Before You Go: Pre-Departure Resources

Pre-Departure Resources for Japanese Students

The following websites and resources are provided for informational purposes only.  The TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice Program, Rice University, and the U.S.-Japan Council is not responsible for content contained on any external sites.

Before You Go: Research Houston & Rice University
Before You Go: Research Host Lab & Research Topic
Before You Go: Passport
Before You Go: U.S. Visa
Before You Go: Enrollment as a Visiting Research Student at Rice
Before You Go: International Health Insurance
Before You Go: Pre-Departure Medical Check & Immunizations
Before You Go: Notifying Bank & Credit Card Companies
Before You Go: U.S. Mobile Phone
Before You Go: What To Pack
Before You Go: Tips from Past Participants

Before You Go: Research Houston & Rice University

One of the first things selected participants should do is learn more about Houston and Rice University by:

  • Reviewing the information on our About Houston & Rice University Page
  • Consulting Google-sensei to learn more about specific topics/places/issues that are of interest to you
  • Purchasing a travel guidebook in Japanese for Houston, Texas, or the U.S. at a Japanese bookstore or online. You can also find English guidebooks in bookstores in the U.S. but most U.S. bookstores do not sell Japanese language books.
  • Reviewing our Life in U.S. page

If you have specific questions about Rice University, Houston, or doing research in the U.S. email our program staff. Once your Alumni Mentor has been assigned, you can also speak with him/her about your questions and ask them for advice on preparing to come to the U.S.

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Before You Go: Research Host Lab & Research Topic

Selected participants will be assigned to their Rice University host lab by late January.  Our research director, Prof. Junichiro Kono, will work directly with selected participants and professors at Rice University to match students with the most appropriate lab based on their academic background, research interests, and host lab availability.  Students should not communicate individually with any Rice University professor during this time. Students should only communicate with Prof. Kono during the matching process. After Prof. Kono has confirmed your host lab placement you will then be able send additional instructions on sending an introduction email to your host lab professor.

Once your host lab has been confirmed, students will be asked to send an introductory email to their host professor.  The program will provide students with a template/sample email they can use to for initial contact with their host professor.  You will be able to ask your assigned host professor for more details on the planned project/topic you may be working on and if there are any articles/books or other resources they would recommend you read/review prior to departure.

For more information and a template email, participants should consult Canvas. 

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

Many alumni have said that one helpful thing they did was to borrow or purchase an introductory textbook on their research field/area in Japanese and bring this with them to the U.S.  This will enable you to have an quickly accessible resource to use to look up key terms, theories, concepts, and research methods and will help you simultaneously learn both the Japanese and English terminology commonly used in your research area/field.  

Speak with one of your Japanese professors for their recommendations for good, introductory Japanese-language textbooks. Or, ask your Rice University professor or mentor for a recommendation of an English textbooks and see if it has been translated into Japanese.  

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Before You Go: Passport

Selected participants will need to quickly submit a scanned copy of the photograph page of their Japanese passport to begin the visa application process at Rice University (see below).  Students who are legal permanent residents of Japan must submit a scanned copy of their Japanese Permanent Residency Card and a scanned copy of their passport.

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

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Before You Go: U.S. Visa

All selected participants are required to obtain a J-1 Non Degree Student visa to be able to conduct research at Rice University as a visiting international undergraduate research students. Participants cannot use the visa wavier program to enter the U.S.! Due to U.S. immigration policies and international student regulations, Rice University cannot allow you to do research/participate in the program if you enter the U.S. under the visa waiver program

Rice University will provide selected participants with detailed instructions on the documents they need to submit to the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) to begin the visa application process.  Once your documents have been reviewed and approved by OISS, Rice University will issue and mail you the DS-2019 form you will need to use to apply for your J-1 visa and schedule your interview with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in Japan.  Students must individually pay for all related J-1 visa application and SEVIS fees. See our U.S. Visa page for more information.

For selected participants, detailed, step-by-step information is included in the Assignments section of Canvas.  If you are not sure how to fill out your visa application forms, please consult the Canvas assignment for guidance

DO NOT FORGET TO PACK YOUR DS-2019 IN YOUR CARRY-ON LUGGAGE!

Upon arrival in the U.S., participants must show their passport and DS-2019 form to the immigration officer at their arrival airport.  This will ensure the immigration officer knows to look for your J-1 visa and process your entry into the U.S. under your visa.  More information on the process of clearing immigration and customs upon arrival in the U.S. will be sent to participants prior to departure.

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Before You Go: Enrollment as a Visiting Research Student at Rice

All participants in the program must be enrolled as a visiting research student through Rice University’s Office of the Registrar.  Detailed instructions on this process will be provided to selected participants in the spring.

After your visiting student enrollment has been processed by the Registrar's office you will receive an email from Rice University with information on your Net ID and Password.  You will need to visit the Office of Information Technology website to activate your Net ID and Password prior to your arrival at Rice University.  You will receive instructions on how to do this in Canvas.  

It is important you write down your Net ID and password and keep it in a safe place. You may need to use this Net ID and password to login to certain online services while you are at Rice. With your NetID and password you can also access some free resources for Rice University students.  Participants have full access to these resources as soon as they have activated their NetID and Password (see assignment in Canvas), and can begin using them even before their arrival at Rice.  These include: 

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

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

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

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Before You Go: International Health Insurance

All J-1 visa holders in the U.S. are required to have international health insurance that meets the minimum federal requirements for the duration of their stay in the U.S.  The program will purchase and provide students with international health insurance that meets all the required minimum coverage levels through a Tokio Marine Student Secure policy.  Insurance cards and policy overviews for your international health insurance will be provided to participants via Canvas and in-person upon arrival in the U.S.

For more on health insurance and medical care in the U.S. see our Medical Resources page.

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Before You Go: Pre-Departure Medical Check & Immunizations

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

Japanese students may also find it helpful to review the Centers for Disease Control Information for Traveler’s to the U.S. website.

Primary Care Doctor: Schedule a general medical visit/annual exam to ensure that you are in good health overall. If you have any underlying medical conditions or health concerns, let your doctor know you will be doing research abroad in the U.S. for five weeks and ask them for any advice/suggestions relevant to your individual medical needs.

General Immunizations: There are no specific immunizations required to enter the U.S.  It is recommended that all general/routine immunizations be up to date.

Meningococcal Vaccination: Texas state law requires that all entering university students (including visiting international students) be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis if you are under the age of 22 as of the first day of classes/your program. Students should consult the assignment in Canvas for more details on this requirement. 

Dental care coverage IS NOT PROVIDED by the international health insurance in the U.S.!  Dental care is very, very expensive in the U.S. so students are strongly encouraged to visit their dentist prior to departure for an annual exam and to address any dental care needs before you leave Japan.

Eye care coverage (exams, glasses, contacts) IS NOT PROVIDED by the international health insurance in the U.S.! Eye care is very, very expensive in the U.S. so students are strongly encouraged to visit their eye doctor prior to departure for an annual exam, new glasses, and/or to purchase extra contacts to bring with you.

  • We also STRONGLY RECOMMEND students bring a back-up pair of glasses and extra contacts with them to the U.S.  If your glasses/contacts are lost or damaged in the U.S. it can be very expensive to replace them.  Bring an extra, older pair of glasses with you to use just in case. 

If you have any food allergies, dietary restrictions, or serious medical issues we strongly encourage you to order Japanese-English food translation cards from Select Wisely.  These can be very helpful to show the doctor/nurse, waiter/waitress or clerk at the grocery store so they clearly understand what you cannot eat and can give you advice on what is best.  If you are having an allergic reaction you can show this card so that those around you know how best to help.  Carry this card in your wallet/pocket at all times so it is easily available. 

Mental/Behavioral Health Provider: If you regularly see a therapist or any other behavioral healthcare provider we strongly recommend you schedule an appointment with them approximately prior to departure.  Discuss your plans to do research abroad in the U.S. with them and ask them for any advice/suggestions relevant to your individual medical needs.

See also: 

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Before You Go: Notifying Bank & Credit Card Companies

Below are some important steps/information you should review about money in the U.S. prior to departure.

Use of Cash/Debit/Credit Cards in the U.S. The U.S. is a card-based society and people tend to carry very little cash with them on a day-to-day basis.  Most people pay for purchases using a credit or debit card whether they are small or large. If you plan to use Uber/Lyft you will need a credit or debit card number to program into your profile in the app.  See the information on Ride Sharing Services in the Public Transportation section of our Life in the U.S. page. 

Cash is almost always accepted except when ordering items online or through an app (such as UBER or Lyft) or in some rare instances where a vendor/store only accepts debit/credit cards.  Most Americans don't use cash very often, and typically only carry a very small amount of cash with them on a day-to-day basis (<$20).  

Getting Cash from an ATM: You can find ATMs anywhere in the U.S. from grocery stores, gas stations, shopping malls, banks, airports, etc. Typically, you can use almost any ATM but you should be aware that all ATMs in the U.S. will charge a withdrawal fee of between $1 – $5 depending on the bank/company.  Withdrawal fees are usually cheapest at bank-owned ATMs and there are two Chase bank ATMs on the Rice University campus. One is in the Rice Memorial Center (RMC)/Student Center and one is in Fondren Library. Using bank-owned ATMs is also usually more secure/safe as they are less likely to be damaged or broken.  

  • JP Bank/Credit Card Fees for Overseas Withdrawals: It is important that students confirm with their Japanese bank or credit card company that they can withdraw funds in U.S. dollars from their Japanese accounts while in the U.S. and what fees, if any, they will be charged by their Japanese bank/credit card company to do so. These fees will be in addition to any withdrawal fees charged by the U.S. ATM so you should factor these costs into your budget. 
  • PINS: For many transactions, you may need to enter a 4-digit PIN number if you are using a debit card.  PIN numbers are not usually not required for credit cards in the U.S., but if your credit card in Japan requires a PIN you may need to enter it when purchasing items in the U.S. too.  It is best to ensure that PIN numbers do not start with a 0 as some overseas ATMs will not accept these PIN numbers. 
  • Zip Code: There are some instances where you may be required to enter a zip code when using a credit or debit card in the U.S..  This is a security feature and is often required to use a credit or debit card to pay for gas at the pump when at a gas station in the U.S.  Since gas pumps in the U.S. are set-up to accept only a 5-digit U.S.-style zip code (e.g. 77005 for Rice's address) they will not accept the 7-digit Japanese postal code (e.g. 108-0073 for Minato-ku in Tokyo). You should not attempt to pay for gas with a Japanese credit card or debit card at the pump. Instead, look for the number of the gas pump you are at (typically at the top somewhere) and then go into the gas station and either pay the attendant in cash by saying "I'd like to put $30 on pump #X" or ask the attendant to run your credit/debit card through directly from the register "This is an international card, can you please run it through the register because I don't have a US zip code to enter to pay at the pump. I'm at pump #X.". 

Personal Funds: You will need to decide how much money you want to bring with you to the U.S. for costs not paid for by the program/personal expenses.  See our Program Funding page for more information. You can choose to:

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

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

Prior to departure it is very important you call your bank and/or credit card companies to find out if you can use your debit/credit cards in the U.S. and what fees might be charged for using your cards abroad.  Let them know you will be traveling in the U.S. and the start and end date of your trip.  Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • Can you use your Japanese debit/credit card abroad? 
  • If yes, what international fees will be charged for using your debit/credit card abroad?
  • Can you withdraw month from your Japanese bank account from a U.S. ATM?
  • Is there a daily limit on how much money you can withdraw via an ATM while abroad from your Japanese bank account?
  • If my Japanese debit/credit card is lost or stolen, how can I get a replacement card while I am in the U.S.?
  • If your debit/credit card PIN number starts with a 0, ask if you can change this as some international ATMS might not accept PINs starting with a 0.

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Before You Go: U.S. Mobile Phone

TOMODACHI STEM students must purchase a Pre-Paid U.S. SIM card to use for the duration of time they are in the U.S.  Instructions on how to purchase this pre-paid SIM card will be provided to selected participants in January. You will use your U.S. cell phone in case of emergency and to contact your host lab/professor and program staff as needed while you are in the U.S.  All TOMODACHI STEM student are required to carry their U.S. cell phone with them each day and ensure that their battery is charged or that they have an external batter/charging cable with them so that they can use their phone as needed.  To use this SIM card in the U.S., students must have an unlocked smartphone.  You must have your U.S. cell phone number activated upon your arrival in the U.S.

Data: This phone plan will also include limited data so, if wi-fi is not available, you will still be able to use Google maps or other data-based apps.  Data on this phone is limited though, so whenever possible students should use wi-fi.

Japanese Mobile Phone: If you plan to bring your Japanese mobile phone with you, be sure you call your phone company and ask them what the cost will be to make calls, send texts, or use data in the U.S. on your Japanese cell phone plans. Using your Japanese cell phone abroad can be very expensive, we strongly encourage students to turn the data/roaming off on your Japanese phone and only use your Japanese phone when you are on wi-fi; which is widely available in the U.S.

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Before You Go: What To Pack

We strongly recommend students only bring 1 checked suitcase with them to the U.S. Though international flights typically allow 2, free checked pieces of luggage if you bring 2 full suitcases with you to the U.S. where will you pack your omiyage/souvenirs when you return to Japan?  Instead, just bring 1 checked suitcase when you come to the U.S. 

Pack an empty duffel bag in your suitcase, then, when you return to Japan, you can pack your clothing and non-fragile items in the duffel bag and have plenty of room for omiyage/souvenirs in your suitcase.  It is also important that students be aware of all airline weight/size limitations for checked and carry-on luggage. Carefully consult the website of the airline your international flight has been booked on to be sure your checked and carry-on luggage comply with their baggage policies.

Passport & DS-2019 

Don’t forget to hand-carry your passport with you on the international flight! You will need to scan your passport to check-in for the international flight and will need to show both your passport and DS-2019 to the immigration officer upon arrival in the U.S. 

Other important documents you should bring in your carry-on include: 

  • Tokio Marine Health Insurance Cards
  • Printed copy of your international flight itinerary (in schedule book)
  • Address of hotel in the U.S. (in schedule book)
  • Written addresses and phone numbers for family/friends
  • All debit/credit cards and cash
    • Tip: Make photocopies of the front and back of all of the credit/debit cards you will bring abroad in case they are lost or stolen.  This will help you when contacting your bank/credit card company to report the lost/stolen card as you will easily be able to look up the card number and phone number of your bank/credit card company. 

 


Laptop and Electronics 

You should plan to bring a laptop with you to the U.S. as  host labs will not have spare/extra computers that you can use while at the lab. You will also need a laptop to write/submit your weekly reports and prepare your final research poster. Carry all valuable electronics in your carry-on bag and bring sure to pack your charging cords and extra batteries/memory cards as needed.

Laptop vs. Tablet: You will need a laptop as a tablet will not have sufficient computing power or the programs you will need to use for data analysis and to create your poster. If you will be doing computation or simulation-based research, email your host professor and/or mentor/s to ask if they have any advice regarding the type/power of the laptop you bring with you to Japan.

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

Data Storage – Back up Your Data!: Be prepared, laptops and hard drives can and do fail.  This has happened to one student each in our 2016 and 2017 programs.  Or, you may damage/break your computer or lose it (past students have also had bad luck and spilled coffee/tea/water on their computers too). Have a back-up plan in place so you don’t lose important research data/reports/posters or photos or other documents on the laptop you bring with you abroad. See the section on Data Storage on our Doing Research page.

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

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


Introductory Textbooks on Research Topic in Japanese, Books, and Media

It will be very difficult to find Japanese language books and textbooks in the U.S.  You can order these online, but they can be expensive.  Instead, ask your home university professor/s in Japan for recommendations of introductory textbooks on your research topic/area in Japanese that you can borrow or buy to bring with you to the U.S. and use as a reference. You can pack these in your checked luggage but you may also want to bring a few Japanese novels/books to read with you to the U.S. as well.

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

Movies/TV Shows/Videos: Due to regional protections, you may not be able to access/download Netflix or other online videos and TV shows from Japan while you are in the U.S. While online streaming services in the U.S. do have some Japanese language TV shoes/movies, the selection is very limited. It may be helpful to download a few favorite movies onto your laptop or tablet before you go.

Some popular online streaming services that you can sign up for a paid subscription to in the U.S. include the following.  They may also have free trials, typically for a period of two-weeks up to one-month but you must login to deactivate the account before the free trial ends or your credit card will be charged. 


Sweater/Jacket/Shawl and Warm Socks/Slippers and Eye Mask

It will be very cold on the plane. Be prepared with: 

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

Travel Pillow

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


Noise Cancelling Headphones/Ear Buds

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


Empty Water Bottle for Flight and/or Reusable Tea Thermos

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

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

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

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


Change of Clothes and Small Toiletries

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

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

Snacks  – But No Fresh Fruit or Meat/Dairy Products 
You will be served meals on the international flight but the quality of airplane food often leaves a little (well actually a lot) to be desired. It can be helpful to bring a few snacks with you on the plane to eat during the long flight.  Good options include trail mix, snack bars, and other types of snacks that travel well

You cannot bring fresh fruit, meat (including beef jerky), or dairy products into the U.S. due to customs rules. You can be fined if you bring fresh fruit into the U.S. or (when flying back to Japan at the end of the summer). If you bring any of these items with you on the plane you must eat/drink them before de-planning/arrival abroad.  The U.S. Transportation Security Authority (TSA) has also enhanced screening for food items that are brought in carry-on luggage through security screening. We do not recommend you bring any spices or powders (include matcha or Japanese tea) in your carry-on bag. You can bring these items into the U.S., but should bring them in your checked luggage. 

I enjoy lab! ~ Miho Sakuma

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

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

Dr. Vajtai, Peter, Shiho, me and Tiva at Dr. Vajtai's office on the last day. ~ Mio Kamasaka

Casual Attire: Attire in the U.S., particularly on university campuses, tends to be more casual than in Japan.  At Rice University you will see most student (and often faculty members too) dressed in jeans/pants/shorts and t-shirts/casual tops/sweaters on a day-to-day basis.   Note that in the photo to the left, Dr. Vajtai (the professor) is in jeans and polo shirt and the graduate students next to Dr. Vajtai and the female graduate student on the far right are wearing jeans and t-shirt.  This is typical daily attire at universities in the U.S. though some professors do dress up a bit more and wear khaki pants/skirt and a button-up shirt/blouse.  Full suits and ties or formal dresses/suits for women are typically only worn for important meetings or presentations

After the Poster Session ~ Ayako Mizuno

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

Note that in the photo of the 2018 TOMODACHI STEM students above, only one is wearing a suit.  Everyone else is wearing a dress/skirt/pants with a blouse/cardigan.  This is typical 'business casual' attire in the U.S. and will be appropriate for the research poster presentation and meetings on the East Coast.  If you prefer to wear a full suit as it makes you feel more confident and professional you can bring a suit to wear for your presentation but this is not required in the U.S.  Most U.S. college students only wear full suits when they go on job interviews or are presenting at a major national/international conference or other very prestigious public event. 

Shoes: Most research labs will require that you wear close-toed shoes when working in the lab.  Sandals and flip-flops are not allowed.  For all other activities/events any type of shoe is okay (sneakers, sandals, flip-flops, crocs, etc.).   Dark colored shoes may be more versatile as the can be dressed up or down depending on the outfit you are wearing. 

Weather in the spring is unpredictable.  It may be cold and rainy one day (or in the morning) and hot and humid another day (or that same afternoon).  You may have days where you want to wear sandals or other 'summery' shoes even in February/March in Houston.  Though, warmer 'fall/winter' shoes will be more versatile. Most female students in the U.S. do not wear heels on a day-to-day basis; these are usually only worn for going-out/special occasions. 

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

We really admire you, Einstein! ~ Mio Kamasaka with 2017 TOMODACHI STEM Participants

Warm Coat/Winter Gear: You will need to bring a warm coat and light-weight gloves/scarf with you to Houston.  A packable down coat is ideal as this can be easily packed in your luggage. You may not need to wear this warm coat very often in Houston, but you will need a warm coat, scarf, and gloves for the final week on the East Coast. Sometimes, it is still very cold and it may even snow that week so you should be prepared for cold weather too. You may not need to use this very often in Houston but you will need to wear this during the final week we are on the East Coast.  It will not snow in Houston (though might be cold at night) but there is a chance for snow on the East Coast through early April.  

Jackets/Rain Gear: It can rain unexpectedly, and sometimes very heavily,  in Houston at any time. Be prepared with: 

  • Good rain umbrella.  Travel umbrellas are convenient, but may be too small to fully protect you in a heavy rain storm. A medium-sized to large golf-style umbrella can be better. Tip: You can buy a Rice University golf umbrella at the campus bookstore to use while in Houston and take home to Japan as a souvenir.  
  • Light-weight rain coats can be helpful as they provide more protection for your clothes when walking across campus or to/from the hotel in a heavy rain storm. 
  •  Many people at Rice keep a pair of rain boots under their desk to wear to walk across campus during or immediately after a heavy rain storm.  If you don't want to bring rain boots, keep an extra pair of shoes that are okay to get wet or that dry quickly to slip on if needed such as Crocs.  

 

Hat/Sunglasses/Sunscreen/Bug Repellant

  • Tip: Buy this (or a similar item) in Japan and carry with in your backpack in the U.S. Very helpful and its hard to find combined bug repellent and sunscreen in the U.S.H

    Hat or Sun/UV Umbrella: Americans typically do not wear hats or use sun/UV umbrellas for sun protection. This is because, historically, for much of the 20th and early 21st century, having a tan was a sign of good health/vitality/youth/beauty. This is the opposite of Japan where, especially for women, fair/pale/white skin is the beauty ideal.  While today most Americans are much more cautious about wearing sunscreen, there is still a some cultural preference for tans and less of an emphasis on covering up to remain pale.  Therefore, sun hats and sun/UV umbrellas are rare and a bit difficult to find in the U.S. In particular, the sizes of hats in the U.S. may be too big compared to the average size needed/worn in Japan.  Bring your own sun hat or sun/UV umbrella with you to the U.S. but don't be surprised to find you are the only one using them.  You can easily find umbrellas in the U.S., but these are typically only used when it is raining heavily.  
  • Sunglasses: Because Houston is much closer to the equator than Japan, the sun is much stronger.  You will likely need to wear sunglasses daily while in the U.S. and this is not considered rude/odd at all. Most Americans wear sunglasses all the time and you can often even see people with sunglasses on top of their heads or around their necks so they are easy to put on when they go outdoors.  You can bring these with you from Japan, or buy an inexpensive pair in the U.S. at Target or Wal-Mart. 
  • Mosquito Repellent: Mosquitos are prevalent in Houston all year round and you should take steps to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Bring bug spray or wipes and use them when outdoors in parks, playing sports, or hanging out in the hammocks at Rice campus.  
  • Sunscreen: The sun is also very damaging to your skin in Houston so you should wear sunscreen every day.  You can buy many types of inexpensive sunscreen at any drugstore, grocery store, or home-goods/department store like Target or Wal-Mart but you will not find Japanese brands.  The formulations of sunscreens in the U.S. will also be a bit different than formulations in Japan.  Most students prefer to bring their favorite brand/type with them from Japan.  You can find very good sunscreens in the U.S. to purchase and here is a list of the best sunscreen to buy in the U.S. from Consumer Reports

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

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

Some items you may want to bring from Japan or plan to purchase soon after arriving in the U.S. include: 

  • Shampoo/Conditioner/Hair Products
  • Body Soap
  • Face Soap/Moisturizer/Face Creams
    • It will be hot and humid so oil-controling formulas may be best
  • Make-Up
    • There are lots of great make-up options in the U.S. and even whole stores like Sephora or Ulta that are devoted just to make-up and facial products.  However, it may be difficult to find inexpensive make-up in shades at Target/Wal-mart or pharmacies/grocery stores that match your skin tone though if you go to Sephora/Ulta or a major department store (like Macy's) the more expensive make-up brands will have a much wider array of shades.  
  • Anti-perspirant or Deodorant
  • Acne Medication for Face & Body/Back
    • You will sweat more due to the heat and humidity so may break out more
  • Contact Solution for at least 1 – 2 Weeks
    • You can easily buy more of this in the U.S. at any grocery store, pharmacy, or Target/Wal-Mart
  • Feminine Hygiene Produces for Women (Tampons/Pads)
    • You can easily buy more of this in the U.S. at any grocery store, pharmacy, or Target/Wal-Mart but many women may prefer to use their preferred brand/type from Japan. 
  • Birth Control/Condoms/Sexual Heath
    • If there is any chance you may be sexually active while abroad be prepared and stay safe!

Hat/Sunglasses/Sunscreen/Bug Repellant

  • Tip: Buy this (or a similar item) in Japan and carry with in your backpack in the U.S. Very helpful and its hard to find combined bug repellent and sunscreen in the U.S.H

    Hat or Sun/UV Umbrella: Americans typically do not wear hats or use sun/UV umbrellas for sun protection. This is because, historically, for much of the 20th and early 21st century, having a tan was a sign of good health/vitality/youth/beauty. This is the opposite of Japan where, especially for women, fair/pale/white skin is the beauty ideal.  While today most Americans are much more cautious about wearing sunscreen, there is still a some cultural preference for tans and less of an emphasis on covering up to remain pale.  Therefore, sun hats and sun/UV umbrellas are rare and a bit difficult to find in the U.S. In particular, the sizes of hats in the U.S. may be too big compared to the average size needed/worn in Japan.  Bring your own sun hat or sun/UV umbrella with you to the U.S. but don't be surprised to find you are the only one using them.  You can easily find umbrellas in the U.S., but these are typically only used when it is raining heavily.  
  • Sunglasses: Because Houston is much closer to the equator than Japan, the sun is much stronger.  You will likely need to wear sunglasses daily while in the U.S. and this is not considered rude/odd at all. Most Americans wear sunglasses all the time and you can often even see people with sunglasses on top of their heads or around their necks so they are easy to put on when they go outdoors.  You can bring these with you from Japan, or buy an inexpensive pair in the U.S. at Target or Wal-Mart. 
  • Mosquito Repellent: Mosquitos are prevalent in Houston all year round and you should take steps to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Bring bug spray or wipes and use them when outdoors in parks, playing sports, or hanging out in the hammocks at Rice campus.  
  • Sunscreen: The sun is also very damaging to your skin in Houston so you should wear sunscreen every day.  You can buy many types of inexpensive sunscreen at any drugstore, grocery store, or home-goods/department store like Target or Wal-Mart but you will not find Japanese brands.  The formulations of sunscreens in the U.S. will also be a bit different than formulations in Japan.  Most students prefer to bring their favorite brand/type with them from Japan.  You can find very good sunscreens in the U.S. to purchase and here is a list of the best sunscreen to buy in the U.S. from Consumer Reports

 

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

Brand names and dosage levels of medications in the U.S. will be different than in Japan and when you are not feeling well, it can be very nice to have your preferred brand of Japanese medication with you in the hotel room. Keep all OTC medication that you bring to the U.S. in its original packaging and pack this in your checked luggage. Some items you may want to consider including are: 

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

Food/Cooking Supplies:  The U.S. does not use the metric system for cooking/recipes.  If you have Japanese recipes you would like to prepare, you will have to convert from the metric system or you can bring metric measuring cups/spoons with you.  You can buy most any type of food/ingredient in the U.S. though you may have to visit one of Houston's two Japanese groceries stores to find certain Japanese ingredients.  At major grocery stores, you will find a small selection of Japanese ingredients though many more Chinese or Vietnamese ingredients.  Hotels in the U.S. do not provide electric tea kettles or rice cookers.  If you like to use these appliances, plan to buy an inexpensive tea kettle or rice cooker upon arrival in the U.S. at Target, a nearby home-goods/department store.  For more, see our Food in the U.S. page.

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Before You Go: Tips From Past Participants

Before you Go – Preparing for Research  

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

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

  • "At Rice University, I didn’t have an opportunity to work with laboratory members other than my mentor. In the Computer Science Department, students work separately in small rooms and I didn’t share one with other students. If you ask your professor if you can also join the weekly meeting of the research group/lab, you may have opportunity to also meet other laboratory members!"

 Packing

  • "I think you do not need to bring much from Japan because you can buy almost anything from daily stuffs to food in U.S. In addition, you will buy souvenirs in U.S. so you had better to have some space to your baggage when you leave Japan. In fact, the baggage of the most of members were overweight when we got on the plane to return and we struggled with packing."
  • "I recommend future participants bring business cards, compression socks (to wear on the long plane ride) and leave-in conditioner."
  • "If your luggage is not overweight, I recommend to bring miso soup with you. Miso soup is the one thing that I missed in the U.S."
  • "Bright a packable, light-weight down winter coat and wear this on the plane as it will be very cold on the international flight." 
  • "I found that I don’t have a taste for fat, and that it is better to avoid fatty foods like cheese or meat with a lot of fat. If you have a taste like me, I recommend you look for salads and vegetarian food. They are healthy and tasty, which I didn’t expect before going to the US."

     

  • "I really enjoyed shopping cosmetic products at Sephora! I bought many mini-size lipsticks and perfumes, which were good omiyage for my friends!"

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