular pest control, emergency contact numbers etc.
Amenities: Try renting apartments that are relatively new. Make sure that the air conditioning, refrigerator, microwave, smoke alarms, washer-dryer and other facilities are all working fine.
Ask for new carpeting or at least get it steam cleaned especially if you are in a location with hot and wet climate.
Windows that open are rather important. Masala-based cooking can be overwhelming otherwise. Also closets with doors are necessary so that the cooking aroma doesn't permanently settle on the clothes leading to the noticeable "Indian smell" next time you walk into a classroom or job interview.
Sharing: At least during the first few months, you will invariably share your apartment. It is good to have company while you get a hang of the place. It also reduces the cost of living.
However roommate problems are the greatest reason why people want to break their lease. The incredibly complex problem of choosing roomies truly deserves a separate article�next week.
Thw writer is a student at Texas A&M University, USA.
Have you studied abroad? Do you have advice for students heading abroad? Helpful tips on how to tackle the visa interview or applications process? Did you encounter unexpected roadblocks when you applied to a foreign university but managed to overcome them? Are there paperwork issues that students should know about but don't? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with your advice and we'll publish your tips right here on rediff.com.
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