Life in the U.S.

The following websites and resources are provided for informational purposes only.  The Nakatani RIES Fellowship, Rice University, and/or the Nakatani Foundation is not responsible for content contained on any external sites.

Alcohol and Smoking in the U.S.
Alumni Profiles
Bathrooms in the U.S.
Bicycles in Houston
Business Culture in the U.S. vs. Japan
Cell Phones in the U.S.
Clothing and Shopping in the U.S.
Communication and Directness in the U.S.
Discrimination and Inequality in the U.S.
Driving and Pedestrians in the U.S.
Education in the U.S.
Emergency Preparedness
English Language Resources
Etiquette in the U.S.
Exercise in the U.S.
Geography of the U.S.
Greetings in the U.S.
Fondren Library
History of the U.S.
Houston Resources for Visitors
International Students in the U.S.
Japanese Associations
Japanese Embassies & Consulates in the U.S.
Money and Credit Card
Music in Houston
Public Transportation in Houston
Recycling and Trash in the U.S.
Religion in the U.S.
Safety in Houston & the U.S.
Small Talk, Friendliness and Optimism in the U.S.
Social Issues in the U.S.
Staying Healthy in the U.S
Student Clubs & Organizations at Rice
Student ID Card & Discounts
Stereotypes of the U.S.
Sun Protection in Houston
Time Difference
Tipping and Sales Tax in the U.S.
Volunteering in the U.S.
Weather in the U.S.
Wi-fi in the U.S.
Work Ethic in the U.S.

Alcohol and Smoking in the U.S.

The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21 or above.  It is illegal for students 20 or younger to purchase, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages.  It is also illegal for someone 21 or older to purchase and provide alcohol to someone who is 20 or younger.  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. For more on this see “Why not to mess with under 21’s in America”.

Federal/National Law: If you are 20 or younger 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 20 or younger.  

As a foreign student on a federally-issued, J-1 student visa in the U.S. you do not want to be caught by police violating alcohol laws.  This could have severe negative consequences and lead to revocation of your visa and/or deportation fro the U.S. 

Below is an overview of some of the basics of purchasing alcohol in Texas.  As a foreign student on a federally-issued, J-1 student visa in the U.S. you do not want to be caught by police violating alcohol laws.  This could have severe negative consequences and lead to revocation of your visa and/or deportation fro the U.S. 

Alcohol at Rice University: Many universities in the U.S. are 'dry campuses' were no alcohol can be consumed or purchased on school grounds.  Rice is not a dry campus.  Alcohol can be purchased, by those 21 or above, at two campus bars.  Willy's Pub in the Student Center (considered the undergraduate bar) and Valhalla near Keck Hall (considered the graduate student bar).   At lunchtime, both Willy's and Valhalla have sandwiches/food for sale and you can go in to purchase these items and non-alcoholic drinks even if you are 20 or younger. At campus events you may see alcohol being served, but there should be a bartender there who asks for ID to verify you are 21 or above.  If you are 21 or above, you may be given a wrist band to wear so that you do not have to show ID the next time you would like to get a drink.  

There is a great deal of trust placed in students at Rice and an expectation that students who are 20 or younger will not attempt to purchase or consume alcohol at public events, Willy's, or Valhalla.  The university can and does change the alcohol policy and has instituted restrictions on alcohol consumption/sale on campus in response to underage drinking or unsafe/binge drinking.  

Purchasing Alcohol at a Bar:  Bars typically will 'card' guests at the door.  This means that to enter the bar you must show your ID/passport to prove you are 21 or older.  Some bars will allow people of all ages in but to order a drink the waiter/waitress/bartender will ask to see your ID.  You should never order a drink and give it to someone else who is 20 or younger in a bar.  If you are caught doing this you will be asked to leave and/or the police could be called.  Bars take this very seriously because if they are caught/suspected of 'serving alcohol to minors' they could lose their license to sell alcohol. 

Purchasing Alcohol at a Restaurant: At restaurants that serve alcohol, you can order a drink with your meal.  When the waiter/waitress takes your oder they will ask to see your ID/passport to confirm you are 21 or older.  You should never order a drink and give it to someone else who is 20 or younger in a bar.  If you are caught doing this you will be asked to leave and/or the police could be called.  Restaurants take this very seriously because if they are caught/suspected of 'serving alcohol to minors' they could lose their license to sell alcohol.   

Purchasing Alcohol at a Grocery Store/Pharmacy:  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 or pharmacy but must be 21 or older and must show your ID/passport. If you want to purchase hard liquor (e.g. vodka, whisky, etc.) you will need to visit a separate liquor store. Beer is typically sold in a six-pack or 12-pack carton. You should not separate one can from the six-pack or 12-pack carton/container it is sold in.  There may be a small selection of beer you can purchase in single bottles or cans, typically from specialty/craft breweries.  

Local/Regional Breweries and Craft Beer: Local/regional breweries are also very popular in the U.S. When you visit a new state/region you may find different types of beer and can often visit/tour some breweries.  On some brewery tours, people of any age are allowed (even children) but you must be 21 or above to sample/taste the beer.  Check the brewery website for public tour times, age limits, and other rules prior to arrival. 

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

Safety Tips: When 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 alcohol it is fine to ask for a soda, water, tea, or juice.
  • It is best to always drink in moderation.    
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • When going out with friends, typically one person is the 'designated driver'.  This person should not consume any alcohol and will be the one drive everyone safely home.  If you tell a bartender or waiter/waitress that you are the designated driver they may even give you soda or other non-alcoholic beverages for free. 
    • In the U.S., you can usually have 1 drink and still drive provided you are under the 'legal limit' in that state.  This is different than in Japan (and many other countries) where you cannot drive if you have any alcohol.  The challenge is, how do you know when you are under/over the 'legal limit'?  In most states, if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher you will be 'over the limit' and should not drive. If you do drive and are pulled over, you could get a ticket/arrested for drunk driving/driving while intoxicated.  Each person metabolizes alcohol differently. Add in differences in how much people have had to eat, how long it has been from the last drink, and any medications that person may be on you can see why it is easy to *think* you may be okay to drive but you could actually be 'over the limit'.  
    • When in doubt, do not get the car with someone that you think may have had too much to drink.  Call a taxi, a friend, or use Uber/Lyft.  Just say, "Oh, thanks, but I'm just gonna grab an Uber. Actually, do you want to join me?  Maybe it's better you don't drive right now. We can drop you off at home on the way."   
    • If you are very concerned about someone's safety and ability to drive, ask for help from your other friends or the bartender/security guard/waiter/waitress.  They may be able to help you convince your friend not to drive and to take an Uber/Lyft/taxi home instead.  

Other tips: 

Drug laws in the U.S. are a complex mix of, sometimes competing, federal and state laws. This is most confusing when it comes to marijuana (pot). At the federal level, the consumption, purchase, sale, or possession of marijuana and other controlled substances is illegal.  In some states, marijuana use/possession is legal but is strictly controlled through medical use only licenses and other means.  In Texas, marijuana use/consumption/possession is illegal. 

However, you are an international student on a federally-issued, J-1 student visa.  This means, that you should abide by the federal law in all cases.  Even if you are in a state where marijuana is legal to use/consume/purchase, there could still be severe negative consequences for foreign students on visas.  

I went to the pharmacy to purchase allergy/cold medicine which I thought I didn't need a doctor's prescription for.  But instead of the box of medicine on the shelf, there was a card I had to take to the pharmacist counter and they made me enter my name/information on a list. Why? 

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 likely 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 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 or other medications 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.  

Be aware that, 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.

Legal Age: 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 purchase or use tobacco products 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.

In Houston: Smoking is not allowed in any restaurant or bar in Houston and in many public places such as parks.  If you want/need to smoke you will have to go outdoors to a designated smoking area.  This is increasingly the rule in most cities in the U.S.  Electronic cigarettes are also not allowed to be used indoors.  

At Rice University: Rice University is a tobacco-free campus which means smoking is only allowed in designated areas on campus. 

Overall in the U.S., smoking is becoming much less common.  Among young people today, it is rare to smoke cigarettes though e-cigarettes are gaining in popularity.  It is also very expensive to be a smoker in the U.S. as some states charge very high taxes on tobacco products. 

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Alumni Profiles

We’d also strongly encourage you to read the alumni profiles to learn more about what other 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. You can also review the profiles of Japanese participants in the Nakatani RIES Fellowship program as well.

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Bathrooms in the U.S.

In most U.S. homes there bathrooms are, typically, a small room that contains a sink, toilet, and bath/shower combination.  Some newer homes may have a separate, small closet-like area within the bathroom for the toilet.  Two of the biggest differences between U.S. and Japanese bathrooms are the toilets and tubs. 

Toilets in the U.S:  Toilets in the U.S. are basic models that do not have bidets, heated seats, music, privacy noises or the other features commonly found on Japanese toilets. American toilets are the basic, low-tech model whether you are in a home, hotel, or in a public restroom. There will be a flush lever that you push down though some public toilets have automatic flush features.  If the automatic flush does not work, there may be a small button you can press to manually flush the toilet. If there is a green flush lever, this means it may be an environmentally friendly toilet that, to converse water, you pull up for a smaller flush or pull down for a bigger flush. Most Americans are shocked at the toilets in Japan when they first visit and are unsure how to use them.  Japanese style toilets have not really 'caught on' in the U.S. in part because we don't have a culture of using bidets and because our homes are not designed with the electrical outlets/power necessary in bathrooms to install a Japanese-style toilet.  Therefore, if you want to install at Toto you usually have to also change the electrical wiring to do so which makes it a costly and difficult endeavor. 

A basic tub/shower combination in the U.S. The tub is shallower than it appears in this photo.

Tub/Shower Combinations: Tub/Shower combinations are most common.  Most showers will have a fixed shower head on the wall that cannot be removed. To turn the water on/off you must use the faucets as there is, usually, no control on the shower head itself. There should be a tub stopper that you pull up/turn when you want to take a bath.   Most Americans take showers more often than baths. Children will often take baths but once they become teenagers they typically switch to taking a daily shower.  This is, partially, because American bathtubs tend to be long and shallow rather than deep and short.  This means it is not as pleasant/relaxing to take a hot bath as the water will likely not cover you completely.  This is true of most American homes and hotels.  Some hotel rooms may not even have a tub, they will just have a shower.  While you can 'upgrade' your bathroom and purchase a deeper tub, these are expensive and typically only installed in the master bathroom.  

Americans typically take a daily shower, either in the morning or at night, and also shower after working out.  In an American family, everyone may shower at different times. There is no one set 'bath' time unless you are a small child.   Children and parents shower/bathe separately in the U.S. However, small children who are siblings may share a bath (especially if they are of the same gender) up until the age of 6 – 8.  After this, bathing/showering is usually done individually and/or is strictly gender segregated in most U.S. families.  Attitudes towards whether it is okay for siblings of the opposite sex to share the same bath, even as very small children, may vary widely by family though.  

I have long, thick hair and it is clogging up the tub drain.  What can I do?  

You can purchase an inexpensive, plastic hair trap to put over the tub/shower drain.  These can easily be found at homegoods/department stores like Target in their bathroom/towel area or purchased online. After your shower/bath, you would just clean the hair off of the plastic hair trap and throw away in the garbage. 

I want to fill the tub up to the top, but once it gets above a certain level it seems to empty/drain. Why? 

You will not be able to fill a U.S. style tub up to the very top. This is a safety feature in the U.S. to ensure that tubs do not get overfilled and water doesn't overflow onto the floor. However, you can purchase a plastic cover that goes over the 'overflow drain' on tubs so that you can fill it up more. These are plastic covers that have suction cups that you places over the 'safety drain' so the water doesn't go out.  You can purchase these at homegoods/department stores like Target in their bathroom/towel area or online.  

In general, public restrooms in the U.S. tend to be less clean than in Japan.  This is something that many foreign visitors routinely complain about when in the U.S.  In the U.S., it is even common to drive/walk by one gas station/store and go to a different one because 'they have nicer/cleaner' restrooms. Some gas station chains have even made their nice, clean restrooms are marketing strategy to try to get people to stop there instead of at their competitors. 

In the U.S., public restrooms should always have toilet paper, soap, and paper hand towels or an air dryer freely available.  If the public restroom is out, you can tell someone at the desk/counter/staff that something needs to be restocked.   

See below for more on some differences you might encounter with public restrooms in the U.S. 

Hotel bathrooms in the U.S. typically proivde towels, a hair dryer, and some small sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and a small bar of soap.  These small bottles are often only enough for one person to use and may not be restocked daily.   

Most students prefer to bring their own toiletries (shampoo/conditioner/soap) to use during their stay in the U.S.  That way you can bring your preferred brands with you from Japan as you will not find most of these brands available at stores in the U.S. Female students may also prefer to bring their preferred brand/type of feminine hygiene products with them from Japan.  You can also easily purchase all toiletries at grocery stores, pharmacies, or department stores like Target or Wal-Mart in the U.S. At the end of your stay, you can simply throw away these bottles if you need to make room in your luggage for gifts/souvenirs.  

Hotel bathrooms typically do not provide amenities like combs, razors, toothbrush/toothpaste, slippers, or a robe. You will need to bring these with you from Japan or purchase while in the U.S.  

Student Question: I am very pleased to use the shower that is removable from the shower head back in Japan. Why are the showers in the U.S. fixed?

You can buy shower heads with a removable arm in the U.S., but these are not the standard/typical shower heads that are installed in most homes, apartments, and hotels. Since most American adults only take showers, not baths, there is no need to have a removable shower head to wash before you get in the tub. However, removable shower heads are very useful for bathing small children or pets and many people in the U.S. like to use them too. You just have to go to a hardware store and buy this type of shower head and then install it in your bathroom. They are very easy to find online at Amazon or in home improvement stores in the U.S. like Home Depot or Lowes.

Why are there no hot spring (onsen) or sentos (public baths) in the U.S.? 

Geography: Geographically, there are very few areas in the U.S. that even have hot spring water.  It simply doesn't exist in most parts of the country. There are a few locations, primarily on the West Cost that do have hot springs. 

Attitudes Towards Nakedness: Privacy while bathing is also highly valued in the U.S. and there is no culture of bathing while naked in public. The areas where there are hot springs will require bathers to wear swimsuits at all times. Many Americans will have never bathed naked with anyone else in their lives so learning how to become comfortable using an onsen or sento in Japan can be very challenging.  Reading some of the articles that foreigners have written about the experience of bathing nude in an onsen/sento can give you some insight into how uncommon/uncomfortable this would be to Americans.  So, cultural attitudes towards nakedness are also a reason that sentos (public baths) don't really exist in the U.S.  However, in some areas of the U.S. you can find bath houses, such as in heavily Korean neighborhoods. They are often referred to as Korean Spas and some people say they are the next big thing.  

History & Population Density: Historically, the U.S. has not been a very densely populated country. We have a lot of land and people often lived far away from their neighbors (sometimes miles apart) throughout the agricultural history of the U.S. and still to this day in many rural areas. Without densely populated cities, sentos don't make much sense. In rural areas, you often have to build your own well and water can be an extremely scarce resource in the U.S. Taking a short/quick shower can save/converse more water than taking a bath would.  This aspect of how the U.S. grew/developed also plays a role in why public baths are not as common.  

There were also very different historical attitudes to bathing in Europe; where most of the colonists to the U.S. originally came from. In Europe, bathing daily/often was considered unhealthy.  Therefore, the early immigrants to America brought with them European attitudes towards bathing that were very different from the cultural/social values regarding bathing in Japan.   In fact, the earliest European visitors to Japan were shocked at the culture of bathing and cleanliness in Japan – just as the Japanese were shocked at lack of bathing/cleanliness among the early European sailors and merchants who came to Japan.  Bathing and attitudes towards cleanliness are cultural values/attitudes that may be 'under the iceberg' and may be vary by country/culture. They have also changed over history/time.   

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Bicycles in Houston

Rice University is a bike-friendly campus and you will often see students biking across campus.  There are numerous bike racks where you can lock your bikes and recently the campus had added a bike sharing program.  However, there is no bike rack/storage area at the Wyndham Hotel.  So it may not be very helpful/useful to purchase a bike to use when staying there.  Instead, rent a Houston BCycle bike when needed.  Be careful of safety when biking or storing a bike in Houston.  There are very few biking lanes/paths in Houston, many cars on the road that drive very fast, and if your bike is left unlocked a very high chance it will be stolen. Even if you lock your bike, thieves may cut the bike chain/lock. Bike at your own risk.

You will see lots of students riding around Rice University campus.  Bikes can be a convenient way to quickly get across campus to your next class and many graduate students who live near Rice will bike to campus as it is cheaper than paying for parking a car.  However, there are some guidelines to keep in mind when biking on campus. See the Bikes at Rice website for more information. 

Bicycle Safety Video: The Graduate Student Association, Student Association and Cycling & Triathlon Club partnered to produce an outstanding video on bicycle safety. Regardless of whether you bike, drive, walk or ride transit most often, we recommend you watch this video to help make you safer in your transit around Rice and Houston.

Register Your Bicycle: Register your bicycle with the Rice University Police Department (RUPD). To register, you will need to submit the serial number for your bicycle. (If your bicycle does not have a serial number, the RUPD will be happy to assist you engraving an identification number on your bicycle.) Registration helps RUPD return stolen bicycles to their owners and prosecute bicycle thieves.

Ride Responsibly: Bikers must be cautious of the many pedestrians walking on campus.It is important to notify pedestrians that you are approaching on your bicycle. Within a reasonable distance, alert pedestrians that you are approaching by saying: “Excuse me,” “On your left,” or “Behind you,” or use a bicycle bell. Pass slowly, treating pedestrians as having the right of way. Do not startle pedestrians. Rice bicycle bells will be provided when you register your bikes. Bikes should not be ridden on covered walkways/paths (cloisters) and some paths on campus will be marked with "No Biking" or "Must Walk Your Bike" signs. 

Park Responsibly and Always Lock Your Bike: Park your bicycle only in designated bicycle racks provided amply throughout the campus. Do not block sidewalks or walkways. Illegally parked bicycles will be removed by the RUPD. Secure your bicycle by following these tips:

  • Use a case-hardened “U” lock; cable locks are easily cut.
  • Lock your bicycle in racks provided by Rice University
  • Remember to also lock parts attached with quick-release mechanisms
  • If you leave your bike unlocked on campus, the Rice University Police Department (RUPD) may confiscate it.  This is because an unlocked bike is an attraction to thieves.   See below for more on what to do if your bike is stolen/missing.  
  • If you leave your bike parked/locked for a long period of time thieves may target the bike because they think no one will notice if they take it.  Move your bike regularly and if you will be gone for the weekend or longer you may want to find a place to store it indoors. 

Safety Guidelines: Bicycles are considered vehicles. Please observe the same traffic guidelines:

  • Stop at all stop signs
  • Watch for pedestrians, especially at crosswalks
  • Ride with the flow of traffic, never against it
  • Obey all traffic signs and signals
  • Ride on the right
  • Pass on the left
  • Slow down to pass pedestrians
  • Use your bell or yell
  • Use lights and reflectors after dark
  • Helmets are recommended
  • Be alert and ride safely

What To Do if Your Bicycle is Stolen

  • Contact RUPD as soon as possible at 713-348-6000 or stop by the station to report your bicycle stolen.
  • Report the theft whether your bike is registered or not. The likelihood of the bicycle being recovered is greater if it is registered. It is important for the RUPD to be aware of all bicycle thefts, to better assist in recovery.
  • Inform the RUPD of the make, model and color of the bicycle, as well as the location of the bicycle before the theft.
  • For more information or suggestions about Rice’s bicycle safety guidelines, please contact RUPD at 713-348-6000 or

Houston BCycle is a bike-sharing program that has recently expanded and now how bike rental stations on Rice University campus.  They also offer discounted student membership for just $25 per semester. Since you cannot store a bike at the Wyndham Hotel (there is no bike rack/storage there) purchase a Houston BCycle student members and pick up a bike from one of the campus stations as  needed. There are BCycle stations all throughout Houston where you can drop-off and pick-up a new bike as needed. 

Just be aware of safety.  There are very few dedicated bike paths in Houston and you must share the road with many cars that are often driven very fast.  Biking in Houston can be dangerous so safety and caution first and seriously consider purchasing a helmet to use when biking.  Houston drivers are not used to watching for pedestrians or bikers.  

Rice Bikes is a student run bike repair and rental business and the most affordable way to rent a bicycle. 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 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 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: 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

Rice University Bicycle Safety Rules
Rice University recognizes there are competing interests within the University community regarding the safe use of bicycles on the campus. Because of the campus layout, it is the current practice that bicycles and pedestrians share many campus sidewalks (meaning all outdoor walkways on campus regardless of how they are surfaced). Pedestrians’ interests lie in avoiding physical encounters with cyclists, particularly in heavy traffic areas. Cyclists are interested that any bicycle regulations not unfairly impair the use of bicycles for transportation on the campus. To balance these and other competing interests, the University has adopted the following bicycle safety rules, which seek to address the needs of all interested parties. Like most Rice rules, these rely on the thoughtfulness, cooperation and consideration of the entire University community.

Register Your Bike 
All bicycles on campus must be registered. Registration helps RUPD to identify owners of lost, stolen or impounded bicycles and to disseminate safety information. Bicycle registration is free. Unregistered bicycles risk receiving a citation and removal by RUPD. For information on how to register your bicycle, please go to the Bikes at Rice Website, stop by the RUPD, or call 713 348-6000.

Obey the Rules of the Roads: Bicycle Traffic Laws 
Cyclists riding in the street are required to comply with motor vehicle traffic regulations. Cyclists should obey traffic signs and always ride with the traffic. At all stop signs, cyclists must stop and yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and pedestrians already at the intersection. RUPD will ticket cyclists for right-of-way violations at intersections. Click here to view links to traffic laws relevant to cyclists.

Yield to Pedestrians 
Pedestrians have the right of way on sidewalks, in crosswalks, and around any stopped bus. Pedestrians are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, but it is the cyclist’s responsibility to yield to a pedestrian. Cyclists may not pass any bus that has stopped to pick up or discharge passengers. Rice has adopted a “Bell or Yell” program for cyclists to announce their approach when encountering pedestrians. You will get a free bicycle bell when you register your bicycle.

Riding Prohibited in Covered Walkways 
Covered walkways are off limits to bicycle riding. Because covered walkways have blind corners and are located in front of building entrances, cyclists must walk their bicycles in these areas of the campus. RUPD will issue citations for riding a bicycle in these prohibited areas.

Ricing on Sidewalks 
Except for covered walkways and where otherwise posted, such as around the Brochstein Pavilion, bicycle riding is permitted on sidewalks.Cyclists are encouraged to use the streets rather than the sidewalks whenever possible and to walk their bicycles on congested sidewalks. Every person riding a bicycle on a sidewalk must (i) ride in a careful and prudent manner, (ii) slow to a near walking pace within 10 feet of any pedestrian or building entrance, (iii) yield the right of way to pedestrians, and (iv) give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian. Cyclists should keep in mind that a pedestrian may be visually impaired, hearing impaired, infirm, or a campus visitor and that pedestrians may make sudden, unpredictable movements. Accidental collisions may seriously injure pedestrians or other cyclists. A cyclist who strikes someone may be liable for personal injuries and property damage.

Always Lock Your Bicycles in Racks 
Cyclists are expected to secure their bicycles in the bicycle racks. Rice has bicycle racks that are conveniently located throughout the campus. Bicycles secured to fences, sign posts, stair railings or locations other than bicycle racks may be ticketed or impounded. Locks damaged in the removal will be the responsibility of the owner. Unsecured bicycles may be impounded for safekeeping.

Abandoned Bicycles Will be Removed 
Bicycles left unattended for an extended period of time are presumed to be abandoned and as such will be removed by the RUPD. Suspected bicycles will be tagged with a removal end date. Abandoned bicycles will be held at the RUPD for 60 days before they may be disposed unless prior notification has been made to RUPD. To retrieve an impounded bicycle, the owner must provide proof of ownership.

Bicycle Safety in Houston 

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Business Culture in the U.S. vs. Japan

See section on ‘Work Ethic and Business Culture’ on our Career Resources for S&E Students page.

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Cell Phones in the U.S.

The Nakatani Foundation will provide all Japanese cell phones with a U.S. cell phone and number to use while in the U.S.  These will be distributed prior to departure and more information on the cell phone plane will be provided by the Nakatani Foundation.

All Japanese Fellows will be provided with a U.S. cell phone and plan that they can use while they are in the U.S. by the Nakatani Foundation. These are loaner phones and must be returned to the Nakatani Foundation at the end of the program. Students must carry their U.S. phone with them at all times in the U.S. and keep their batteries charged so that you and/or program staff can communicate via phone/call text in case of an emergency. Your U.S. cell phone will also have some daily data available so you can use it to look up directions on Google Maps or to used apps like Uber/Lyft when free wi-fi isn’t readily available.

Your U.S. cell phone should only be used to make calls within the U.S. to your host professor/lab members, program faculty/staff in the U.S., other U.S.-based phone numbers, and/or 911 in case of an emergency. Your U.S. cell phone should not be used for regular communication with your friends and family in Japan. Instead, plan to call your family and friends in Japan using LINE or Skype via wi-fi which is free and easily available at the hotel and Rice University campus. Your U.S. cell phone should only be used to make calls to Japan or other international/non-U.S. numbers in the case of an emergency/urgent situation.

To avoid exorbitant roaming fees, be sure you turn the data on your Japanese cell phone off while in the U.S. and only use this when connected to free wi-fi. Free wi-fi is widely available in the U.S. at hotels, university campuses, shopping malls/stores, restaurants, parks, and more. When in doubt, find your nearest Starbuck’s as they always have free and easily connectable wi-fi in the U.S. If you are unsure about whether your Japanese cell phone can be used in the U.S., and/or the international usage fees, contact your cell phone provider prior to departure.

It is very important that you program in all program contact phone numbers and emergency phone numbers into your U.S. cell phone upon arrival in the U.S.  This way, you can easily call for assistance as needed.  These include:

  • On-campus emergencies (police, fire, ambulance) call -(713) 348-6000
  • Off-campus emergencies (police, fire, ambulance) call – 911
  • Program Staff: Prof. Kono, Aki Shimada, and Sarah Phillips' office and personal cell phone numbers will be given to you upon arrival.
  • Your host professor, mentor, and lab secretary's phone number
  • Hotel Front Desk Phone Number: (713) 528-7744 
  • Taxi Yellow Cab -(713) 236-1111

In the U.S., LINE is not very popular. Indeed, the only U.S. students who use LINE are probably students who have studied abroad in Japan or international students from Japan who are studying in the U.S. Instead, sign up for some of the other popular apps that many Americans use.  If you aren't sure how to use them or what app is best, just ask for advice from the students in your lab or one of the U.S. Fellows. Here are some apps that you may want to download to your U.S. mobile/cell phone: 

In the U.S., it is legal for companies to call your phone number for advertising, to solicit, business, or to conduct phone surveys. Companies and organizations obtain U.S. phone numbers in a variety of ways. For example, if you fill out a sweepstakes/raffle/prize form with your U.S. phone number listed your phone number may be added to an advertising phone list.  Other companies may simply use software to randomly dial combinations of numbers. U.S. phone numbers are also reused/recycled which means that someone else may have had your phone number before and they may have given their number to a company or organization in the past. There are also phone scams where people will call random U.S. phone numbers and say things like "We need to verify your banking account or credit card information" or ask for your address/contact or financial information. All phone numbers in the U.S. receive these types of unsolicited phone calls.

Here are some things you can do when you receive an unsolicited phone call:

  • National Do Not Call Registry:  You can add your U.S. phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry for free.  You must enter in your email address and click on the link they send you to activate your registration in the system within 72 hours of filling out their online form.  Registering your number will greatly reduce, but not completely eliminate, the unsolicited phone calls you receive to your U.S. cell phone. 
  • Program Known Phone Numbers Into your Address Book:  It is very important that you program in the phone numbers for your family, friends, host lab, program staff, and fellow program participants into your U.S. cell phone.  This way, if someone you know is calling it will show up on your caller ID.  
  • Wrong Number:  People may call you and ask for a different person's name.  If this happens, just say "You have the wrong number."  They may then ask you, "This isn't (Name's) phone number?" and you can just say "No, this is not." 
  • Silence: If you get an unsolicited phone call from a number you do not know and there is silence on the line after saying 'Hello' simply hang up.  If it is an important call, they will call back.  
  • Sales/Advertising Calls: If you receive an unsolicited call from someone trying to sell you something, asking you to take part in a survey, or saying that you have won a "Free cruise" or something similar you can: 
    • Simply hang up if it is an automated/machine voice
    • If it is a person, say "No, I am not interested. Please remove me from your call list". 
    • Then, go into your recent call settings and there should be an option to 'Block this Number'.  By selecting this option, that phone number will not be able to call you again. 
  • Scam Calls Asking for your Financial or Other Personal Information:  Do not ever give out your personal contact or financial information in an unsolicited phone call.  Reputable companies and organizations will not ask for this information unsolicited over the phone.  If someone calls saying they need to verify your credit card or banking information and you do not know who they are, this could be a phone scam.  Simply hang up. 
    • If you are concerned that this may be a legitimate call, you can call your bank/credit card or other company back yourself.  Look up their phone number on their main/official website and ask to speak to a representative.  Explain that you received a call asking to verify your financial/banking/account information and want to confirm if it was legitimate.  
    • If this was a scam call, go back into your recent call settings and block the number.  By selecting this option, that phone number will not be able to call you again.  

Prior to leaving Japan, speak with your cell phone company to ask them if your Japanese mobile phone will work in the U.S. and, if yes, what the charges will be to make phone calls, send text messages, or use data services on using your Japanese mobile number.  Usually, it is very expensive to use your Japanese mobile overseas. 

We strongly recommend that you turn the data/cellular/roaming off on your Japanese mobile and only use your Japanese cell phone when connected to wi-fi.  Free wi-fi is available at the hotel and Rice University campus and in many public places, restaurants, shops, and other locations in the U.S. By turning the data off on your phone, you will help ensure you are not charged exorbitant roaming/data usage fees by your Japanese cell phone provider. 

To make calls to family and friends back home in Japan, we recommend using LINE, Skype, Facetime from your computer or when connected to wi-fi from your mobile rather than placing expensive international phone calls.

Student Question: This week, we got emergency alert on my cell phone, AMBER Alert. I was surprised at its unexpected alert! Are there any alert in the U.S.?

  • Yes, an Amber Alert is issued in the U.S. if there is a child that has gone missing or been abducted.  They used to just announce these on the radio and TV but since cell phone technology has improved they can now send these alerts out to all cell phones within a certain radius of the area where the child went missing.   This is a way to help quickly find the child (hopefully) and people who think they have seen something can call the police to share their information. So, if there is an Amber Alert in Houston  you will not receive a text message if you are in Minnesota. Only people in that local area/city or state will get the message. There are also Silver Alerts for senior citizens or other vulnerable adults, such as those with Alzheimer’s, if they go missing.

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Clothing and Shopping in the U.S.

Students and many faculty at Rice University dress very casually. Most days, people will wear pants/shorts and a casual shirt or t-shirt with sneakers or flip-flops/sandals.  It is not uncommon to see professors dressed this way too.   It is all up to personal preference though and you will see some students, faculty members, and staff who dress in business casual attire most days.  As a general rule though, daily attire at a university in the U.S. is probably must more casual than in Japan.  

Miki Matsumoto working in the lab.

When working in the research lab or attending seminars, you can wear casual attire.  However, in many labs you may be required to wear closed-toed/covered shoes, pants, and/or long-sleeved shirts for safety reasons.  Buildings in the U.S. are heavily air conditioned and usually very, very cold. Always bring a light jacket or sweater with you to wear indoors if you get cold easily.  Trust us on this -  the a/c is freezing inside all American buildings. Office buildings, classrooms, labs, grocery stores, museums, bookstores… literally everywhere! 

Be prepared for rain in Houston. Even if it is bright and sunny in the morning, two hours later it may be overcast and rainy.  Always carry an umbrella or rain poncho. Some people even leave an extra pair of shoes in their lab to wear outdoors when it is raining such as rain boots/galoshes or shoes that are okay to get wet.  That way, if you have to walk across campus when it is raining you can put your 'rain' shoes on and when you return to your office/lab change back into your nice dry shoes. 

In the U.S. we do not typically take our shoes off indoors.  Even in homes, many Americans wear their shoes though there are many families in the U.S. who do have a rule to take your shoes off when you come indoors.  This also applies to offices/labs.  There are no lab slippers/shoes that you wear when working at Rice University.  You just keep your normal, everyday shoes on.  At gyms, you can also wear your outside shoes when working out.  If you want to bring office/lab/gym shoes with you that is okay, you can so do.  But there is no rule/standard for outside versus inside shoes in the U.S.   Slippers will not be provided in the hotel room. Bring a pair with you from Japan if you prefer to wear these in your room.  

Shohei Nishimura presenting his poster to Alena Klindziuk, a NanoJapan 2015 Alumnus who is now a PhD student at Rice University.

There will be a few times when you will need to dress up a bit during the program. This includes the final poster presentation, some site visits in Washington, DC, and any other more formal activities/events. You should pack at least one nicer outfit and shoes that you could wear for these events.  This does not need to be a full suit.  It can be 'business casual' meaning a pair of nice pants with a button-up shirt/polo shirt/or sweater for men or, for women a nice dress/skirt/pants with a nice blouse/shirt/sweater.   Ties and high heels are optional.  

There is a small gym and pool at the hotel and students will also have full access to the Rice Gym for free. You should bring a swimsuit, sneakers, gym clothes if you plan to use these amenities. 

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

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

Japan S M L LL 3L
Japan 73 76 79 82 85 88 91



In the U.S., there are many options to purchase inexpensive clothing, homegoods, and other items. Some of the most popular include the following.  These are all chains that can be found throughout Houston so use Google Maps to find the location closest to you.  Depending on their location, you may have to use Uber/Lyft/taxi to get there.   

Outlet Malls:  You can also find outlet malls in many major cities in the U.S.  Be careful of the prices though, sometimes the sale price in the 'regular' store may be as good or cheaper than in the outlet malls.  Outlet malls are also typically located on the outskirts of major cities so it may take a long way to drive there.  Factor in your travel time/cost.  You will need a friend with a car to drive you to these locations. It would be very expensive to take an Uber/Lyft/Cab. 

Houston is a shopping mecca but because of its size there are many shopping areas located throughout the city that you must drive to. There are also many strip malls located along roads that have 2 – 5 shops in them that you would need to drive to via car. Here are some of the major shopping malls/centers/areas of Houston but if there is something you want to buy ask your friends in the lab or the other US Fellows where they would recommend going.  

With the exception of Rice Village, these locations are all too far away for the hotel shuttle to take you.  You will need to travel via Uber/Lyft/Taxi or ask a friend with a car to drive you.  

Major Malls & Shopping Centers 

Omiyage culture is distinctively Japanese. It does not exist in the U.S. When Americans travel or go on vacation we buy do souvenirs but these are typically small gifts for ourselves or our children to remember the trip. We do not, typically, buy gifts for everyone in the office or lab and you are not expected/required to buy gifts/souvenirs for others.

While museums, tourist attractions, and shopping areas that have many tourists may have a gift store the selection of items will be geared towards small, individual souvenirs rather than many boxes of packaged treats/cookies/sweets that can be easily shared.   If the stores do sell treats/cookies/sweets they will likely be a bulk package rather than individually wrapped items. This means they may go bad/not be fresh by the time you bring them back to Japan. Souvenir items also tend to be, comparatively, more expensive in the U.S. as fewer of them are purchased.  

 It can be hard sometimes to find 'enough' omiyage to take back to everyone in Japan.  When you see something that you think would make a good omiyage buy it!  You may not find it again.  Some possible options include: 

From the Purdue Center for Career Opportunities. See
From Morgan Hunter Corporate Search. See


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Communication and Directness in the U.S.

See the sections on Culture and Communication on our Intercultural Communication and Skills page.

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Discrimination and Inequality in the U.S.

What is usually true though is that, whatever town, city or region you are in, university campuses will likely be even more diverse that the surrounding town or area. This is because they bring together students, faculty, and staff from many different places and, particularly within science and engineering, there are many international students, researchers, and professors.  So, if you are on a university campus (even in rural area) you will likely meet people from all over the world. Rice University has been shown to be a good environment for quality of student life and race/class integration and economic diversity and mobility in comparison with some of its peer institutions.

At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlines the 12 types of discrimination now prohibited by U.S. law including. 

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Equal Pay/Compensation
  • Genetic Information
  • Harrassment
  • National Origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race/Color
  • Regligion
  • Retaliation
  • Sex
  • Sexual Harassment 

However, just because discrmination is prohibited by law (de jure) does not mean that it doesn't exist in fact/real life (de facto). Unfortunately, the U.S. does have a very long and complex history of racism and discrimination including periods where slavery, segregation, and exclusionary immigration policies were legal.  Within U.S. society today, de facto (in fact) discrimination and inequality do still exist. 

At the same time, the population of the U.S. is also becoming increasingly more diverse.  Indeed there are some places like Houston and Hawaii that do not have one racial group in the majorly and/or have very high numbers of multiracial Americans. For more on this see this video on The Future of America which highlights some of the major demographic changes the U.S. is currently facing. You may also want to read this article by the Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality on the 20 Facts About U.S. Inequality Everyone Should Know

Race vs. Ethnicity

Past: De Jure (In Law)

Today: De Facto (In Fact) 

In the U.S., there are also divides between rural and urban areas.  In more rural areas with small-towns, there tends to be less diversity and most people who live there have lived in that area for generations.  This means that most people in that town/rural area may have all grown up together and known each other for generations so, therefore, it might feel a bit more closed off to newcomers from other areas of the country or world. 

This does not mean that small tows and rural areas are not welcoming to outsiders/newcomers. Rather it just means that since there are fewer newcomers and, at first, it may take time to get to know other people well.  The same is often true of more rural areas and smaller towns in other countries worldwide as well.  In comparison, more people regularly move to cities from across the U.S. and world for educational and job opportunities so urban areas tend to be more diverse and are, typically, more accustomed to people moving into and out of the city regularly. Some people do find city/urban life isolating though and outside of school and work it can be more difficult to get to know your neighbors or local community.  

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Driving and Pedestrians in the U.S.

Most cities and states in the U.S., including Houston, are heavily car dependent and most households in the U.S. have at least 2 (often more) cars.   In most states you can get your license to drive at 16 and owning a first car is a rite of passage in U.S. society that reflects maturity, independence, and the 'freedom of the open road/highway'. Many Americans will fondly remember getting their first driver's license or buying their first car.  

Outside of densely populated cities like New York, DC, Boston, and San Francisco, cities and towns typically do not have subways or extensive train networks.  On exception to this is Los Angeles which is a very spread out urban area that has increasingly expanded its metrorail lines though the city/region is still highly car dependent. Most cities and mid-size towns do have a bus network, but it is most often used by those who cannot afford their own cars. While many cities in the U.S., including Houston, are seeking to expand their public transportation networks and make their cities more walkable/bike-able the U.S. still has a long, long way to go.

This means that American drivers are not used to/accustomed to watching out or being careful of pedestrians who may be crossing the road.  We tend to drive very fast in the U.S., our cities are very spread out making it difficult to walk places, housing is often far from grocery or other stores, and, therefore, we must drive everywhere.  American roads and transportation infrastructure are primarily designed for cars and not pedestrians. This is often surprising for foreign visitors from countries like Japan which are more pedestrian/biker friendly due to their extensive subway, bus, and train networks. 

Look Both Ways: 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.  

Cross Only At Crosswalks/Intersections:You should also always use a cross-walk when crossing the street.  Jaywalking is very dangerous as drivers in the U.S. tend to drive very fast and they may not see you as you darting across the center of a street. Always walk to the intersection and cross at where there is a stoplight, stop sign or cross walk. In major intersections, most stoplights will have lighted pedestrian walk/don't walk signs.  You may need to push a nearby button to indicate you would like to cross the street to ensure that the pedestrian walk sign does light up.  If the intersection you are at does not have a lighted pedestrian walk signal, wait for the light to turn green in the direction you are walking and then you can cross the street. However, some lights will have a protected left turn that comes on before the green light for people driving straight so be sure you wait for the green light to turn on for people going straight ahead. 

Turning Right on Red: In most cities in the U.S., it is legal (allowed) for driver's to make a right turn from the right-hand lane even if the stop light is red.  You will also need to watch for people turning right; even if the pedestrian walk signal is illuminated. This is often surprising to many foreign visitors as they may start crossing the street when the pedestrian walk light comes on only to be surprised to see a car turn in front of or immediately after them.  This is technically illegal, as pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way when in a cross walk but it does happen.  It is always best to look both ways before stepping out into the crosswalk to be sure that all drivers around you have stopped and see that you are getting ready to cross the street. 

Use Extra Caution in Morning (sun rising) and Evening (sun setting): It can also be very difficult for drivers to see pedestrians or bikers if the sun is in their eyes.  This is particularly true in the morning when the sun is rising or evening when the sun in setting.  Due to the glare and reflection of the direct sun in a driver's eyes they may not be able to clearly see pedestrians during this time. Be extra cautious if walking or biking during the morning rush hour from about 7:00 – 9:00 AM and evening rush hour from about 4:30 – 7:00 PM. 

Make Sure You are Seen at Night:  Crossing the street at night can also be more dangerous, particularly if you are wearing dark colors. The darker your clothing the more likely you are to 'blend in' to the background making it difficult for drivers to see you; especially if they are turning right or left. If you will be walking or biking at night, try to wear bright colors/white which are more reflective and easier to see.   You can also put reflective tape on your jacket or backpack or add reflective elements to your bike



Houston is also a very car-centric city and is not very pedestrian or cyclist friendly. Streets are very wide, people drive very fast, and Houston drivers are not accustomed to looking/watching for pedestrians or bikers.  Even near Rice University, there are been instances of students and faculty getting hit and even killed when crossing busy streets like Fanin St. or Main St. near campus.  

It is very, very important that when in Houston you use the utmost caution when crossing a street or biking.  Always look both ways, make sure no one is turning right, try to make eye contact with nearby drivers before you step out into the intersection, and never, never jaywalk.  You should walk quickly across the street and continue looking both ways to make sure that no one will hit you.  The general rule, if you think there is a chance that the driver won't stop or don't see you don't step out into the crosswalk.  

From the Wyndham hotel there is a nice sidewalk along Main St. and a protected crosswalk at the corner of Main St. and University Blvd.  There is also a free hotel shuttle that will take you to campus and/or you can walk to the BRC and then take the Rice University BRC or BRC Express shuttle during the weekdays.  

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Education in the U.S.

For more see our Education in the U.S. page.

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Emergency Preparedness

Rice University uses an “all-hazards” approach to Emergency Management to mitigate, prepare, respond, and recover from an emergency situation. The University’s response to an emergency involves members of the University’s Crisis Management Team (“CMT”) and other essential employees at the University, as necessary or appropriate.

In the event of an emergency or severe weather event, Rice University will send out text messages to all students, faculty, and staff via the phone number they have registered with Esther.  It is a requirement for all incoming Rice University international students and visitors that you update your address and phone number in Esther upon arrival in the U.S.  You must also sign-up for emergency alerts when updating your address and phone number in Esther.  For more, see the FAQs page.

  • OISS Blog "Keep Your Address Updated in Esther"
  • Login to Esther
    • For detailed instructions see below or click here to view a PPT image of each step.
      • Go to
      • Login to your account
      • If you have not logged in to Esther before, User ID is your student number and you should have gotten an email with a link to set-up your password from the Registrar's Office. If you cannot find the email or forgot your PIN, please send an email to and request your PIN.
      • Click on Update Addresses and Phones
      • Update the information in the "Mailing Address" field (if you do not have a "mailing address" field, you may update your "permanent address" field with your local US address information
      • Click on Submit
      • OISS will then receive an electronic update of your address and that is submitted to SEVIS.
      • Your address should be formatted as below:Line 1 6800 Main Street
        Line 2 Room XXXX (Write your hotel room number) – (Do not write the hotel name or any other information)
        Line 3 Leave blank
        City Houston
        State TX
        Zip Code 77030
        Phone XXX-XXX-XXXX (Write your US mobile phone number) – write the area code (713 or 832, or any other area code) and the rest of the numbers in Phone number box. Don’t write anything in the International phone field.
      • Do not write anything in the Extension box and International Access Code and Phone Number box.

In the U.S., typhoons are called hurricanes and the Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June – November, with the peak chance of hurricanes being from August – October. Not all majors storms become hurricanes, some are lower level tropical depressions or tropical storms.  What they have in common is that these weather events typically bring heavy rains and strong winds to the area. Houston lies along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf Coast) and, with more than 600 miles of coastline, can sometimes find itself in the path of one of these storms.The routes that hurricanes take in the Gulf of Mexico are notoriously unpredictable so in the case of a severe weather event it is important to keep up to date with the weather forecast either online or by watching local news channels.

While most Japanese students may be familiar with what to expect from tropical storms or hurricanes (as they are common in Japan too) it is important to be prepared, aware, and cautious in the case of any severe weather event.  Follow any recommendations or guidance given by the program, the university, your host lab, or the hotel/building you are in at the time.  Prior to a hurricane, you should visit a grocery store to 'stock-up' on bottled water, food, and other supplies in case the power is cut off or you are not immediately able to go outside after the storm due to debris, clean-up efforts, or flooding/rain.  If there is a hurricane forecast to make landfall in or near Houston, Rice University will send out regular updates and information via the emergency text system, direct emails to students/faculty/staff, and postings to the Rice University Facebook page.  You may also want to review the following resources online:

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English Language Resources

For more information see the English Language Resources page.

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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.

What are the rude things Japanese people do when we speak in English, from American’s standpoint? 

  • It is very unlikely a Japanese student will be considered rude in the U.S.  This is because, comparatively, Japan is a much more polite nation overall and in Japanese, there are formal and informal words/phrases.  
  • This means that most Japanese students spend a lot of time asking themselves “How should I say this politely in English?”.  Because you are actively thinking about how to say things in the most polite way, it is very unlikely you would say something that would come across as rude. It is far more common for an American student in Japan to be perceived as rude because they may speak in a too direct or too informal manner. This is because English is a very direct language and we do not have different 'level's of language based on hierarchy. 
  • Due to the emphasis on direct communication in English, Japanese students can sometimes be perceived as being too indirect, not being clear, or not saying 'what they really mean' when speaking in English sometimes.   At first, Japanese students may find this directness rude or very abrupt but it is just the normal style of communication in the U.S. Both spoken and written English is much more direct than Japanese. 
  • This also means you cannot directly translate from Japanese into English.  For example, if you say "Is it possible for you to come at 9:00 AM?" or "It might be good if you could come at 9:00 AM?" the American you are speaking to may think that is just a question/request and they don't actually have to be there at 9:00.   In English, you should say, "Please come at 9:00 AM", or "You should/must come by 9:00 AM", or "The meeting begins at 9:00 AM, do not be late." See our Life in the U.S. page for more on Direct Communication in the U.S.  
  • In Japanese language and culture, silence and pauses are also more common and valued because it is important to carefully consider what you want to say before speaking.   Silence and pauses in conversations make most Americans uncomfortable. Americans may 'jump in' and try to complete your sentence or suggest the word/phrase they think you mean to say. This can be frustrating to Japanese students since you may have just needed an extra minute to think of the best/correct word or simply to translate your thoughts from Japanese to English.  
  • In classroom or meeting settings, Japanese students may wait 'too long' to ask their question and not get called on or feel too shy to 'speak up' and make their voice heard.  The American might wonder why the Japanese students never 'speaks up' and the Japanese student may be frustrated that the American never gives them enough time to think/speak or ask questions.  These language/communication differences are rooted in cultural values where, in the U.S. we tend to place a higher value on efficiency and 'getting our point across quickly' than on group cohesion and mutual understanding.

Also, in America, if I speak politely, then does that mean I am creating a distance between the person who I’m talking to? To what extent I am expected to be “polite”?

  • Yes, speaking too politely or in too formal a manner can cause distance between you and the person you are speaking with. Politeness does matter in the U.S., but we often use informality as a way of putting the other person at ease. This goes back to the American cultural value that is placed on equality and the lack of strict hierarchies in most aspects of day-to-day life.
    • Situation:  Your host professor invites you out for lunch/dinner/coffee  You feel honored to be asked to have this one-on-one meeting with your professor and spend all night preparing a list of research topics/questions you want to talk about with him/her so they know you are a serious student/researcher.  You dress up for this lunch/dinner/coffee and are starting to feel a little nervous so you show up to meet them at their office 5 minutes early.   When you arrive at the office you notice they are wearing very casual clothes (maybe just a t-shirt and shorts) and say "Hang on a minute, I just need to finish this last email."  You stand outside the door feeling awkward, not knowing what to do.  They may or may not notice and ask you to come in and sit down to wait.   You aren't sure what to think and wonder if this is inconvenient for the professor since they seem to be so busy?  During the lunch/dinner/coffee your professor asks that you call them by their first name and proceeds to ask you many questions about your day-to-day life and why you came to do research in the U.S.  When you try to ask a question about research they say, "No, no, let's not talk about work/research. This is an informal meeting. Let's just chat. I want to get to know you better." Even though they asked that you call them by their first name, you keep saying Prof. XXX.  You are also feeling a little anxious because all the questions you prepared were about research.  You start to sense that the professor is getting a little annoyed when you keep asking him/her about research but you don't feel comfortable them about their personal life. What questions should I ask?  What questions are too personal? Will I offend him/her if I ask this?  You find a 'middle ground' and start asking the profession questions about their background. When/how did they decide to be an engineer or a scientist? Where did they go to school?  What did they study? What is it like to be a professor and balance work and family commitments? Have you worked anywhere other than Rice University? What advice would they give a young undergraduate student today? Overall, the lunch/dinner/coffee went well and you got to learn a lot more about the professor but you may have feel anxious or uncomfortable at times since it was so different than what you expected. 
    • What Happened:  To an American, this would be a very normal interaction to have with a professor.  Informality in the U.S. is a way to 'break-down' barriers between people and put the other person at ease.  To a U.S. student, a professor asking them to use their first name would mean that professor is likely someone who is very approachable and that they could talk to/ask about anything (school, research, personal, career, etc.). Also, in the U.S. we tend to use informal conversations, small talk, or discussions about our backgrounds, non-work/non-research aspects of our lives as a way to build connections with others.  Since there are so many diverse paths for people to take in the U.S., both educationally and career-wise, asking about someone's career/academic path can also be a helpful way to learn about possibilities for your own future.  In the U.S., almost everyone comes from 'somewhere else' so conversations of this nature help us get to know our lab/team members better. This informality 'puts the U.S. student at ease' but conversely can be confusing or anxiety inducing for the Japanese student who may be used to communicating with professors in a much more formal manner and typically only about classes or research. 
    • However, be aware that not all professors in the U.S. are okay with being called by their first name.  This varies by individual, so only use a professor's first name if they say, "Please, call me XXX." Or, if you are unsure, ask your graduate student mentor for advice on how to address your professor.  
    • For more on this see the Small-talk, Friendliness, and Optimism section of our Life in the U.S. page.

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Exercise in the U.S.

As a visiting undergraduate research student at Rice University you will have 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.

At the Wyndham Houston Medical Center hotel there is also a pool and small fitness center. The fitness center is open 24/7 by using your hotel key card to enter. 

The Rice Loop goes all the way around campus is very popular for people who like to jog, run or walk. You will see many people that live near Rice University using this in the mornings or evenings. Just be sure to look for cars that are entering/exiting campus at the driveways and streets. 

We do not recommend walking/running around the loop by yourself at night when it is very dark.  While there are some lights around the path, due to the tree cover it can be very dark in certain areas.  Exercise when it is light out and use the buddy/friend system if you must walk along the loop late at night when it is dark. 

If you like to play a certain sport or do a certain type of activity, you can likely find an opportunity to do so in Houston or at Rice University.  

  • Biking: See topic on Bicycles in Houston above.  
  • Golfing: Houston has a number of public golf courses.  The closest to Rice University is the Hermann Park Municipal Golf Course.  Call the golf course in advance to see if you can rent clubs there. 
  • Ice Skating:  There is an indoor ice skating rink at the Galleria Shopping Mall that has public skating hours.  
  • Intramural Sports:  Most universities in the U.S. also offer Intramural Sports teams.  These are casual sports teams that anyone can join that compete against other intramural teams on campus.  You do need to register/sign up to join a team and it will depending on their practice/game schedule and if there are any open spots if you are able to participate while you are in the U.S.  
  • Kayaking:  Did you know you can kayak in Buffalo Bayou in Houston? Rentals are available near Lost Lake. 
  • Rice University Group Fitness Classes: Attend one of the many group fitness classes available through the Rice University gym.  S.W.E.A.T classes are free with your Rice ID and Mind & Body Fitness Classes (yoga and pilates) require you to purchase an additional pass. Ask for more details at the front desk. 
  • Rice University Gym Equipment Rentals:  You can rent various equipment through the Rice University gym including camping materials, kayaks, and surfboards. 
  • Rice University Gym Sports Facilities: Through the Rice University gym you can reserve or participate in open hours to use their indoor basketball, racquetball, squash, soccer, floor hockey, and volleyball courts.  Ask your friends in the lab or at Rice University if they know of anyone who plays the sport you are interested in and see if you can join in any regular meet-up/game they have.  
  • Rice University Student Clubs: Consult the Clubs Listings to see if there is a student group on campus that regularly meets for your sport/hobby. 
  • Swimming: Use the hotel pool or the Rice University gym pool for free. 
  • Yoga and Pilates:  In addition to the classes offered at the Rice Gym there are many yoga and pilates studios in Houston. Search Google for nearby studios. There are also free group fitness classes held weekly (weather permitting) at Discovery Green Park in Downtown Houston. 

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Geography of the U.S.

The U.S. is big – Japan is about 26 times smaller than the U.S.!

Texas is big! Japan is about 2 times smaller than the state of Texas. 

We often don't think about geography as having an impact on a culture or society but it definitely does.  Just think of how the mountainous, island geography of Japan has shaped its society and culture.  Because Japan is an island nation, it was able to develop a unique and largely homogenous culture and choose when and how to allow outside influences to enter the country for much of its history.  Because most of Japan's islands are mountainous most of the population was forced to live in densely populated cities and towns along its flatter plains for all of its history.  This densely populated, urban environment directly impacted social and cultural norms of politeness, privacy, order, and respect.  

By comparison, the U.S. is a very large country with huge swathes of 'open' and flat land in the middle that, still today, remain more sparsely populated.  Dense urban cities are largely found on the East or West coasts.  As a country of immigrants, influences from around the world have impacted the social and cultural norms throughout or history and these easily spread across the continental U.S. as the early settlers continued to move west in search more land. This ability to 'spread out' across the nation inculcated a spirit of independence and self-sufficiency in American society. The original structure of the 12 different colonies established  in different places along the East Coast in the 1600's directly impacted the governmental structure and led to the establishment of the system of 50 States and under the umbrella of the federal government and also led to the establishment of key divisions of power between state and federal rights.  

Today, you can still find various regional differences in the U.S. and even within the same state there can be many different climates, geographies, and trademarks.  For more on the geography of the U.S. and how it has impacted our development, society, and culture see the websites and articles below. 

Houston is big! The entire island of Oahu (where Honolulu is) fits within the Beltway 8 ring road and Houston city limits extend even further beyond this ring road and would cover much of the New York Metropolitan Area (including parts of New Jersey – an entirely different state). 


This means that there is no one 'Texas' and no one 'Houston'.  Depending on where you are in the city or in the state you will find different climates, geographies, population demographics, and things may look/feel different as well. 

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Greetings in the U.S.

See the section on U.S. Greetings under Cultural Communication on our Intercultural Resources page.

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Fondren Library

In front of GIS center at Fondren – with Kim, the head of GIS/Data Center. ~ Etsuko Ishii

You can enter and use the facility in the Fondren Library with your Rice ID card and use the facilities, books, and hard copy journals while you are in the library.  As a visiting student, you are not allowed to check out books (take them home) but can access all other services. During the school year, the library is open quite late and you can find the current hours on the website. There are also some special centers and collections that you can access and use at the library though access/hours to some hours may be more limited than to the general library.  For more on using the library see the Student Assistance page. 

If you go to the main Fondren Library website, you will see a blue search bar on the home page.  To find a journal article or other resources simply type in the key words and then a list of results will come up. 

For example, a search for 'Quantum Wells' reveals 282 books and 389,775 articles.  If you want to see all the books or articles, simply click the link to show 'View All Results'. 

You'll see in the articles column, that there are some articles with a PDF icon for the full text.  This means that the digital version of this article is within Rice University's library holdings.  If you see a link that says 'Find Full Text' it may be possible to find the full text (PDF) of that article through online services that Rice University is affiliated with or a member of.  In both cases you will likely need to enter in your Rice University Net ID and Password to access the PDF or affiliated services.  This is one of the most helpful ways to use your Rice University Net ID and Password as it gives you access to a huge number of electronic journals and articles that you would otherwise have to pay individually to read.   

Due to copyright, the articles you save/download/print are only for your personal use. It is a violation of copyright to distribute additional hard copies of the articles or publish them online in any format.  Don't post or share these PDFs to any website, message board, social media or other online site.  You can save them to your computer and use them for your own research/personal purposes. 

If you are on campus and connected to the Rice University wireless network or using a computer in a computer lab you should be able to directly access all article PDFs without needing to log in.  If you are off-campus you may need to login to the proxy server to access online articles/journals.  If off campus, when clicking on a PDF icon you may see this screen and should just enter in your own NetID and password.  

If you need to access an article that does not have a PDF icon, simply click on the 'Find Full Text Link' and that should take you to a different screen (see example below) that will show you whether the full text version is available or not.  Depending on the journal/affiliated resource, clicking the full text link may take you to a table of contents where you can find the correct article or you may need to re-enter the journal title into the search field if it is not easy to find on your own.  You may need to select  your institutional affiliation via a drop-down menu. Look for 'Rice University' or 'William Marsh Rice University'.  The system may then re-direct you to the proxy login where you need to enter your Net ID and password to be able to gain access.  If you are having difficulties accessing/finding an article that you would like to read/use simply bring your laptop to the Fondren Library and look for the Reference Librarian desk and someone there should be able to assist you.  If you cannot find a librarian go to the Circulation Desk and let them know you are having difficulty accessing and article and ask if a librarian can assist you. 





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History of the U.S.

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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.

Each year, we update our Houston Scavenger Hunt online document with information on different sight-seeing opportunities, events, and activities in Houston.  This document is typically updated about 2 weeks prior to student's arrival in the U.S. and can be a helpful tool for planning things you might want to see/do during your free time.   

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International Students in the U.S.

See our section on International Students in the U.S. on our Education in the U.S. page.

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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.

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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.

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Money and Credit Card

See Before You Go: Notifying Banks and Credit Cards on our Pre-Departure Resources page.

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Music in Houston

There are a lot of options for listening to classical music and opera in Houston. 

One of the best options is to attend a concert or performance at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music.  These are often free or have discounted student tickets and the Shepherd School is one of the top ranked music schools in the nation.   

Downtown Houston is also home to the Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera.  If you want to attend a performance Downton you can often get discounted 'rush' tickets on the day of the performance – but you have to physically go to Downtown Houston and stand in line outside the ticket window to purchase.  These are also often individual seat tickets. If you go with a friend/s you probably won't be able to sit together.  

Depending on the time of the year you are in Houston, Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park also hosts free evening and weekend events and performances – including by the Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera.  Since Hermann Park is right across the street from Rice campus, it is a great option if there is an event you want to attend. You site on the grassy hill and should bring a blanket, bug spray for mosquitos, and food/drinks to snack on. If you have a lawn chair, you should sit on the left side. If you are sitting on a blanket, you should sit on the right side of the hill (as you face the stage).

Outside food and beverages (including alcohol) are allowed but only in paper or plastic containers. No glass bottles or containers should be used. Remember, the legal drinking age of 21+ still applies and police officers do often patrol the crowd.  If you want to purchase wine at the snack bar you will need your ID (passport) and if a police officer sees you consuming alcohol and you appear to be under 21 they may ask you to show your ID. If you are not of legal age to drink (21+) and you are caught consuming alcohol by an officer, you may be cited for underage drinking and your friends who are 21 or over may be cited for provide alcohol to a minor.  Keep this in mind and please make a responsible choice about whether to bring/consume alcohol or not. 

Houston is not very well known for its live music scene but it does have one.  Since Houston is so diverse, there really isn't one style of music that dominates, you can find everything here – if you know where to look. There also is a genre of hip-hop/rap music that is known as Houston style. Typically, when most people think of the best live music in Texas they think of Austin, Texas which has had a much more robust live music scene and is home to Austin City Limits.

However, many live music venues in the U.S. are struggling a bit now as more and more people find their music online.  Audience numbers are declining and, particularly for genres like Jazz and the Blues, most of their audience will be older. Younger Americans tend to prefer to attend major artist concerts in large arenas (e.g. Beyonce) or large music festivals such as South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin or Coachella in California. So, outside of a few key ‘live music cities’ like Austin, New Orleans, Nashville TN, Chicago, and New York City it can sometimes seem like there really is much of a live music scene.  It is there, you just have to look for it and there may only be a handful of venues for your preferred genre of music.

Gentrification is also have an impact on live music venues as many urban/inner city locations that were once quite cheap (since people primarily lived in the suburbs) are seeing massive rent increases as millennials move back to the inner city areas and they are re-developed with higher end housing.  Since profit margins for live music venues can be very small, increasing rents in the historically cheaper locations where many are located means that many of these clubs have had to close or are struggling to survive economically.

Jazz really developed within the African-American community so in places like New Orleans and cities like New York and Chicago you will find many more great live jazz options.  But jazz clubs do exist all over the U.S., you just have to consult Google-sensei to find out where they are in your area.  Many cities also have jazz festivals, the most famous being in New Orleans, but these are often held either during the fall (in hot cities like Houston) or summer.

Another American musical style that is similar to jazz, and also grew out of the African-American community, is the Blues.  The best place for blues is typically in Southern states though there are blues bands all over the country and large blues festivals nationwide as well.

However, many live music venues in the U.S. are struggling a bit now as more and more people find their music online.  Audience numbers are declining and, particularly for genres like Jazz and the Blues, most of their audience will be older.

Yes, you can bring a musical instrument with you to the U.S. but you must consider the size and possibility of the instrument being damaged or lost while you are abroad.  If it is a very expensive/important instrument, consider whether you would be okay if something bad happens to it while overseas?   How large is the instrument and will you have to check it as luggage on the flight or can it count as a carry-on? 

Either way, your instrument will take up one of your two free checked luggage or two carry-on (backpack/bag + personal item (purse/briefcase) allowances on the flight.  So, if you carry on your instrument you will only be allowed one additional bag/backpack or if you check your instrument you will only be allowed one other suitcase.  This means you may not have extra room to bring back gifts/souvenirs when you return to Japan at the end of the program. 

If you do bring your instrument with you abroad, you can practice in your hotel room or even outdoors in the park or grassy areas near Rice. As long as you are practicing during daytime hours (say between 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM) when people will not be sleeping and you do not play too loudly it should be okay.   

While the Shepherd School of Music does have some practice rooms available, these are typically reserved by music school studnets (who have first choice/priority) so you may not be able to use these. You would have to contact the Shepherd School directly to ask if it is possible for you to reserve a practice room or not.  

Music can be a great way to deal with stress and 'center' yourself and if you regularly play an instrument it is part of your identity as well.  If you cannot bring your instrument abroad, think of other ways that you can meet this need. Perhaps you could attend some of the free concerts at the Shepherd School or Miller Outdoor Theater (see Classical Music in Houston section above) or attend live music venues or concerts in Houston (see Live Music in Houston section above)?  Finding a way to stay connected to this aspect of you who are while you are abroad is a great way to handle the stress and ups and downs that come with living overseas and doing research. 

If you have specific questions, please email us for additional information. 

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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 limited bus and metro rail options.

The Wydnham Hotel operates a free shuttle that will take guests to/from locations within 2 miles of the hotel. This includes nearby grocery stores, Target, Rice University campus, Hermann Park/Museum District, and Rice Village Shopping/Restaurant Area. 

Some routes have regular schedules but, when you want to leave the hotel just go to the lobby and wait for the driver to come in and announce where they are going. If you would like to go to a different location, you can ask the driver if they can take you there after dropping off the other passengers (for example if they take guests to the Medical Center first and then go to Rice University). 

When you would like to be picked up, you will need to call the Wyndham Hotel and ask to have the driver pick you up at your location.  They may ask for a specific address/spot.  For example, you can't just say "Pick me up at Rice University."  Instead, ask "Please pick me up at Rice University by Stop Number  18 in front of the Rice Student Center" or "Please pick me up in Rice Village outside the Black Walnut Cafe." Depending on the driver, they may ask you to walk to a different location on campus or in Rice Village where it will be easier for them to pick you up. 

This is a free, shared van shuttle service for all hotel guests and you may need to wait to be picked up or dropped off as the driver makes multiple stops.   Being a shuttle driver is considered a service industry job in the U.S. and, therefore, the driver would appreciate any tips you are willing to give.  Typically, you could give the driver about $1 per day or if you take the same shuttle at the same time each day and always have the same driver you could give them $5 for the week.  Tipping is not required but it is appreciated.  For more, see our section on Tipping in the U.S.


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:


Ride sharing services may be uncommon in Japan, 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 these car sharing services can be a great option.

How do they Work: They are very convenient to use as you simply download the app to your phone can can request a ride/driver through the app without needing to call someone.  Before requesting your ride, 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'. The app will tell the driver exactly where you are and show you how soon the driver will be arriving.  You pre-load your credit/debit card information in the app and will automatically be charged for the ride to your credit card when complete.  This means you don't need to carry any cash or credit/debit card as you pay electronically via the app.  The app will also give you the option of tipping the driver and having that tip charged to your card as well.  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 Japanese students, 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

The two main ride-sharing services in Houston Uber and Lyft.  They operate very similarly and have about the same prices.  You can download both apps to your U.S. mobile phone and if you can't find a ride using Uber you can try to find a ride using Lyft. 

Uber Eats: Uber also offers Uber Eats in Houston.  This is a food delivery service that enables you to order food from a wide range of nearby restaurants to have delivered to your hotel.  Simply download the app to your phone, enter your credit card information, and search for nearby restaurants by putting in the address of the hotel.  You can then order your food, pay the restaurant, and pay the driver all through the app.  The app will let you know when the driver is nearby and you can go down and meet them in the lobby to pick-up your food.  The app will also give you the option of adding a tip for the driver to your charge.  

Regular Taxis:  Houston also has a number of regular/traditional taxi companies.  The most popular/common is Yellow Cab. To request a taxi, you will need to call the taxi company and give them your exact pick-up and drop-off address or use their website. You cannot just say "Pick me up outside the Walnut Cafe in Rice Village' you must give the exact pick-up address for the restaurant and the exact drop-off address for the hotel.  This makes calling for a taxi less convenient than using the Uber or Lyft apps which automatically determine your pick-up location based on where your phone is.  To pay for taxis, you will need to have cash or use a credit card.  Be sure to ask the taxi company phone operator for a 'Credit Card Cab' when you call to make sure if you don't want to pay via cash. 



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:

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, a ride-sharing service will be much faster and more convenient. 

In Houston, there are taxi cab companies but you must call the dispatcher and provide them with your address/location and they will then send a cab to you.  Taxis do not drive down the streets in Houston so that you can just hail a taxi from the sidewalk or curb.  You will find taxis waiting outside of the airport in Houston and nearby some major hotels, but they are not as common in Houston as in other cities. Some taxi companies allow for online ordering from their websites but it is not as quick or a easy to use as the Uber or Lyft apps.

Also, Uber and Lyft are very popular now (see above) and this has caused some taxi drivers in major cities like New York City to lose work/fares.  So, even in cities in the U.S. like New York City you see fewer taxis (yellow cabs) on the streets than you did in the past.  

Japanese students may be surprised to find that most freeways and highways in the U.S. are free to drive on and do not require tolls.  While there are certain roads in the U.S that are toll roads in some states in the U.S., most freeways are free and some states do not allow toll roads at all.  Americans pay for their highways largely through gas sales taxes but in heavily populated areas, like the Northeast, toll roads are more commonly used to fund infrastructure/maintenance projects on heavily trafficked roadways.

In Houston, Beltway 8 is a toll road and there is also the Hardy Toll Road that goes from Downtown Houston to the IAH airport and northern suburbs.  These toll roads are typically used by people who commute from the far suburbs into central Houston for work and there is a sensor you place on your windshield that will automatically deduct the toll from your account when you drive through. Most toll roads in the U.S. are automated like this now so, even if you are on a toll road, you do not have to stop to pay in change or cash.

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Recycling and Trash in the U.S.

One of the biggest differences between the U.S. and Japan is that sorting garbage and recycling is not mandatory – it is optional. Indeed, in some cities/rural areas it may not be possible to recycle as the city may not offer recycling pick-up/disposal.  What items you can recycle and how/where depend a great deal in the U.S. on where you live and the resources/facilities available in that local area. Japanese students are often confused to find just one trash bin that they are supposed to throw everything in just as U.S. students are equally confused at how many different categories trash must be sorted into before being thrown away. It is possible to recycle in the U.S. it just take a little more work.  For more, see these section below on Recycling in the U.S. 

The Wyndham Hotel does not have separate recycling in the hotel rooms. You can put all trash in the single, small trash bin provided in the kitchen (look in the cabinet under the kitchen sink if you don't see it) or the small trash bins in the bathroom or near the desk.  When throwing away food/liquid items please be sure these are securely placed in the plastic garbage bag or tie them up into another plastic garbage bag and place this inside the main bag in the bin.  This will ensure that the housekeeper does not spill the food when changing the trash and will limit food/trash smells in your room.  

There is a recycling bin in the hotel lobby near the exit doors where you can deposit paper, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans.  Or, you can keep your recyclable items (paper, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and glass) in a separate plastic or paper bag and bring these with you to Rice University and place in any blue bin on campus. 

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.  

Any items that cannot be recycled will go in the regular trash bins and do not need to be sorted.  If there is not a recycling bin at the hotel, you can bring your recycling to Rice campus and place it in one of the bins on campus. If you have batteries you would like to dispose of please bring these to the Environmental Health and Safety office as they are not safe to put into the trash/landfill. 

In the U.S. there in an increasing emphasis on sustainability and reducing our wastes. This is why you will see many Americans carrying a reusable water bottle or coffee/tea thermos with them. Rather than buying bottled water or using a disposable cup at Starbucks, they can instead just fill their water bottle up at any nearby fountain or ask the barista to use their own mug for coffee.  Many Americans will also bring reusable shopping bags with them to the grocery or department store and decline the paper or plastic bag.  Indeed, in some places like in Hawaii and San Francisco single-use plastic grocery/shopping bags have been banned. At some stores you may be charged a small fee for each plastic/paper bag you use.  Reducing the amount of waste that needs to be thrown away or recycled is the most effective means of addressing sustainability issues.  This will likely become increasingly important as some of the countries that typically accepted recyclable waste, such as China, are banning the import of 'foreign waste'.  Here are some things you can to do create less waste to begin with. 

  • Purchase a reusable water bottle and refill at water fountains. You can even get one with a built in filter. 
  • Purchase a Brita Water Pitcher and put in your fridge to have clean/filtered water without needing to purchase plastic water bottles. 
  • Bring your own tea/coffee mug to the coffee shop and ask the barista to use that instead of a disposable cup 
  • Carry a reusable shopping bag in your backpack or purse and use this instead of plastic/paper bags at the grocery or other stores. 
  • Carry a portable flatware set with chopsticks with you so you don't need to use plastic cutlery when eating out. 
    • Ordering food for delivery? Be sure to ask that they do not include plastic cutlery or napkins when they bring your food. 
  • Use metal straws instead of plastic.

Recycling and Sustainability in Houston 

Other Articles and Resources on Recycling and Sustainability in the U.S. 

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Religion in the U.S.

Some Japanese students are curious to learn about religious services in the U.S. and may want to attend a church or other type of religious service.  There are many, many churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques in Houston and to learn more about religion in Houston click here.  You do not have to be a member or regular attendee of the church/synagogue/mosque to visit and observe/join weekly services. Visitors are common and usually very warmly welcomed.  The key thing to know is that it is okay to go just one time and not go again.  So if you are curious and just want to attend once that is okay! 

Most churches and religious groups in the U.S. welcome visitors and their services are usually open to the public. It is not uncommon for Americans who move to a new city/town to visit and attend services at a number of different churches or synagogues/mosques before they decide which place to attend regularly or become a member of. Often, Americans will continue attending the same type of church/religious services that their family attended when they were growing up.  For example, if you grew up in a Lutheran church and want to continue attending services as an adult, you will look for a Lutheran church to regularly attend/join in the city/town you move to.  There are also churches in Houston that hold services in other languages such as Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese. 

Attire: What to wear to church or religious services depends a great deal on the type of institution you are attending. If this is a student-group on campus, attire will likely be quite casual. If this is one of the major churches/denominations in Houston you may be more likely to see people dressed up.  Women tend to wear a nice dress or skirt/slacks and a nice top.  Men tend to wear khaki or other nice pants with a button-up or collared/polo shirt. Usually suits/ties are not required.  If you aren't sure what to wear, dress up a little bit the first time you attend and then you can always dress more casually the next time if you realize this is okay.  

Visitors Log: There may be a visitors log that you are asked to fill out and you can choose to just put your name down and not provide your email, address, or cell phone number. If you do provide your contact information, you may receive a follow-up email, text, or letter inviting you to attend services at that institution again in the future.  Usually, if you don't plan or know if you will return again, it is best to just write down your name and not provide your contact information.  If you do provide contact information and you no longer want to receive information from the church, you can ask to be removed from their contact list and they should honor this request. 

Photos: It is okay to take photos outside of the building at any time.  During the actual religious service, do no take photos as it would be considered rude to do this while people are worshiping (similar to taking photos of someone praying at a temple or shrine in Japan). If you want to take photos inside the chapel, you can wait until the end of the service and then ask one of the ushers (usually located near the entrance doors) if it is okay to take a photo inside or not.    Some churches may have tours of their building/facilities that you can join, particularly if they are historic or very beautiful locations. 

Where to Attend?:  You may want to ask your friends at Rice University if they attend religious services and, if so, ask if you can join the the next time they go.  It is very common for someone who is new or curious about a church to go with a friend or someone they know the first time. You can go alone and in almost all cases will be warmly welcomed as a visitor, but it can also be interesting to go with a friend too and then you can ask them more about why they attend that specific church/religious institution and any questions  you may have after the service.  It is also important to know that many Americans, particularly younger people, are not religious and/or do not attend religious services regularly.  Even if someone says, "I'm Methodist (a type of Christian denomination) it does not mean they regularly attend a Methodist church each Sunday.  Each person is unique in their religious identity, or lack thereof. 

Campus-based Groups:  At Rice University, there are a number of religious/spiritual student-based/organized clubs that may have services or weekly meetings that you could attend.  Click here for the current list and then see if you can find the group's website or Facebook page by searching Google for more information on their upcoming meetings.  These groups are in no way financially supported or endorsed by Rice University.  Rather, these are just student-led/organized clubs/groups that have registered as an official club on campus.  

Off-campus Churches and Religious Institutions:  There are thousands of churches and other religious institutions in Houston spread all across the city.  The list below is not meant to be a comprehensive list of churches/religious organizations in Houston. Rather, it just includes those institutions that are located close to campus and that would be convenient for students to attend.  Click on the name of the institution to see their website and see what day/time their religious services will be held. There is also often a page for visitors or people who are new to attending on their website. 

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Safety in Houston & the U.S.

The Rice University area, including where the hotel is located, 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.  The greatest risk is property theft, for example your laptop, purse, or bike being stolen.  

Some general safety tips when on campus or in the hotel include: 

  • Never leave your hotel room, office, or lab door unlocked or propped open. Always close and lock all doors and take your keys with you when you need to leave to go to the bathroom, do laundry, or go to the lobby.   
  • Never leave your laptop, purse, or backpack unattended at a table when you go to the bathroom.  This is an easy invitation for someone to steal your stuff. Ask a friend if they can watch your stuff for you or take it with you.  
    • You may see other Rice studnets doing this or they may tell you "It's okay, campus is safe" but this is your stuff.  What would happen if you lost your computer? Or your passport? Or all your money or credit/debit card?  Is it really worth the risk? Even though it may be in convenient never leave your belongings unattended. 
  • Use the peephole in your hotel room door to verify who is there before you open it.  If you are unsure of who the person is, do not open the door but call the front desk and let them know there is someone you do not know at your door. 
    • Be aware that the housekeepers will typically knock once on the door and if no one answers will use their hotel room key to enter your room to clean.  When they come in, they will typically announce "Housekeeping" as well. If you do not want the housekeepers to enter your room (for example if you want to sleep in on the weekend) you should put the 'Do Not Disturb' sign outside on your doorknob the night before.  Just be sure to remove the 'Do Not Disturb' sign when you leave so they can come in and clean. If it is too late in the day, the housekeepers may not clean your room that same day but will come back tomorrow as they typically only work during the day time hours from early morning to mid-afternoon. 
  • If rooms nearby you are being too loud/noisy or if you have safety concerns call or speak to someone at the front desk of the hotel. 
  • 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.
  • Use the buddy/friend system when walking to/from campus or other locations at night.  Sidewalks/streets can be dark in certain places and it is safer not to walk alone after dark in the U.S. 
  • Always keep your U.S. mobile phone on you and fully charged so you can use this to call 911 in case of an emergency, use Google maps in case your are lost, or request an Uber/Lyft.   Carry a back-up battery or charing cable with you to use as needed. 
  • If you have a bike, use a secure bike lock and always ensure it is locked to a sturdy bike rail/stand.  Bikes are commonly stolen around university campus in the U.S. – even ones that are locked.  Have a back-up 'bike savings' account just in case your bike is lost, stolen, or damaged if this is your primary means of transportation.  
  • 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.

For a comprehensive overview of safety and security in the U.S. see the International SOS: United States page. 

Guns: As most foreigners are aware, gun laws in the U.S. are very different than in most other developed nations.  The Second Amendment to the constitution has provided legal justification for the right to bear arms and, in 2008, the Supreme Court of the U.S. struck down a Washington, DC law banning handguns. There is a very strong lobby, the National Rifle Association, that challenges any laws that seek to place limits on the sale or possession of firearms. However, this does not mean that every American, or every Texas, has a gun.  Many Americans do not own and do not allow weapons of any sort in their homes.  Those  Americans that do legally possess firearms typically keep them securely locked up and go to great efforts to ensure they cannot be stolen or end up in the hands of children.  

Some states, such as Hawaii, have very strict laws concerning gun ownership and possession. Geography is important as, in the continental/mainland U.S., it is very easy to drive across state lines and therefore bring guns from a state with easy/lax purchasing regulations into a state that has more strict requirements for purchasing weapons is quite easy.  Geography is one of the reasons Hawaii has such low number of guns and weapons compared to other states as you cannot drive to this state, you must fly or take a boat and all incoming passengers/shipments are strictly inspected in Hawaii before arrival.  Indeed, Japan's geography as an island nation also helps make it very difficult to smuggle guns into the country in comparison to other countries that have more porous land borders. 

Rice University has a very strict weapons policy and faculty, staff, students, contractors and visitors are prohibited from possessing firearms, explosives, other dangerous weapons and replicas of dangerous weapons while on Rice property, in buildings where a Rice-sponsored activity is held or within or on Rice’s vehicles. Therefore, you should not encounter weapons of any sort while on Rice University campus.

Yet many in the U.S. see the right to bear arms (own guns) as a part of American culture and history so there is a complex push and pull between efforts to limit gun sales/ownerships and those who see these efforts as being unconstitutional or 'un-American'.  This is very different than in Japan which has some of the strongest gun regulations in the world.  You may want to talk with your U.S. friends about gun control in the U.S. to gain greater insight and understanding of this complex issue.

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Staying Healthy in the U.S.

In addition to the safety tips above you should carefully review the Medical & Health Resources in the U.S. page for information on staying healthy while in the U.S.

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

See section on Small Talk, Friendliness, and Optimism in the U.S. under the topic on Communication and Culture on our Intercultural Communication and Skills page.

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Social Issues in the U.S.

The prevalence of homelessness in the U.S. can vary widely depending on the city/town, state, or area that you are in in.  While some funding to address homelessness is provided at the federal level, the majority of funding to address this problem is provided at the state/local level and/or through non-profit organizations and charitable giving.  This means that approaches to how to address homelessness vary widely across the U.S. 

It is also important to note that there is a growing number 'unseen homeless'.  These are individuals who may not have a permanent home of their own but live temporarily with family/friends or in week-by-week rental motels.  Many of the 'unseen homeless' do work and have jobs but they may not be paid a 'living wage' for the city/area they are living in. The stability of their housing situation is often precarious and they may not be guaranteed that they will have a roof over their head from day to day.  This housing insecurity is often the result of the increasingly rising housing prices in many urban areas that are forcing workers out of neighborhoods that had, up until recently, been affordable for them to live in.  This is particularly true in cities like San Francisco and Hawaii where even college graduates working in professional positions are increasingly priced out of the local rental and housing markets.  


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Stereotypes of the U.S.

See section on Stereotypes under the U.S. vs. Japanese Culture topic on our Intercultural Communication and Skills page.

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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.  You should also watch the Rice University Events Calendar for notice of various seminars and other special events on campus.

Student Question: The undergraduates at Rice seemed to have numerous opportunities to join campus activities, meet new people, and be surrounded by people with various backgrounds, but what about graduate students? Are there any events and activities for graduate students to get to know each other?

  • Yes, there is the Graduate Student Association at Rice, International Graduate Student Cultural Night, Intramural Sports, workshops and events organized by the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, and many clubs and activities are also open to graduate students. One is the Wiki Women at Rice which is a graduate club for women in science and engineering.  The GSA also put together a team for Beer Bike where graduate students compete against undergraduate students. Graduate students can also take advantage of many on campus services and offices such as the Center for Career Development, Counseling Center, Recreation Center, Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, and many more.
  • Graduate students tend to spend more time in the lab and often the friends they hang out with outside of the lab may be their labmates or classmates. They often have less time for clubs and student organizations/activities than students do in undergraduate life, but if there are things they are passionate about and want to pursue/participate in they do have opportunities they can take advantage of.

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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.

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Sun Protection in Houston

Houston is much closer to the equator than Japan and therefore the sun seems much stronger; particularly during the summer month.  It is very hot and humid in August – September in Houston the sun will be very strong. Take appropriate precautions such as wearing sun screen, hats, and sunglasses.

In Japan, wearing sunglasses on a daily basis is not popular and wearing them regularly can be perceived as being too casual or rude.  This is actually something that many foreign visitors to Japan from Western countries comment on and are surprised about. 

In the U.S., particularly in Houston, it is the exact opposite!  Everyone wears sunglasses when they are outdoors all the time.  This is largely because Texas is much closer to the equator and, therefore, the sun is very strong/direct.   You may find your eyes hurt if you are outdoors and are not wearing sunglasses. It is also a way to protect the sensitive skin around your eyes from sun damage and, if driving, can be necessary to prevent glare from the sun impeding your vision of the road and cars around you.   

Regular Sunglasses: Plan to bring or purchase a pair of good-quality sun glasses to wear regularly when outdoors in Houston.  You should look for sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB light. You can buy regular sunglasses at many different types of stores in the U.S.  Homegoods/department stores like Target are good options (usually ~$20 – $30) and there are even specialty sunglasses stores where you can buy more expensive/nicer pairs.  For example, there is a Sunglasses Hut in the Galleria Mall in Houston.  

Prescription Sunglasses: If you wear prescription glasses, you may want to visit your eye doctor to get a set of prescription sunglasses or purchase a pair that can fit over your eye glasses to wear when you are outdoors.  It is very expensive to get prescription eye glasses or sun glasses in the U.S. so you should bring these with you from Japan. 

You may be surprised that Americans are not as concerned about the sun or getting a tan. Americans don't typically use sun umbrellas or wear hats on an everyday basis. Culturally, tanned skin has historically been a beauty ideal as it denotes good health  and vigor and very fair/pale skin was often seen as not being as ideal throughout the 20th century because it might indicate you are sick/ill.  If you go to the drug store/pharmacy in the U.S., you will find many products such as self-tanning lotions and makeup bronzers and highlighters to make your skill look tan.  Whitening creams or products to make your skin more fair/pale are not as common in the U.S.  Some people in the U.S. even pay to go to tanning beds or lay outdoors in the sun at the beach or park to 'get a tan'.  This is quite different than in Japan/Asia where pale/fair skin is the preferred beauty ideal. 

However, today, this beauty ideal in the U.S. is slowly changing as there is greater awareness of the cancer risks of indoor or outdoor tanning and the negative impact the sun can have on wrinkles and aging.  If you ready beauty magazines in the U.S. today, you'll regularly find articles on why tanning is bad and urging Americans to wear sunscreen everyday. 

Today, most Americans do wear sunscreen daily. SPF 15 or 30 is commonly added to make-up and face moisturizers in the U.S.  and some people (but not all) apply sunscreen to their arms and other uncovered skin as part of their daily morning routine. When Americans are outdoors such as at the beach, playing sports, or at an outdoor park/concert/event it is more common to see people wearing hats and regularly re-applying SPF 30 or higher sunscreen lotion.   

Buying Sunscreen in the U.S.: You can easily buy sunscreen in the U.S., it is available at all grocery stores, Target/Wal-Mart, and pharmacies.  Just be sure you look for brands that block both UVA and UVB rays.The formulation and brands available in the U.S. may be different from what you find in Japan.  If you have sensitive skin you may want to bring your own sunscreen, particularly for the face.  

Hats in the U.S.: Sun hats are a specialty item in the U.S. and can sometimes be hard to find. When you can find them, the sun hats available in stores are one-size fits all and not adjustable; meaning they can often be too big.  If you like to wear a hat, you should bring one from Japan to be sure it is a style you like and fits you well. 

Sun Umbrellas in the U.S.: Americans do not use sun umbrellas. If you like to use a sun umbrella/parasol you should bring a small, travel one with you from Japan.  

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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

Student Question: How is the life around the different time zones? Japan has just one time zone. If commuters live in different cities’ office, do they have two watches?

This really isn’t too huge of a problem as most Americans don’t live right one the border between two time zones.  However, if you do then you can actually us the World Clock feature on your iPhone (or other smart phone) and just have listed the time in both places.  It really isn’t necessary though as if you live on the border you will only be 1 hour apart usually so it is pretty easy to make that calculation.

However, if you work in California (or Hawaii) and regularly have to call/set meetings with colleagues on the East Coast then yes, you do have to take a moment to think of what the time difference will be.  However, some states are split up into two different time zones.  This means there are situations where two cities in the same state might be an hours difference apart (see the time zone boundary map).  Time zones are necessary though as the U.S. is so huge that it would not make sense to have everyone on the same time as then some parts of the country would still be at night while other parts of the country are in daylight if 8:00 AM was the same everywhere.

What is more confusing is that some states (HI, AZ, and some territories) don’t observe Daylight Savings Time.  So, the day before Daylight Savings Time goes into effect Hawaii and Houston are 4 hours different but the after Daylight Savings Time goes into effect it suddenly becomes 5 hours different. So, you need to think of this too. 

This all seems more confusing than it actually is since most people only work/call/communicate with people in their local time zone or one or two other time zones on a regular basis.  For example, if you live in Minnesota but your dad lives in California you’ll probably know that it is two hours different and just quickly calculate what the time is in your head.  But if you don’t know or regularly call anyone in New York you might have to stop and think or Google what the time difference is. It sometimes is surprising to Americans when they travel abroad to realize that in most countries there is only one time zone. 

This is also important for global collaborations too when you may need to set up Skype calls or webinars with students/researchers in different countries.  You can use apps or websites like Time Zone Converter to help you do this.  It’s helpful to use this website to check that the meeting time you are proposing, which might be during the middle of the day for you, isn’t in the middle of the night for your colleague.

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Tipping and Sales Tax in the U.S.

One of the most confusing aspects for Japanese students or visitors when they come to the U.S. is tipping and sales taxes.  In Japan, tipping is not required and taxes are usually included in the price, but in the U.S. sales taxes are added to your bill and tipping it is often expected for many service industry workers.  This can be confusing to foreign visitors, and even some Americans, as many people are surprised at just how often and how many types of services it might be good to tip for.

In the U.S., state, county, and town/municipal sales taxes can all be added to the cost of any item you purchase in a store or service you receive such as eating out at a restaurant. This means that the sales taxes that are charged are different depending on what city you are in the U.S. There is no one standard, nationwide sales tax amount or VAT tax in the U.S. Sales taxes may also vary from year to year depending on any changes that state/local governments make to the sales tax rates.

This variability is why stores do not include the total cost on the sticker. The price will be different from place to place. Instead, the applicable sales tax amounts are programmed into their cash register/computer and when the item is scanned the appropriate sales tax amount is added to your bill. You will see this listed at the bottom of your bill as 'Sales Tax' and the total amount added for the items you have purchased.

In Houston, the combined state and local sales tax rate is 8.25%. For every item you purchase, you will need to add 8.25% to the sticker price. 

Other Cities in the U.S.: If you visit other cities in the U.S. the combined state and local sales tax will be different.  You can search Google for City Name+Sales Tax Rate for information on what the local sales tax rate is.  Some cities, such as New York City, even add an additional prepared meals/restaurant tax on top of the existing sales tax.  So, finding out with the local tax rates are for the citie/es you may visit in the U.S. can be helpful for budgeting.  

Groceries/Non-Prepared Food: A common exception is grocery store/non-prepared food items. No sales tax is charged on non-prepared food/groceries in Texas and 30 other states. For example, if you purchase a head of lettuce from the produce section of the grocery store no sales tax will be added. But, if you purchase prepared lettuce/vegetables from the salad bar area or or pre-cooked rotisserie chicken in the deli section of the grocery store that would be considered a 'prepared food' and sales tax will be charged.  If you purchase non-food items at the grocery store such as shampoo/conditioner sales tax will also be added to the cost of those items.  

Tax Holiday Weekends: Some states, may offer sales tax holiday weekends once or twice a year.  This is typically done in late summer, just before K-12 public school starts in that state.  Many clothing items and school supplies will be exempt from sales tax this weekend only as a way to make purchasing the items needed for children cheaper for families.  You do not have to be a parent/child to benefit.  Anyone can purchase any of the exempted items that weekend and not be charged sales tax. It is a good idea to search Google for the state you are living in the U.S. to see if/when they have a sales tax holiday weekend.  

Tipping is not required but it is a social expectation.  It is a bit difficult sometimes because the 'rules' are not so clear and can vary. What is good service versus excellent service?  If you are unsure how much to tip and out with other friends, simply ask them for advice.  It is so confusing sometimes, even to Americans, that there are special apps you can download that will help you calculate the best tip.

Lifehacker has a very helpful overview to who you should tip and how much  and also compiled the tipping chart below which can be a useful guideline. These are some of the most common situations where it might be good to leave a tip.  It is also helpful to tip hotel shuttle drivers, even if the shuttle is free to use.  Just giving $1 per ride or a $5 tip per week can really help ensure good service; particularly if you are regularly using the hotel shuttle for daily transportation.

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Volunteering in the U.S.

Volunteering in the U.S. is very common and many people do this at different times throughout the year.  In the U.S., we don't have a very strong social safety net (e.g. limited government funding to help the poor, subsidize housing/education/medical care) so a very robust network of non-profit or non-government organizations have been developed over the years to help provide services and support to various groups or champion various 'public good' initiatives such as environmental issues or preservation of national forests.

Volunteerism and civic engagement in the U.S. can also be linked to the Christian heritage of the founding of our nation where many of the original colonies, which became the first states after the Revolutionary War, were founded by religious orders who could not rely on the British government/monarchy to help them and had to be very self-sufficient and work together to help support their neighbors so the colony could prosper. Many Christian denominations/churches also place a high religious/moral value on volunteerism based on Jesus' words "It is more blessed to give than receive" and other biblical teachings.  This civic duty/role for churches in the U.S. continues today and many people volunteer through their church to help with various initiatives in their community.  

While some people are very active in a specific organization or volunteer weekly to help at hospitals, schools, or other locations other Americans may only volunteer once or twice a year at 'special' times such as during the Christmas/holiday season or in the event of a major natural disaster.  

Many universities also have offices that connect students with volunteer opportunities and many student clubs at Rice University have volunteerism at the heart of their mission, both domestically and internationally.  In high school, a lot of American students also volunteer regularly to 'build up' their resume in preparation for applying to college.  


Finding Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering in STEM

Volunteering and Education 

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Weather in the U.S.

weather-in-texasHouston has a very hot, humid, and wet climate. Weather in Houston in August – September will, typically, range from 90 degree Fahrenheit/32 Cesius up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit/37 Celsius (sometimes hotter).  It will also be humid in Houston, similar to Tokyo.

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 (~5:30 AM – 9:00 AM) or late evenings (~6:00 – 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. Carry an umbrella or waterproof poncho with you every day in case of rain. Remember that Texas is very big and the U.S. is even bigger.  The temperature/climate on any given day/week can vary widely from city to city and state to state.  Be sure you consult online weather forecasts before visiting other cities to check and see what their weather is like.

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.  You should always bring a sweater or light jacket with to wear indoors because the A/C is almost always too cold. Even in your office/lab you will likely not be able to control the temperature as it is often set for the entire building.  Be prepared by dressing in or bringing layers that you can easily put on indoors or take off when outdoors as needed. 

There is a thermostat on the wall in your hotel room that you can use to control the temperature in there and make your hotel room warmer/colder as needed. Sometimes, you may return to your hotel room and find that the a/c has been turned on or temperature has been changed.  This was likely done by the housekeepers when they were cleaning your rooms.  

Trust us on this.  You will be cold indoors in the U.S.!  Always carry a sweater, light jacket, or shawl/wrap with you.  

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.

Local Weather: For local weather forecasts, tune to the local TV stations.  See the card near your TV in the hotel room to find out what station the local channels are or consult the local news websites.  It is best to watch local news broadcasts as national channels, like CNN or the Weather Channel, may only report on your specific region/state rather than your specific city/town or local area.

In the U.S., typhoons are called hurricanes and the Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June – November, with the peak chance of hurricanes being from August – October. Not all majors storms become hurricanes, some are lower level tropical depressions or tropical storms.  What they have in common is that these weather events typically bring heavy rains and strong winds to the area. Houston lies along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf Coast) and, with more than 600 miles of coastline, can sometimes find itself in the path of one of these storms.The routes that hurricanes take in the Gulf of Mexico are notoriously unpredictable so in the case of a severe weather event it is important to keep up to date with the weather forecast either online or by watching local news channels.

While most Japanese students may be familiar with what to expect from tropical storms or hurricanes (as they are common in Japan too) it is important to be prepared, aware, and cautious in the case of any severe weather event.  Follow any recommendations or guidance given by the program, the university, your host lab, or the hotel/building you are in at the time.  Prior to a hurricane, you should visit a grocery store to 'stock-up' on bottled water, food, and other supplies in case the power is cut off or you are not immediately able to go outside after the storm due to debris, clean-up efforts, or flooding/rain.  If there is a hurricane forecast to make landfall in or near Houston, Rice University will send out regular updates and information via the emergency text system, direct emails to students/faculty/staff, and postings to the Rice University Facebook page.  You may also want to review the following resources online:

The water table in Houston is very high and this means that when there are heavy rains it is not uncommon for there to be temporary street flooding – as the water has no where to immediately go/soak into.  Due to the high water table and very flat landscape, most buildings/homes in Houston are built to be at least a few inches higher than the roadways.  This directs water away from the buildings/homes (due to gravity) into the slightly lower streets. This means that Houston streets are actually designed to temporarily flood during a heavy rain storm. 

Street flooding typically recedes quickly after a heavy rain storm, but until it does it is safest not to drive on flooded roads. If there is high water on the roads due to heavy rains the hotel shuttle, Lyft/UBERs, taxis, and buses will not run.  They will wait for the water to go down before driving on the streets. If you are not sure if there is high water on the streets or if it is safe to go out, ask for advice from  your lab mates or hotel staff on what they would recommend.  

When in doubt – wait it out! Everyone in Houston knows the weather can be unpredictable and when there is heavy rain you may not be able to drive.  It is okay to be late to your lab or other meetings due to bad weather in Houston, particularly flooding, and you just need to call them or send a text message to let them know you cannot come in until the water/street flooding has gone down.

In the event of a severe weather event or for other safety/emergency announcements, the Rice University Emergency Management office will send out text messages to all students, faculty, and staff via the phone number they have registered with Esther.

Update Your Phone Number/Address in OwlSpace: It is a requirement for all incoming Rice University international students and visitors that you update your address and phone number in Esther upon arrival in the U.S. To receive these Rice Announcements, you must sign-up for emergency alerts when you update your address and phone number in Esther.  See steps below for information on how to do this..

  • OISS Blog "Keep Your Address Updated in Esther"
  • Login to Esther using your Net ID and Password 
    • For detailed instructions see below or click here to download a PDF showing each step.
      • Go to
      • Login to your account
      • If you have not logged in to Esther before, your User ID is your student number and you should have gotten an email with a link to set-up your password from the Registrar's Office. If you cannot find the email or forgot your PIN, please send an email to and request your PIN.
      • Click on Update Addresses and Phones
      • Update the information in the "Mailing Address" field (if you do not have a "mailing address" field, you may update your "permanent address" field with your local US address information
      • Click on Submit
      • OISS will then receive an electronic update of your address and that is submitted to SEVIS.
      • Your address should be formatted as below:
        • Line 1 6800 S. Main Street (Do not write hotel name or any other information)
        • Line 2 Room XXXX (Write your hotel room number)
        • Line 3 Leave blank
        • City Houston
        • State TX
        • Zip Code 77030
        • Phone XXX-XXX-XXXX (Write your US mobile phone number) – Don’t write anything in the Extension, or International Access Code and Phone number boxes. Leave these boxes blank.

Alert Houston: The city of Houston's Office of Emergency Management uses AlertHouston to convey timely information about severe weather, major traffic interruptions, emergency incidents, significant events and other important matters via text message. If you want to know about what's going on in the Houston area that might impact you, you can subscribe online here. At the bottom of the registration form you can select the categories of alerts you want to receive. The Houston Emergency website is also a good source of safety tips and guidance, such as how to prepare for a hurricane. Awareness can spare you inconveniences, help you stay safe and even save your life.

Houston has a very hot, sub-tropical climate for most of the year. Snow is very, very rare in Houston and even in the coldest months of the year (typically late December to early March) it is rare for the temperature to get below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. However, Houston is also very windy and even if the temperature is not very cold it can feel colder when walking outdoors on certain days due to the wind chill. 

If you will be visiting Houston from December – March it is recommended that you bring a packable, light-weight down coat.  You may only need to wear this a few times, or just at night when it is a bit cooler, but it will be very good to have.  A small pair of light-weight/cloth gloves and light-weight scarf can also be helpful to keep your hands and neck protected from any cold wind.  

However, remember that Texas is very big and the U.S. is even bigger.  The temperature/climate at any given time can vary widely from city to city and state to state.  Be sure you consult online weather forecasts before visiting other cities to check and see what their weather is like. 

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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 hotel, 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.

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Work Ethic in the U.S.

For more on this, see our Career Resources for Science & Engineering Students page.

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