Life in the U.S.

Alcohol and Smoking in the U.S.
Alumni Profiles
Bicycles in Houston
Business Culture in the U.S. vs. Japan
Cell Phones in the U.S.
Clothing in the U.S.
Driving and Pedestrians in the U.S.
English Language Resources
Etiquette in the U.S.
Exercise in the U.S.
Fondren Library
Houston Resources for Visitors
International Students in the U.S.
Japanese Associations
Japanese Embassies & Consulates in the U.S.
Money and Credit Card
Public Transportation in Houston
Recycling and Trash in the U.S.
Safety in Houston & the U.S.
Small Talk, Friendliness and Optimism in the U.S.
Staying Health in the U.S
Student Clubs & Organizations at Rice
Student ID Card & Discounts
Stereotypes of the U.S.
Sun Protection in Houston
Time Difference
Weather in the U.S.
Wi-fi in the U.S.

Alcohol and Smoking in the U.S.

The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21.  Students who are under 21 may not, for any reason, drink or consume alcohol in the U.S.  Even if you did not buy the alcohol, if you are drinking alcohol and you are under the age of 21 you will be committing a crime and could receive a citation or fine. If you are 21 or older and bought alcohol that you knowingly gave to your friend who is under 21 you could be committing and even more serious crime. For more on this see “Why not to mess with under 21’s in America”. If you are 21 or older, you will need to show official ID to purchase alcohol at any bar, restaurant, or store.  The only official ID accepted is your passport or a U.S. driver’s license.

General rule: If you are under the age of 21 you should not be drinking alcohol in the U.S.; this is illegal.  If you are 21 or older, you can legally drink alcohol but will need to show your passport in order to purchase it and you should never purchase or provide alcohol to someone who you know is under 21.

Purchasing Alcohol at a Grocery Store:  Each state has different rules regarding when and where you can purchase alcoholic beverages.  In Texas, you can purchase beer or wine at a grocery store but must be 21 or older and must show your passport as ID.  Beer is typically sold in a six-pack or 12-pack carton and you usually cannot purchase single cans. You should not separate one cane from the six-pack or 12-pack carton/container it is sold in.  At some convenience stores (gas stations) you may be able to purchase a single can of beer.  Hard liquor (e.g. vodka, whiskey, etc.) can only be purchased at liquor stores in Texas.

If you visit other states, the rules on when and where to purchase alcohol may be different.

Safety Tips: When we have been consuming alcohol, we are more likely to make poor decisions or take risks that we would not take when sober.  Some common safety tips to keep in mind if you are drinking include:

  • Not everyone in America drinks and you should never feel like you must drink.  If you are at a party or restaurant and don’t want to drink an alcoholic beverage it is fine to ask for a soda, water, tea, or juice.
  • When in a new place or with people you do not know well, it is best to only have a few drinks and not become drunk.
  • Do not go out or drink alone. Employ the buddy system/friend system which means you should always go with at least one trusted friend and you should make sure your friend/s gets home safely and never leave him/her alone if they have been drinking.
  • If driving, there should always be a designated driver who has consumed no alcohol and who can safely drive you and your friends home.
  • Do not ever get in the car with someone who you know has had a lot to drink or that you believe is drunk.  Call for an Uber/Taxi or take public transportation instead.
  • Do not ever leave your drink unattended.  If you leave your drink out on the bar or table unattended and you walk away (to go to the bathroom for example) it is possible someone may put something in your drink. Always keep your drink with you or buy a new one. It is better to be cautious and safe than too trusting.

Smoking: The legal age to smoke in most U.S. states is 18, though some states such as Hawaii and California have increased the minimum age to 21.  You must show official ID to purchase cigarettes in the U.S. and the only accepted IDs are a passport or U.S. driver’s license.  It is also illegal to purchase cigarettes or tobacco products for someone who is under the minimum legal age in that state.

Smoking is not allowed indoors in the U.S. and this includes office buildings, campus buildings, restaurants, stores, bars, and even in some public parks or public beaches.  There are typically ‘Designated Smoking Areas’ located outside. Look for ‘Designated Smoking Area’ signs or ask someone where the smoking area is.  Rice University is a smoke-free campus which means smoking is only allowed in the designated numbered areas on this map.

Return to Top

Alumni Profiles

We’d also strongly encourage you to read the 2016 TOMODACHI STEM Student Profiles to learn more about what 10 Japanese undergraduate students thought of their experience in the U.S. These profiles will give you a more in-depth understanding of what it may be like to live and do research in the U.S.

Return to Top

Bicycles in Houston

Rice Bikes is a student run bike repair and rental business and the most affordable way to rent a bicycle. (http://bikes.rice.edu/) They offer rental bikes by semester or on a yearly basis. The rental fee is $65 per semester (refundable deposit $100) or $120 per year. You can also rent during the summer (from late April to late August). Contact ricebikes@gmail.com if you are interested in renting during the summer.

There are several options for buying new or used bikes.

  • Rice Bikes also sells refurbished bikes every two weeks or so. They usually run for about $150-$200. You can sign up to receive notifications from http://bikes.rice.edu/refurbs/ You will receive an e-mail when a bike comes up on sale and it is first come first served basis.
  • Sign-up for the OISS-Market mailing list from: https://mailman.rice.edu/mailman/listinfo/oiss-market. This is mainly used for Buy/Sell among the international students and scholars at Rice. You can receive information about people wanting to sell their bikes or you can post a message and let people know that you are looking for a bike.
  • If you want to look for a new bike, there are some bicycle stores near the campus
  • Bicycle World, 2519 Rice Blvd. http://visitbicycleworld.com/
  • Daniel Boone Cycles, 5318 Crawford St. http://www.danielboonecycles.com/
  • Houston Bicycle Company, 404 ½ Westheimer Rd. http://houstonbicyclecompany.com/

Bikes at Rice University

Bicycles provide a convenient, environmentally friendly way to move around the campus. With the increasing number of bicycles and pedestrians, it is important that each rider act responsibly to avoid injury. By keeping in mind some simple rules and courtesies, we can create a safe environment for everyone.

Return to Top

Business Culture in the U.S. vs. Japan

Nakatani RIES Fellows will receive an orientation to cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan upon arrival at Rice, but it may also be helpful to review the following resources online which are written both from the perspective of foreign businessmen working in Japan and a Japanese businessman who has worked in the U.S.

It is important to recognize that academic and especially academic research is different from business and that the culture of research in the U.S. can vary significantly in different research labs.  You will need to learn to adjust yourself to the working and personal culture of your particular research host lab at Rice University.

Return to Top

Cell Phones in the U.S.

You will be required purchase a pre-paid cell phone, so you have a U.S. phone to use in case of emergencies and to communicate with your lab. You will be taken to Target, a nearby department store to purchase a U.S. cell phone at the next day or so after you arrive in Houston. It will be approximately $25 for the phone and then the cost of adding minutes to your plan. You can purchase a pre-paid card at any grocery stores and pharmacies.

Please program all emergency numbers into your phone.

  • RUPD -(713) 348-6000
  • Off-campus police, fire, ambulance – 911
  • Taxi Yellow Cab -(713) 236-1111
  • Nakatani RIES Fellowship Staff: Prof. Kono, Aki Shimada, and Sarah Phillips’ office and personal cell phone numbers will be given to you upon arrival.
  • Your host professor and mentor
  • Residence Inn Hotel Front Desk (to call for shuttle pick-up): (713) 660-7993

You can continue to use your Japanese smartphone to access wi-fi, which can easily be found for free in many places in the U.S.  However, be sure to turn your data/roaming off so you are not charged international calling/roaming fees for using your Japanese cell phone in the U.S.

To make calls to family and friends back home in Japan, we recommend using Skype or Facetime rather than placing expensive international phone calls. 

Return to Top

Clothing in the U.S.

Most students and researchers at Rice dress quite casually; wearing shorts and t-shirts are okay. You will need closed toed shoes for most labs and may need to wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt or a lab coat.

Due to the heavy air conditioning, buildings in the U.S. are typically much colder than in Japan; even in the summer.   It is good to bring a light-weight jacket or sweater with you each day to put on when inside. 

Size comparison: Shoe/サイズの比較:靴

Japan 22.0 22.5 23.0 23.5 24.0 24.5 25.0 25.5 26.0 26.5 27.0 27.5 28.0
U.S(male) 7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10
U.S(female) 5 5.5 6 6.5 7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10

Size comparison: Female clothes/サイズの比較:女性の服のサイズ

Japan 7 9 11 13 15 17
U.S. 2 4 6 8 10 12
U.S. XS XS S S M M

Size comparison: Male clothes/サイズの比較:男性の服のサイズ

Japan S M L LL 3L
U.S. XS/S S/M M M/L L/XL
Japan 73 76 79 82 85 88 91
U.S. XS XS/S S M M M L

Return to Top

Driving and Pedestrians in the U.S.

In the U.S. we drive on the right-hand side of the road which is different from Japan, which drives on the left. It is very important that you remember this and look both ways before crossing any street. You will also need to watch for people turning right; even if the pedestrian walk signal is illuminated.

Houston is also a very car-dependent city and very few people walk or bike.  This means that Houston drivers are not accustomed to watching or looking out for pedestrians or people on bikes.  Also, the crosswalk times may be quite shot and not all intersections have a protected crosswalk signal.  Students must be very cautious and careful when walking or biking and if you think a car didn’t see you or may not stop – they didn’t see you and they probably won’t stop.  Even if technically pedestrians in the U.S. are legally supposed to have the right of way, this doesn’t mean  you can trust cars/drivers in Houston. Give lots of extra space between you and the cars and cross streets as quickly, and safely, as you can.

Right-On-RedIt can also be very difficult for drivers to see pedestrians or bikers if the sun is in their eyes, and particularly in the evening when they are in a rush to get home. The sun is very strong in Houston and can almost be blinding to drivers due to the glare from windshields so be extra, extra cautious if walking or biking during the evening rush hour from about 4:30 – 7:00 PM or when the sun is going down. It also legal to right on a red light in the U.S., though drivers are supposed to come to a full stop first.  When crossing the street be sure the driver in the far-most right lane sees you.

Return to Top

English Language Resources

For more information see the English Language Resources page.

Return to Top

Etiquette in the U.S.

Overall, the U.S. is much less formal than in Japan and there are fewer social ‘rules’ that are followed by everyone at all times.  This is due to the diversity of the U.S. and broad differences in the country from state to state or city to city.  However, there are some things that are fairly common throughout the U.S. such as greeting someone with a handshake (or in Texas a hug) and people saying “Bless You” or “Gesundheit” when someone sneezes.  The best advice for figuring out the etiquette or customs of a new location, “observe first and then act”.  See what other people around you are doing in this situation and then try to follow their example.

The following websites provide some general guidelines and introduction to etiquette in the U.S.  and be helpful to review.

Return to Top

Exercise in the U.S.

As a visiting undergraduate research student at Rice University you should be able to receive free access to the Rice University Gym. You will use your Rice ID card for scan entry into the gym and you can speak with the front desk about borrowing or renting equipment.  Facilities include:

There are also many intramural (informal) sports teams you can join at Rice University and on most university campuses. Some may be flexible and you can join at any time, others may require application and regular attendance at practice or training sessions.

The Rice Loop which goes all the way around campus is also very popular for people who like to job, run or walk and you will see many people that live near Rice University using this in the early mornings or evenings.

At the Residence Inn Medical Center Hotel, there is also a swimming pool, outdoor basketball court, and outdoor volleyball court.  You can buy inexpensive sporting equipment from the Target store which just one block away.

Return to Top

Fondren Library

You can enter and use the facility in the Fondren Library with your Rice ID card. However, visiting scholars are not allowed to check out any books. If you are on-campus logged into the Rice Owls wi-fi network you will be able to search the online catalog for peer-reviewed journal articles.  Logging into the Rice Owls wi-fi network requires a NetID and password which you receive either prior to or upon arrival to campus. You can also search the online catalog for peer-reviewed journal articles at any of the computers located on the first floor of the library.

During the school year, the library is open quite late and you can find the current hours on the website.

Return to Top

Houston Resources for Visitors

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.

In Houston, America’s Diverse Future Has Already Arrived

36 Hours in Houston

50 Totally Free Things to Do in Houston

Return to Top

International Students in the U.S.

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.

Finally, MEXT reports on the numbers of Japanese students studying abroad annually as well.

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.

Return to Top

Japanese Associations

Most cities in the large cities in the U.S. will have a number of associations or organizations for Japanese expatriates or to promote Japanese culture and/or business.  These organizations often have helpful websites with helpful information for Japanese citizens living in the city and for upcoming events for the local Japanese community. In Houston, the main Japanese associations include:

Return to Top

Japanese Embassy and Consulates in the U.S.

The Japanese Embassy in the U.S. is located in Washington, DC and there are Japanese consulates in many major cities.  If you lose or damage your passport or need other official paperwork embassy or consular staff may be able to assist you.  There is a consulate in Houston and in New York City.

Return to Top

Money and Credit Card

You can exchange your Japanese yen to U.S dollars at banks, post offices or at the airport in Japan. You can also exchange your currency at Terminal E at IAH. However, your arrival terminal may not be Terminal E, depending on your flight. Therefore, exchanging your currency in Japan before your flight for the U.S is suggested. Terminal E is the only arrival terminal where you can exchange money at IAH. If you transit through another U.S. airport before arriving in Houston, you may be able to exchange money during your layover.

The United States is a credit card society, and people usually do not carry much cash. You can use your credit card or debit card at most stores, but please confirm that your Japanese credit/debit card is honored in the U.S. Some small stores or restaurants/cafés do not take larger bills, and it is more convenient to have $20 or smaller bills in general.

Some Japanese debit or bank cards may not work to withdraw money in U.S. dollars from ATM machines in the U.S. Please call your bank prior to departure if you plan to withdraw money in the U.S.

Travelex, a worldwide currency exchange company, has a service called “Cash Passport” which you can load up to 6 different currencies on one card and use it as a prepaid ATM card. The card is accepted in any ATM that has a Master Card mark. You may reload cash on your card or get a new one if you ever lose it or if it’s stolen at the Travelex location in Houston. For more details visit Travelex website: https://www.travelex.com/cash-passport/cash-passport

Return to Top

Public Transportation in Houston

Unlike in Japan, the United States is a very large country and some cities, like Houston, are very big and lack extensive public transportation options.  In Houston, most people travel by car and while there are very good highway and street systems there is very limited bus and metro rail options.

Hotel Van Shuttle: While you are in Houston, you will travel between the Residence Inn Hotel and Rice University campus each day using the free hotel van shuttle.  This runs from 8:00 AM to 9:30 PM (Monday – Friday) and 8:00 AM – 7:00 PM (Saturday & Sunday).  When you are ready to leave go to the hotel lobby and wait for the shuttle driver to return (or ask the front desk when it will be back). When you get in the van, tell the shuttle driver you are going to Rice University campus and show them the printed map with where you would like to be dropped off.  When you are ready to return to the hotel from Rice you will need to call the hotel front desk and ask that the hotel shuttle pick you up at Rice University.  You may want to coordinate your return with other students so that small groups go back at the same time rather than the driver having to come to campus 8 different times. You can also use the hotel shuttle for transportation to locations nearby such as the Rice Village Shopping Center or Museum District.

Rice University Shuttle: While you are on Rice University campus, you can use the free Rice University shuttles to travel around campus. You can download Rice’s Bus Tracker app on your Android or iPhone as well to see in real time where the buses are on each route. The shuttle routes you are most likely to use include:

Uber: Uber’s presence Japan may be small, but in the U.S. it is rapidly becoming the easiest way to get a taxi-like service at reasonable rates.  If you want to go somewhere outside of the free service area for the hotel shuttle, such as the Galleria Mall, or if you want to leave or return earlier or later than the hotel shuttle offers, simply arrange to take an Uber.   You must download the Uber app and then input your credit card information and when you need a ride just request one through the app.  Be sure to check what the estimated fare will be though and be aware that if there is a holiday, big concert, or big sporting event happening at that time Uber’s prices may go up if demand for rides is high. This is called ‘surge pricing‘.

Past visiting research students have found Uber to be very convenient and not too expensive with rides typically in the $10 – $15 range.  If you are sharing a ride with 2 or 3 other Nakatani RIES Japanese fellows, that means each person may only pay $2 – $3 per trip.

“Also, I want to mention my ride on Uber a little. Uber is very convenient taxi-like service and good for me because they come very soon, their car is clean and drivers are very kind. Last week I said “I like Houston except transportation”, but I want to withdraw my word. Now I like Houston very much.” ~ Megumi Sakamoto, 2016 TOMODACHI STEM Program

Houston Metrorail:  Houston’s Metrorail (light-rail) service has been slowly expanding but it still has limited reach. There are now three lines available, with the gold line set to open sometime in 2017.  The available lines include:

  • Red Line: Connects the Reliant Park stadium with Downtown Houston.
  • Green Line:  Connects the East End to Midtown where you can transfer to the Red Line.
  • Purple Line: Connects Southeast Houston including the University of Houston and Texas Southern University with Downtown Houston where you can transfer to the Red Line.
  • Gold/Uptown Line (Not Yet Open): Will connect the Galleria/Uptown area with Downtown and the tentative open date is sometime in 2017, though this may change.

Houston Metro Buses: Houston has an extensive bus transportation network however service hours may be limited on some routes and due to Houston traffic buses can often run late or be delayed.  You can use Google Maps or the Plan Your Trip feature on the Metro website to plan your route and times. You can get most places you want in Houston via bus, but you should be prepared to wait and know that many bus stops do not have shade or coverings so it can be quite hot and sunny while you wait.  In almost all cases, the hotel shuttle or Uber will be faster and more convenient.

Return to Top

Recycling and Trash in the U.S.

At Rice University and in Houston there is single-stream recycling.  This means that you put all your recyclable waste – typically cans, glass, paper, cardboard, and some plastics – into one blue bin.  Then, they sort it at the recycling facility.  Each city in the U.S. has different processes for garbage and recycling though so this is something you want to ask about when you first come to the U.S.  What can be recycled and what bin/where do I put recyclables?

Any items that cannot be recycled will go in the regular trash bins and do not need to be sorted.

Return to Top

Safety in Houston & the U.S.

The Rice University area is considered a safe neighborhood, but students should take normal safety precautions. Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S., and crime does occur. See the Rice University Safety Tips website for more details.

Safety : Rice University

Emergency Phone Numbers

  • If an emergency occurs when you are off-campus, call 911 for police, fire, and ambulance.
  • If an emergency occurs when you are on-campus, call (713) 348-6000 or just dial 6000 from a campus phone for the Rice University Police Department.

When you stay late on campus due to your research, please find someone to go home together. We do not recommend walking or jogging alone at night. Use the hotel shuttle to travel to/from campus, ask for a ride from someone in your host lab, or take a taxi/Uber if it is late at night.

Night Escort: For added safety, a night escort service is provided Sunday to Thursday during the school year by the Transportation Department with a 17-passenger van. The night escort is only available for locations on campus; it will not escort you to your off campus housing. The service runs from at 10:00 pm to 6:00 am. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Rice University Police Department provides the service on request. Call 713-348-6000 or 713-348-3333 for night escort service.

Belongings: Please keep office doors locked at all times and be responsible for your computers and any valuable belongings. If you need to enter your research lab building after 6:00 PM or during weekends, you will need to swipe your Rice ID card. Please do not prop open or unlock exterior doors to any building on the Rice University campus.

Hotel: At the hotel, always keep your hotel room door locked. Do not leave money unlocked in your hotel room.  Ask at the front desk if there is a hotel safe where you can store any cash that you do not want to carry with you each day. If you lose or misplace a key, you will need to go to the hotel front desk to ask for a replacement and for safety they will likely ask you to show ID before giving you a new key.

外務省海外安全情報

海外安全ホームページ: スポット情報詳細

Return to Top

Staying Healthy in the U.S.

In addition to the safety tips above and the information on the Medical & Health Resources in the U.S. page, you should also be aware of the following recommendations for staying healthy and avoiding illness in the U.S.

  • Animals: Before touching or petting any cat or dog in the U.S. you should always ask the owner if it is okay and you should avoid petting any stray dog or cat.  Domestic pets are typically vaccinated against disease but stray pets may not be.  Never feed or touch any wild animal in the U.S., including the squirrels on Rice University campus.  Wild animals and stray cats and dogs in the U.S. may carry rabies and if you are bitten you will need to go to the hospital to get a series of painful and expensive rabies vaccinations.
  • Fire Ants in the U.S.: Fire ants are now common in the U.S., and are particularly common in the South and West including in Houston.  These ants will bit if you disturb their nest. While the bites are painful, they are not typically dangerous unless you are allergic or are bitten many times.  When you are outside in Houston, particular at park or on a grassy area, be sure you carefully look for fire ant nests/hills before you sit down.  These look like small mounds/hills of sand and if you poke them with a stick many ants will quickly come out to protect the nest. If you are bitten, you can use an over-the-counter antihistamine cream to reduce the itching/swelling but if you have any sort of allergic reaction you should immediately see medical attention.
  • Lyme Disease: If you are in rural areas where there are many deer (not common in Houston) it is important to be careful of being bitten by deer ticks as these may carry Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is most prevalent in the Midwest and Northeast of the U.S. though it can also be found in rural areas throughout other parts of the country.  If you are hiking through woods or pastures in a rural area where there may be deer, be sure to wear long pants/sleeves and wear insect repellent. You should also check your body carefully for deer ticks at the end of the day.  For more on how to prevent tick bites see the CDC website.
  • Mosquitoes in the U.S.:  Mosquitoes are common throughout the U.S. and are very prevalent in Houston.  Just like in many cities in Japan, it may be impossible to prevent all mosquito bites but there are steps you can take to avoid them. If you will be outside in the evening or early mornings it can be helpful to wear long pants and sleeves and/or use insect repellent with DEET. You can purchase insect repellent at any grocery store, pharmacy or department store like Target in the U.S. You should also always keep doors/windows closed or use screens to prevent mosquitoes from coming indoors. For more on how to avoid mosquito bites see the CDC website.
  • Staying Hydrated: It is very hot and humid in Houston most of the year so it is important to drink plenty of water and stay well-hydrated.  The U.S. does not have as many vending machines as in Japan and they mostly have soda and sweet drinks.  It may be helpful to carry a refillable water bottle for water or bring a thermos and tea bags if you would prefer to drink unsweetened tea throughout the day.
  • Tap Water: Tap water is safe to drink in the U.S. but some people prefer the taste of bottled or filtered water.  You can buy bottled water at all grocery stores in bulk or you can purchase a water filtration pitcher at a store like Target to keep in your fridge and refill from the tap.

Return to Top

Small Talk, Friendliness and Optimism in the U.S.

There’s nothing small about the role that small talk plays in American culture. People from other countries are often surprised at how important small talk is in the U.S. and how naturally and comfortably people seem to do it — with peers, subordinates, men, women, strangers you have just met and even with superiors.

Americans overall are uncomfortable with silence and small talk can be a way to ‘break the ice’ and make conversation with those around you to ‘pass the time’. For example, people traveling together in the hotel shuttle van each day may have casual conversation about their day or what they plan to do, even though they have never met each other before and may never see each other again.  This is quite different from Japan where speaking with someone you do not know in a shuttle van, elevator or public space would be very uncommon and would likely make someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

In general, if someone you do not know starts speaking with you in a public space you can likely assume this is small talk and they are just being nice by talking casually with you. Overall, Americans are very friendly and like getting to know new people, especially those they believe may be tourists or visitors and it is likely you will be asked where you are from and why you are in Houston or the U.S. from time to time.

It’s also important to realize though that how and when small talk is used varies by region in the U.S. too.  In large cities such as New York City, small talk is much less common than in the Southern or Midwestern part of the U.S. And someone’s comfort level with small talk can vary by individual as well. If you are uncomfortable with small talk or do not want to have a conversation with the person who is speaking to you it is okay to just give a very short or one-word answer and then turn away or begin to look at your phone.  Just as in Japan, looking at something on your phone is often a cue that someone does not want to talk or be disturbed.

You may want to read the Harvard Business Review’s “The big challenge of American small talk” for more on the topic of small talk.

Americans are often seen as being very optimistic as well and you may want to read “What makes American so optimistic?” for more on this topic.

Return to Top

Stereotypes of the U.S.

A stereotype is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” Stereotypes are often based, at least in part, in fact but you must be careful about believing that the stereotypes of any particular culture or group are true of everyone. For example, many people in Japan love karaoke but it would be incorrect to assume that all Japanese people enjoy karaoke.  Some may not.  It’s also important to know that there can be positive stereotypes, such as that Americans are very nice, as well as negative stereotypes,  for example American restaurant food is very greasy and heavy and therefore all Americans must be fat or unhealthy.  Stereotypes can give us hints about certain cultural values or rules that a society or culture tends to abide by, but each society and each culture is made up of individuals and it is important to recognize that not everyone may act, behave, talk or look like the ‘stereotypical American’ you may expect.

The websites below list some common perceptions about America from Japanese and foreign perspectives that may be interesting for you to read.  During your time in the U.S., you may experience things that either affirm some of these stereotypes or, perhaps, lead you to reject them.  You will also likely learn that reality is a little bit more complex than the stereotypical view and the best thing to do is come to the U.S. with an open mind and remain curious about each individual person you meet and the experiences you will have here.

Return to Top

Student Clubs & Organizations at Rice

Visiting undergraduate research students can attend meetings and/or join a wide array of student clubs and organizations during their time at Rice.  These ranges from professional and academic organizations within your field, intramural sports teams, volunteer or community engagement organizations, and culture/social organizations around specific topics.   There are over 200 such clubs and you might want to ask your undergraduate labmates which clubs they are involved in and if you can join them at their next meeting.

Future Owls: Clubs and Organizations

All students are welcome and encouraged to participate in more than 200 student organizations, including performance, media, athletic, academic, religious, cultural and political groups.

Card

Return to Top

Student ID Card & Discounts

On your first day at Rice University, you will receive your student ID card.  Your first ID card is free but you will pay a replacement fee if it is lost.  You will use swipe this ID card to gain access to Fondren Library and for after-hours building access to your designated research lab building/s.

You can also use your Rice ID card for student discounts at a wide array of shops, restaurants, museums, movies, and other sight-seeing locations near campus.  Click here for a full list of the available student discounts with your Rice ID in the Houston area.

If you travel to other cities in the U.S. and are visiting museums or other sight-seeing spots, remember to ask “Is there a student discount?” and if they say yes show your Rice University ID.  Some locations may only give discounts for students at universities in their local area but others may honor a student ID from other cities/states too.

Return to Top

Sun Protection in Houston

Houston is much closer to the equator than Japan and therefore the sun seems much stronger.  During August and September it is also very hot and humid in Houston. Take appropriate precautions such as wearing sun screen, hats, and sunglasses.  In the U.S. it is okay to wear sunglasses anytime you are outdoors and they are necessary in Houston.

If you have prescription glasses, you may want to bring a prescription pair of sunglasses with you to the U.S. It can be very expensive to get prescription glasses or prescription sunglasses in the the U.S.

Return to Top

Time Difference

Houston is located in the Central Standard Time zone, which is 15 hours behind the Japan Standard Time. During the Daylight Saving Time (summer time), from mid-March till early November, the difference is 14 hours. Below is a time difference chart.

Central Standard Time (CST)
Houston Time
(Nov. – Early March)
9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Houston Time
(Daylight Savings Time, Mid-March – early Nov.)
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Japanese time 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Return to Top

Weather in the U.S.

FahrenheitCelsius

Fahrenheit is used for temperature in the U.S. for cooking and weather. If someone says “Man it’s hot, it’s 100 degrees out there” they mean 100 degrees Fahrenheit, not Celsius. For more on cooking, see Food in the U.S.

weather-in-texasWeather in Houston in August – September will be very hot and very humid and is similar to the Kansai region in Japan. It is important to drink lots and lots of water to stay well hydrated and avoid exercise or strenuous physical activity outdoors during the hottest part of the day.  Most people will exercise outdoors in the early morning (~5:00 AM – 8:00 AM) or late evenings (~7:00 – 9:00 PM).

However, weather in Houston can change quickly and it often rains at some point during the day.  It is not uncommon for it to be bright, sunny and hot during the morning and early afternoon then become dark and cloudy with heavy rain in the late afternoon or evening.  There can also be major weather and temperature shifts all within the same day.

Indoor air conditioning (A/C) is also very strong and very cold in most buildings in the U.S. including Rice University campus buildings and labs, grocery stores, malls, restaurants, etc.  It is not uncommon to need to put on a sweater or light jacket when indoors because the A/C is too cold even though it is very hot outside.

It is a good idea to always bring an umbrella or rain coat and a light-weight sweater or jacket with you to use as needed.

Return to Top

Wi-fi in the U.S.

Free Wi-fi in the U.S. is available almost everywhere in the U.S. with no special password or account required.  This includes Rice University campus via the Rice Owls or Rice Visitors networks, at the Residence Inn hotel in Houston and at many restaurants, shopping areas and public venues. If you bring your Japanese smartphone with you, you should be able to access wi-fi in many places but you should turn data off so that your phone will not try to connect to the internet when there is no wi-fi signal as this could get quite expensive depending on how much your Japanese cell phone plan charges you for international data/roaming.

Return to Top

Print Friendly