Sunday, September 3, 2017

My First Month in the US

So, I have been in the US for a month now. And what a month. Most of the things were expected, but it sure wasn't in my plans to face something like the hurricane Harvey in my first month here. I got lucky, the apartment I'm living has not been affected by the storms, no flood or problems with water and energy supply for example. But the same cannot be said about the city of Houston. Let's see how things are at the University of Houston when classes resume on Tuesday.

So many things happened, so many details to take care of. Hard to remember everything, but I'll try to write about several of them, in no particular order.

The apartment. I'm really happy with the apartment where I'm living. It's a big apartment, much more than I expected or need. It's in pretty good conditions. There is a supermarket two blocks from here and there is a light rail station even closer than that. I take the train and two stations later I'm already at UH. Very convenient.

Shopping. Starting a new life, needed to buy a lot of new things. I didn't bring much from Brazil. Almost everything I purchased for my new life here was from I've been an Amazon customer for about two decades, but surely I'd never ordered so many things. And Amazon is still a favorite of mine, in several regards, like price, delivery, amount and quality of information provided, range of products. For students, there is even Amazon Prime for free during 6 months and 50% off after that. Highly recommended. The other Marketing PhD student starting at UH had problems with Ikea's delivery. I wasn't able to access the US website of Walmart while I was in Brazil, just the Brazilian one, making it hard to use Walmart to plan in advance. BestBuy seems like a good place to check for prices too. I bought some basic and cheap furniture, but they all seem good enough. Electronics are amazingly cheap when compared to Brazil, I had to control my impulses and resist the temptation of buying too much stuff.

Bureaucracy. Really, lots, and lots, and lots of paperwork and procedures to follow. I can't really remember everything I did after I arrived here. Procedures to follow about entering the US as a student, to get a social security number, to open a bank account, to enroll in class, to be hired as a teaching assistant, to get student ID, and much, much more. It may not seem like much, but it's overwhelming, specially because it's too much information and things do not work if you do in the wrong order. But I must say the support from UH is amazing. If you're reading this and is about to arrive in the US to start your PhD, give priority to this stuff. If you take too long to do something, that thing may delay another, which will delay another, and so on. And then you may miss some important deadline.

Math bootcamp. Before starting the actual PhD classes, I had the opportunity of attending two week of intensive classes about Mathematics. Nice way to start with a feeling that this is going to be hard. All right, I had studied things like matrices, vectors, and derivatives, but that was a very long time ago. And never at such depth, and such speed. Most of the things I was not able to grasp at all. But it was a very nice opportunity to know other students who are starting a PhD at Bauer, in Finance, Accounting, Management etc. Very nice people, all of them.

Communication. Expect some trouble if you're coming from another country. I was not able to make the first SIM card I got to work with my Brazilian smartphone, even if it's unlocked. Then I went to a place to try to get another card from a different company, and I was told I'd have to buy a new phone. I was in the end able to find a SIM card which works for me, but it wasn't as easy as I had expected. Internet accounts are also a problem. Things like Gmail and Facebook presented several hurdles to overcome, since I was logging into my accounts from a new pc, in a new country, things like that. Facebook, for example, showed me pictures of my friends saying I should identity them to prove I'm really me. I came to the US still with my old Brazilian cell phone plan active, but if I had not done that I think I would not be able to access some of my accounts. To keep in contact with people in Brazil, I use Facebook for general news, WhatsApp for more private conversations, and Skype for video calls.

Finance. I came to the US with a Brazilian credit card. It works for many occasions, but there are many situations where it's no good. In several cases, when I'm filling an online form, there isn't even the possibility of informing a billing address that is not in the US, and then the card doesn't work. There are physical stores where my card was not accepted, and I don't know the reason at all. So, better be prepared with enough cash. Took me a while to open a bank account too. I first went to the credit union with a branch at UH, but I was told I would only be able to open an account with a Social Security number, something that would take still several weeks by then to get one. Different places have different rules, so I went downtown and I was able to open an account at Bank of America.

Coursework. One of the first things I wanted to do after arriving in Houston was to meet the professor to define a coursework. This semester, I'm taking Marketing Management and Strategy, and Multivariate Methods in Marketing at Bauer, as well as Quantitative Economic Analysis at the Economics department of another UH school. I still don't have much to say about the courses, since hurricane Harvey suspended operations at UH for over a week. But Quantitative Economic Analysis is basically Math, in a very abstract way and very focused on Mathematical proofs. It's going to be a very hard one for me. Multivariate Methods in Marketing seems to be a lot of fun. Still hard, of course, but the professor is very good, with lively classes, the classes are more focused on practical stuff instead of abstract Math. Marketing Management and Strategy has not started yet, but I'm very excited since it's with one of the professors who interviewed me and the subject is very closely related to my research interests.

PhD Students. Unfortunately, the Marketing department had to cancel the lunch it had scheduled to meet faculty and students. So, I don't know much about them yet. I know the one student from Singapore who has also been accepted for Fall 2017 (but for CB), and the students I share a room with (from India, Iran, and South Korea). All of them very friendly and supportive.

Some numbers about Bauer doctoral program. The program has now 79 tenure track faculty for a total of 72 PhD students (12 students in the Marketing Department). Among the 17 students incoming this Fall, we have 47% female, 71% international, 82% with a graduate degree, with an average GMAT of 706.