EXCHANGE REPORT The University of Texas at Austin United States Spring 2014 Kin Chiu Quantitative Finance Part 1 – Monthly Activity Log Late-December – January As the orientation activities started at early January, I arrived the States in late December. The weather is not as cold as expected. Those orientation activities started from 3rd Jan and ended at 6th, but school didn’t start until 13th. Thus, it would be rather boring to have arrived too early if you didn’t plan something ahead. A 1-day trip was arranged by the International Office to NASA Houston, an event they will hold every year for international students. The trip was fair in general and surely worth going, though I could still remember the return bus broke down and I waited for hours under cold and hunger. School was cancelled for several times in January due to extreme weather. (Nothing extreme indeed but they did cancel classes). Do NOT expect the same as students said class cancelation due to weather was not common at all. February Studies may start to get a bit intense starting from February as tests mostly starting from earlier February. A kind reminder would be to take tests easy as you only need to pass them, which is not difficult at all. A 3 day visit across the weekend to New Orleans would be arranged by a student organization; again, they did this every year. The trip didn’t worth as much as it charged but you would simply lose a sight-seeing opportunity if you do not join. March March is definitely one of the highlights of the exchange. The spring break, which is a one week break, would most probably start at the second week of the month. Before you can enjoy your trip, you have to finish a couple of tests first in late Feb and early Mar. For the Spring break, I went to the East Coast with other USTers for a week. We joined a mainland tour so that we didn’t have to plan anything. I also visited my primary school friend in New York. I would like to thank him here for driving, showing us around and accommodated us. We went to New York, Philadelphia, DC and also Boston for sight-seeing. The last stop of the trip, I would say, is not Boston but Austin. We head back to Austin intentionally earlier in order to catch up the last day of the big event SXSW. Both music and non-music lovers should not miss that. April April would be boring if you do not skip classes to go on travelling. There wasn’t any holidays or breaks. Group projects were usually due in April so you might expect a little bit more work. Approaching the end of April, I realized I was about to leave Austin that I started to research online about things/places in Austin that are worth trying/going. I would recommend you to do that earlier because you would discover there is indeed a lot of places worth going and you would just be too late to plan. May The actual exam period is early May to mid-May but some professors would prefer having exams at late April. However, May is not at all about exams. It is also about the end of exchange trip! As I went to the East Coast in the Spring Break, I chose to go to the West Coast. I went to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas together with another UST guy. We did not any book hotels/bus in advance and did not do the planning until we arrived in San Francisco. But it actually resulted in a very relaxing and enjoyable trip. I would also like to express my greatest gratitude to my friend’s auntie for accommodating and taking care of us in San Francisco. I flew back to Hong Kong in Los Angeles right after the trip and did not return to Austin in late May. Part 2 – General Exchange Information 1) Visa Procedures It was all about filling forms online, paying money via credit card and in 7-eleven (there were two separate charges), meeting the officers into the Embassy and getting the passport back after two weeks. Do it in advance is always good. 2) Orientation Activities A few orientation activities were there, organized by International office and the Business School, mainly about VISA stuff, introducing UT, course registration etc. It would be good to meet as much other exchange students (except UST students) as possible during the orientation activities since there is rarely any chance to get to know each other afterwards. 3) International Services & Activities The International Office would organize a 2-hour bus trip showing us around Austin, movie night, 1-day NASA trip. Another student organization (Planet Longhorn) would arrange a trip to New Orleans. 4) Accommodations School hostel is not open to exchange students. Therefore, we have to rent our own apartment. But I chose to stay in the student Co-op (a student hostel with big kitchen and commons accommodating about 100 students) and I was in Pearl Coop. The rent ranges approximately from double room USD $570 to single room $750 per month and more for newer coops. The rent includes wifi, electricity, 17 meals per week and free food supply from big fridges anytime (cereals, bread, raw meat, fruit, milk, etc., if any left). Renting apartments would usually be $400+, but often unfurnished (my friends need to buy their own mattress and table and having the living room completely empty for the whole semester) and you need to buy and cook your own food. Thus, living in Coop might be a little bit cheaper. But something I really hate about Coop is you have to spare 4 hours every week on doing labor (must do, need to pay $10/hour for someone cover you if you fail to spare time) which made your life less flexible (fixed timeslot, e.g. Tuesday, Thursday 4-6pm cooking or Monday, Friday cleaning dishes). Usually Coops are old and dirty, I can still take that. But some people were so irresponsible that making the place really dirty, particularly after parties. The worst thing was that some guys often play loud music and have party after 2 am (yes 2 AM!) that would wake you up and make you difficult to sleep. I suspect some of them just finished another party somewhere else, got completely drunk and returned to the Coop and did stupid and disturbing things. Nevertheless, Coop still has its own advantages. It is cheap, saves you the trouble buying food every week (but my friend actually enjoyed it so much), enable you to meet a lot of different people (both local and exchange students) and to experience their (drunk) culture and nice parties. It would be really a big, nice and warm family given that you could really mix with the people there. It is really a matter of choice. If you are an outgoing person who does not care too much about hygiene and noise, Coop is definitely your choice. 5) Course Registration Course registration starts right after orientation activities. The exchange team in UT business school will help us register business courses (economics not considered as business course) and we need to submit them our preferences after a consulting session (they giving us advice). Maximum load is 15 credits (usually 5 courses) with at least 2 business courses. You can apply for overload but would require SBM’s consent (though not difficult). The UT stuff initially told us Finance courses have limited seats and required us to find backups but I at last successfully enrolled into all courses I would like to take (which is mostly the case IF you did listen to their advice, follow instructions and to find back up). The courses I took were as below. Course Equivalent Workload Comment FIN 371M FINA 3304 Very Low; No Prof: Lawrence Turner Money and Financial assignments Nice professor, materials relatively Capital Markets 4 MC exams (45/50 easy, need to jot notes in class in questions each, including order to excel in exam, notes not too an optional final) organized Markets FIN 374C FINA 4104 Medium; Weekly or Prof: Warren Joe Hahn Financial Advanced biweekly assignments Excellent professor, very helpful, Planning and Financial most excel, 2 exams with very clear elaboration and Policy for Management MCs and work-out explanation; materials at acceptable problems difficulty, definitely worth taking Large Corporations FIN 377.2 FINA 3204 Medium; Weekly or Prof: Fermando Anjos Financial Derivative biweekly assignments, 3 Excellent professor again, exams not Risk Securities exams with MCs and difficult with very similar practices work-out problems given before hand Management FIN 377.4 FINA 4204 Low; 5 group projects Prof: Mary Lou Poloskey Financial Equity with a final presentation, All about doing a company research Analysis Valuation 1 exam in a group format, not learning much new finance knowledge but just about group work PSY 301 Introduction SOSC Medium; weekly Prof: Marlone D. Henderson assignments, 4 MC exams I skipped nearly all lectures, much to readings and weekly assignments Psychology required, but practice differs for different professors 6) Teaching & Assessment Methods Teaching methods are more or less similar to that in HKUST. Slightly smaller class settings for finance courses, 40-50 ppl per class and big lectures for psychology. In sum, finance professors are in general very kind and helpful. Approaching them after class or in office hour are always good ideas. They tend to explain things very clearly in pain words so that there would be no problem if you pay attention in class. Weekly or bi-weekly assignments are usually not too long and good for revision purpose. Exams in general are not too hard. Grades here in UT (in US as a whole) are much lenient than that in HKUST. 7) Sports & Recreation Facilities You should definitely be aware of the Gregory Gym. It is a fantastic gym with plenty of indoor sports courts, gym facilities and equipment, nice swimming pools and even sauna. There is also a bowling place in the University Union. It is $1 for renting shoes and $1 per game for Tuesday night! 8) Cost/Expenses Category Costs in HKD (approximation) Air ticket $11,000 Accommodation USD$570*4.5 months = $24,000 Dining $5,000 (I always eat in Coop) School (textbooks, case packets, vaccine, other charges, etc) $3,000 Visa $3,000 Insurance $1,500 Travelling $20,000 Miscellaneous $3,500 Total $71,000 9) Social Clubs & Networking Opportunities I missed the 2-3 days promotion period of the clubs and society. They like to set up booths around the Gym. There would also be booths from campus recruiting teams of different companies, but mainly for graduate positions in the US. 10) Health & Safety Fortunately, I did not have to see doctors in the States. I heard from others the clinic in UT is not very efficient (the TB screening charge is chaotic!) and medications are expensive. Thus, it would always be good to bring medicine. UT is always known as a safe city. But I was shocked to know there were indeed cases of robber with guns (even in daytime!) and knife. Thus, it is always advisable not to walk alone in quiet streets and get accompany. 11) Food Texas is renowned for its Tex-Mex food. You can try a lot of different good food at Guadalupe (Teji’s is really good!). Normal diet costs around USD $ 6+ and $ 10+ for better and finer dining. Advice would be not to compare with food price in HK and try as much different food as possible. Another great recommendation would be the Jester City Floor 2 buffet which costs only $7. 12) Transportation I bought a round ticket from HK to Houston (transfer at Beijing) for HKD $9033 from AirChina. I bought the ticket at early September and the price was rapidly going up afterwards. Thus, do buy ASAP. Departing before the new year is much cheaper. After arriving Houston, I took a bus to a Megabus station (a very commonly used long distance coach, which you have to make reservation online beforehand) that could bring me directly to Austin (3 hours). It is a cheaper way but definitely more troublesome. You can choose direct flight to Austin which would be much more convenient. For my return flight back to HK, as I was too late to change the flight date, I added USD $200 to change the date and also the airport! I flew back to HK in Los Angeles right after my trip without going back to Austin. For travelling to cities nearby, you can always take Megabus (i.e.to San Antonio/Houston/Dallas from Austin or from San Francisco to Los Angeles). 13) Climate It can be down to near 0 degree Celsius in Texas in winter, though not too often. January and February would still be cold, but not that cold as it is drier than HK. Indoor area is always above 20 degree. I realized I brought too much thick clothes and turned out I did not need them all (but you still need some!). 14) Communication A cheaper telecommunication provider would be T-mobile but AT&T has better reception. You can form a family plan with 4-5 friends to enjoy $20 per month with unlimited data and text for T-mobile. I did T-mobile also. I bought a prepaid T-mobile card from Amazon and activate online a $25/month unlimited data and text plan (only for online activation). I later switched to a $2/day plan which charged me only for the days I used. You can refer friends to T-mobile and earn a $25 gift card both for you and your friend (which is a really great deal). Locals there usually use text function of the phone more commonly than apps. 15) Cautionary measures Never stay alone at night on street. Do not get too drunk and stay away from those who appeared to be drunk. Do not talk to those people who kept murmuring to himself. 16) Insurance Do not buy the insurance package from the school. It is far too expensive. Buy the insurance from ISO (link in next section), pay online and email to ask them to fill out the insurance waiver form for you. You could save up to USD $400. Referring a friend could even earn you $10. 17) Money and Bank Account You have to set up a bank account in US after your arrival, for making a debit card (just like Octopus Card) and cheques. But the question comes to how to bring the money there. Citibank claimed to have no transaction fee for overseas withdrawal but they charge prohibitively high exchange rate (~ 1:7.9) by drawing the HKD in the HK account. Cards you used in ATM in HK with Visa/UnionPay logo could be used to withdraw money overseas after you enabled the overseas withdrawal function in HK. They charge HKD $20-30 fee per transaction but with lower exchange rate (~1:7.8). But the rate in HK is the lowest at around 1:7.76. You may save some money by opening a USD account (convert USD in HK) in HK and withdraw the USD from the USD account in the US. 18) Useful Links Accommodation Coop: collegehouses.org/ Accommodation Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/458528044205531/ Accommodation Agent: www.simplyinternational.com/ut/ Coach Megabus: www.megabus.com Course information: www.myedu.com/home Insurance ISO: www.isoa.org 19) Most important thing of all The report just serves as a reference. Do NOT try to follow everything I did or others did. You should always create your OWN experience. Nevertheless, setting goals or objectives to be achieved during the exchange is always a good idea. Part 3 – Items to Bring 1. Some Cash 2. Cell phone and laptop with charger 3. Clothe (not too much, you can always buy new ones) 4. Adapter 5. Medicine 6. Stationary 7. Suit 8. Camera If more information is needed, get my contact from the SBM Exchange Team by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wish you all the best!