Settling in Durham as an International Student: Part 1

Finding Housing, Transportation, and Furniture

Coming from central London, where I studied my undergraduate degree, I knew from the start that my transition to Durham would be tough. I had never lived in the United States before, and honestly apart from Duke being a prestigious university, I didn’t know much about this small city of Durham in North Carolina! For example, on-campus accommodations aren’t automatically offered to graduate students, and buses that go to school from off-campus aren’t extensively available. This is the sort of thing that I had no idea about before I got here.

So, prospective international students — I hear your concerns! Imagine yourself now, holding an offer to the prestigious MMS: Foundations of Business program. What should you expect? I have put together a brief guide below on the essentials to making the vibrant city of Durham your new home. You’ll soon realize that the transition isn’t that difficult at all, and that it truly is totally worth it.

apartment

I chose to live at The Heights.

Housing

After receiving my MMS: FOB offer, the first thing I did was join the incoming students’ Facebook group. I connected with an American classmate, and we soon decided to room together. I know, it did seem weird at first, since I never met him but things worked out for the best. Aside from being able to split the rent, there were times during my first few weeks in Durham when I felt like a deer in the headlights, but luckily my new roommate was there to help me adjust to life in America.

I’d say about 70% of MMSers this year are living at The Heights (where I decided to stay) and Belmont Apartments on South LaSalle Street. They’re across the road from each other and a 25-minute walk, or 5-minute drive from Fuqua. In the same area are the Trinity Commons and the Lofts Apartments. These two are slightly pricier, so naturally comprise of more MBAs, but extremely convenient with a large collection of restaurants just downstairs. A little further from Fuqua are apartments including Station Nine, University Commons, and Garrett Farms. Most of these complexes list their availability online with the monthly rent for specific units. Note: If you don’t have a social security number, some apartment offices will ask for an extra month’s rent as additional deposit — another reason to have an American roommate!

Some more info about housing is on the MMS: FOB website.

zip car

Zip Cars are conveniently located on campus and can be easily rented for short-term use.

Transportation

Living in London, I never had to worry about transportation. I could walk or take the subway (we call it the “tube”). Transportation turned out to be a little more difficult in Durham. There are several choices with regards to transportation and depending on where you live, the cost-benefit analysis will be different.

  1. You could take the bus. These are Duke-run and free of cost. There are bus stops scattered around campus including one a 5-minute walk away from Fuqua and one right outside The Heights and Belmont Apartments. The buses run about once every half hour and can be tracked by location and estimated time of arrival on a convenient app, Transloc.
  2. You could buy a used car. For those looking to stay in the States long-term or who have the money to splurge, consider visiting CarMax or Auction Direct, located in Raleigh. These dealerships are trusted, albeit slightly more expensive than your neighborhood used-car shop. Note: You’ll have to take a road exam here regardless of whether you have an existing license in your home country. I’ll post more information about this in the future.
  3. You could buy a bicycle/moped. Consider taking a look at Craigslist.org for bargain deals. This is a public website that Americans use to sell their used goods. You’ll find virtually everything here (even used cars). Buy at your own risk though, because you are buying from a stranger, after all, and you are buying as-is, so do your research and make arrangements to see the item before you spend any money on it. You may also want to arrange to meet the seller in a public place, or take a friend with you.
  4. You could rent a Zip Car. Say you’ve decided not to buy a car but want to rent one for a trip to the movies or the mall. Zip Cars are a great option and are parked all around campus. Just reserve online and unlock the car you chose by placing your Zip Card on the windshield. All you need to do is return it to the same spot at the end of your reservation. Gas and insurance included!
apartment area

Some apartments do have comfortably furnished common areas, like this one.

Furniture

This was something that came as a shock to me. Back in London, rental apartments are often pre-furnished by the landlord and viewings consisted not only of assessing the space, but the cleanliness of the furniture. In the States, though, don’t expect to find anything furnished. The kitchen will have appliances like a fridge, oven, etc., but that’s about it. What are your options?

  1. Ikea. This is what normally comes up in every international student’s mind. However, the nearest Ikea store is in Charlotte, a 2-hour drive away. You’ll have to decide whether the drive and the gas is worth paying to get to Ikea. And you’ll need a large enough vehicle to bring all your purchases home.
  2. Craigslist. I found most of my furniture on Craigslist and ended up finding an awesome deal — $15 for a two-seater couch. Not bad at all, right? It is by far the cheapest method, but again, you’ll have to move it yourself and you’ll need a car/van large enough to transport the furniture.
  3. Did you know you could rent? A number of MMSers choose this option. It is pricey given the monthly fee, depending on what items you pick, but the benefit is that they send people over to install everything, as well as help remove the furniture at the end of your rental period. Cort and Aaron’s are two companies, for example, that MMSers rent from.
  4. Shop at Target, Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club. These are massive superstores that sell almost everything — supersized American-style. None of these stores specialize in selling furniture, so you may have to go to a few to find everything you need. Expect decent prices for new furniture at these stores, though! Note: Sam’s Club is a warehouse-style store that requires a membership. You can usually find a classmate who is a member.

That’s it for now. In part two, I’ll touch upon visa issues, vaccinations, setting up a bank account and more, so stay tuned!

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