Exchange Student Handbook
Greetings from St. Edward’s University! We look forward to being your host university for the duration of your exchange. This handbook is designed to give you some helpful information as you prepare to travel to the United States. Please read it carefully and contact The Office of International Education at St. Edward’s University if you have any questions.
The exchange you are about to take part in is based on an agreement between your home university and St. Edward’s University to allow students to experience a new culture, academic system, and perspective on the world. It also exposes you to new academic offerings and new people with whom you can share ideas and knowledge. We hope that, by taking part in this exchange, you will make great friends and start developing a wide academic and social network that you can carry with you as you pursue a professional life after your studies. Take care to create these bonds as they can last a lifetime!
We look forward to meeting you soon,
The Office of International Education
Before You Arrive
Apply for a Visa
Currently, exchange students coming to St. Edward's are issued documents to allow them to apply for an F-1 student visa. You can visit the Applying for a Visa page on this website for information about how to apply for your visa. Be sure to start working on gathering the necessary documents early so that you can schedule your appointment far enough in advance so that your visa can be issued before you depart for Austin. It is a good idea to check the U.S. consulate’s web page or call the consulate to find out how long the visa processing time is so that you can schedule everything appropriately.
Make Your Travel Arrangements
You will be receiving a lot of information regarding orientation and other arrival information in the months prior to the start of the semester. Check the orientation dates carefully and remember that you will need to attend both the entire International Student Orientation. The residence halls usually open up two days before International Orientation, so if you arrive earlier, you may need to reserve a hotel room to stay in until the residence halls are available for move-in. A list of local hotels can be found at http://www.gotostedwards.com/x675.xml. Also note that you cannot enter the USA more than 30 days before the program start date on your DS 2019, so you will want to take that into consideration as well.
The closest airport is Austin Bergstrom International Airport. Be sure to allow plenty of time between your first flight into the USA and any connecting flights so that you will have enough time to pass through the Port of Entry check point and security.
Schedule Airport Pick-up
The Office of International Education at St. Edward’s University can arrange for someone to pick you up from the airport when you arrive. If you need to be picked up, you should email your arrival date and time, and your airline name and flight number to email@example.com at least a week before your arrival. A representative from campus will meet you in the baggage claim at the Austin airport.
If your flight is delayed, cancelled or interrupted in any way, please contact the Office of International Education to let us know about the changes to your travel plans. Contact information is available at the end of this handbook.
Get the Bacterial Meningitis (Meningococcal) Vaccine
Texas law requires that all new students must have been vaccinated against bacterial meningitis at least 10 days before attending univeristy. Vaccines given over 5 years ago are no longer active and you will need a second dose of the vaccine. It is best for international students to be vaccinated in their home country before arriving in Texas so that the vaccine has time to become active.
The vaccine offered in your country may not be the same type as that which is offered in the USA. In this case, you should still get the vaccine in your home country and then get a "booster" (a second dose of the vaccine) once you arrive in the USA so that you are covered against the type of bacterial meningitis seen in this country. Getting two doses of the vaccine does not cause harm.
If no version of the vaccine is available in your country, you should contact the Office of International Education (firstname.lastname@example.org) right away so that we can assist you. You should also contact the Office of International Education if your doctor says that this vaccine would be very harmful to your health so that we can help you get the proper documentation of this.
You will not be able to register for orientation or for your classes until documentation showing you have received the vaccine has been submitted to the university.
More information is available online.
While the cost of tuition will be waived as part of our exchange agreement with your home university or ISEP, there are some costs you should be prepared for. The cost estimates below are meant to be a starting point for you to determine a budget for your exchange, however your personal spending habits could mean that you spend more or less during your exchange.
Books and School Supplies
At St. Edward’s University (and most U.S. universities) student purchase the books required for their classes. Books can be expensive, so you will want to set aside some money for these purchases. The actual cost for books will vary based on what classes you enroll in and what books are required. We generally recommend that students budget about $500 per semester for purchasing books. This is, however, just an estimate. The campus bookstore will buy books back at the end of the semester for a fraction of the purchase price.
Other school supplies you may need are notebooks, paper, pens/pencils, folders, calculators, book bag, and highlighters. Depending on how many of these items you will need, you might budget $30-$50 (more if you need a special calculator for a math or statistics course).
Exchange students are guarenteed on-campus housing at St. Edward's University. Once you receive your acceptance letter, you should log into EdWeb and fill out the housing application. You can indicate preferences, but the hall you live in will depend on the spaces available, so it is recommended that you budget for one of the more expensive halls, just in case that is where you are placed. Typically exchange students live in a double room (meaning you will probably have a roommate). Residence hall rates are posted online and that is where you will find the most up-to-date cost information: http://www.stedwards.edu/stufinan/current/ctcost.htm
The residence hall rooms are furnished, but you will need items such as bedding, towels, other toiletries, etc. You may choose to bring some or all of these items with you or have them shipped in advance, but if not, we arrange an outing to a local store where you can buy these items at a reasonable cost. The store we usually go to is called Target, and you can review their website, www.target.com, to estimate how much you might want to purchase there and the cost of those items.
*ISEP students do not pay housing costs directly to St. Edward's University since those arrangements are handled by the ISEP program.
Residents of the on-campus residence halls are required to purchase a meal plan to use at the on-campus dining facilities. Typically students are required to purchase plan A or plan B (the two largest), but exchange students do have the option of requesting plan C if they don’t think they will be eating in the dining halls often. The cost of each of the plans is available at http://www.stedwards.edu/stufinan/current/ctcost.htm.
The meal plan is a credit in your account that you access through your student ID card. You will use your ID card like a debit card, and the cost of the meal will be deducted from the credit on your account. “Topper Tender” is a flexible credit that is also accessed through your ID card. You can use “Topper Tender” in vending machines, in the other campus stores (the bookstore or the “Quick Dip” which sells snacks and sundries), and at some local restaurants. If at any time your credit balance is running low and you would like to add more credit, you can do so easily.
*ISEP students do not pay meal plan costs direclty to St. Edward's University since those arrangements are handled by the ISEP program.
You are required to have health insurance during the duration of your exchange. You will automatically be enrolled in and charged for the health insurance offered through St. Edward’s University. The current cost of health insurance is available at http://www.stedwards.edu/stufinan/current/ctcost.htm, listed under “Other Campus Charges”.
More information about health care is available in the “Health Services Information” section on page 10.
*ISEP students will purchase health insurance through ISEP rather than through St. Edward's University.
Besides the cost of traveling to Austin, you will want to budget for other travel and transportation costs. Our university campus and residence halls are all located within easy walking distance from one-another. However, you will surely want to explore the city and access other areas of interest during your stay. Austin has a city bus system that travels to most points of interest. Costs for the city bus are located at http://capmetro.org/riding/fares_2.asp. Most students find that purchasing the “stored value card” is the most beneficial as it can be used as you need it whether you ride the bus daily or only sporadically.
You may want to travel within the U.S.A. or Texas during vacation periods or before returning home. You will want to think about these plans in advance and estimate your travel costs. You will have some vacations during the semester (the academic calendar is posted at http://www.stedwards.edu/regist/acadcal.htm) and 30 days after your program end date, during which time you may want to travel. See your international advisor before you travel to make sure that your documents are in order and that your travel plans won’t conflict with the requirements of your visa and program.
Entertainment and leisure activity costs are always difficult to estimate. However, you will want to build in some space in your budget for such activities. Typically students are advised to budget at least $800 per semester for misc. costs. Some examples of costs are listed below:
Movie tickets (with student discount): $7 (most theaters)
Dinner out (moderately priced restaurant): $10-$15 per person (food and non-alcoholic drink)
Entrance to live music venues: $10-$45 (some are free; cost depends on who is performing)
You should check in with the Office of International Education once you arrive on campus (especially if you do not sign up for airport pick-up). If you arrive a day or more before orientation, you should come by the Office of International Education in Moody Hall, room 102 to check in. There will also be check-in tables at both orientations. You should bring all your immigration documents (passport, I-94 card, DS 2019) with you to International Orientation so that copies can be made, and you should bring your passport to New Student Orientation in order to get your student ID card.
Orientation is designed to give you information about activities offered at St. Edward’s, the academic system, how to register for classes, different programs that you can take part in, where to find different offices on campus, and information that is specifically helpful for international students. You will learn about how to follow the regulations of your visa type, what to expect from the St. Edward’s academic environment, services available to you (health services, academic support, advising services, etc), practical information about getting around and staying safe, and fun things to do while in Austin. This is also a great time to meet some of the other new students starting at the university since parts of the orientation will overlap with the orientation events for new U.S. students.
Your residence hall will also hold a meeting to let you know what to expect from on-campus living. They will go over the rules and expectations and introduce you to the student advisors and professional staff who are there to help you. The student advisors, known as RAs, can be a great resource for information about what life as a student in the U.S.A. is like, where the best places to eat on campus and in the neighborhood are, the quickest paths around campus, and fun things to do.
Orientation is required for all international students, so please plan to arrive the day or two before orientation so that you can be sure to attend!
On-Campus Housing and Dining
On-campus housing is guaranteed for all exchange students. You will live in one of the on-campus residence halls, located on the university grounds and only about a 5-10 minute walk to any of the academic buildings. Rooms are double occupancy, which means that you will probably have a roommate. Efforts are made to place you with an American student where possible, or with someone who is not from your home country. This is done to increase your contact with other students, give you a more immersive cultural experience, and help you improve your English language ability.
Residence life staff members live and work in every residence hall and are there to help you adjust to the new living environment. If you ever have problems with your roommate or don’t know how to talk to them about something, the residence life staff can help you. They are trained to help people work through their differences and come to an agreement about how they can live comfortably in the same room. The staff is also there to help if there are any broken facilities in your room or in the residence hall. You can contact someone at any time of the day in case of an emergency.
The room you will live in will be furnished with a bed, desk, chair, closet, and access to a shared bathroom. Some halls are designed so that there is one shared bathroom on each floor or so that a bathroom is shared between two rooms (four people). Each hall has a kitchen, laundry facility, and computer lab available to all residents. Wireless internet is available across campus and can be set up by contacting the Computer Help Desk.
During orientation week, a trip to a local store will be arranged so that you can purchase items you may need for your room and for school. Typical items that students purchase are bedding (blankets, sheets and pillows are not provided by the residence halls), toiletries, school supplies (paper, pens, etc), and laundry items.
There are three different full-service dining facilities on campus as well as two coffee shops and a small general store. The dining facilities take care to offer a wide variety of food to accommodate many different dietary preferences and needs. You will be required to purchase a meal plan to use at the dining services on campus. You can choose the amount of your meal plan based on your personal eating habits and can add more money to it during the semester if you need. When you purchase food at one of the dining facilities, the amount of your purchase will be deducted from the balance on your meal plan. Your student ID is used for this transaction much like a debit card. It can also be used at vending machines and some local restaurants.
Health Services Information
On-campus health services
St. Edward’s University has health and counseling services available on campus. These services are usually free of charge to students (some charges may apply for a small number of services, but costs are typically less than those charged at off-campus health care providers).
Health services available:
- Assessment and treatment of minor acute illnesses and injuries
- Prescriptions for medication if indicated
- Routine immunizations
- Nutrition, health and wellness education
- Information about medications, illnesses, medical conditions
- Lab testing
- Some preventive exams
- After hours phone consultation available to discuss urgent problems
- Referral to appropriate health care providers in the community for illnesses and services beyond the scope of the Health Center
- Students who have major or chronic illnesses are advised to be under the care of a private physician. Help in finding a local physician is available.
Counseling services available:
- Initial Consultation During the first session or Initial Consultation, the client and counselor determine how the center can best meet the client's needs. The first meeting may include resolving the concern in a single session, scheduling the client for additional sessions, collaborating with additional St. Edward's University resources, such as Student Disability Services, the Health Services, Campus Ministry, and Career Planning Office, or making referrals to community agencies.
- Individual Counseling Clients meet individually with a counselor to discuss a variety of issues, including emotional distress, relationships, anxiety, self-esteem and other personal issues. As a general rule, counseling services provide help for clients whose concerns can be managed within a limited number of sessions. If a client's situation requires counseling beyond the scope of the center's resources, a referral to professional service providers in the Austin community is offered. The client is responsible for any expenses that he/she incurs for services received from community providers.
- Couples/Partners Counseling Many relationship difficulties can be improved through education and/or psychotherapeutic techniques. When couples are experiencing difficulties in communication, problem solving and intimacy, counseling can help to resolve these problems and enhance relationships. Counseling Services staff can provide counseling for relationship problems as long as one member of couple is a student.
- Biofeedback Managing stress and anxiety is a major concern for many students. Clients can participate in 3-5 sessions of biofeedback to learn skills to relax, reduce anxiety, and improve their academic performance.
- Group Counseling At various times, the center offers group therapy and life skills groups. Life skills groups emphasize learning, and focus on developing skills. These groups offer options for individuals who want feedback or additional support while addressing their concerns. Clients participating in groups have an opportunity to talk with other individuals sharing similar concerns and often learn problem-solving strategies. The content of the group sessions is confidential; what members talk about or disclose may not be discussed outside the group.
While excellent health care is available in the U.S.A. and Austin, it is very expensive. Health insurance is a very important way to make sure that you can receive any care you need without having to pay extremely large amounts of money for service. You are also required by the visa regulations for J-1 visa holders to have a minimum level of health insurance for yourself and any dependents (spouse or children).
To ensure that you have the necessary coverage you will need, St. Edward’s University will automatically enroll you in the health insurance plan offered through the university unless you are covered by the ISEP health insurance plan (ISEP students only). Plan coverage exceeds the required minimum, and is accepted in Austin, throughout the U.S.A. and will cover you anywhere you go (except in your home country). This means that you will still have coverage if you travel to other countries or other parts of the U.S.A. while you are a student at St. Edward’s University.
Health insurance coverage begins on August 20th for the fall semester and January 2nd for the spring semester. Students enrolled in the health insurance plan for the spring semester are covered through the summer vacation period.
What to do in Case of an Emergency
St. Edward’s University has a police department located on campus that is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the year in case of emergencies. The campus police are there to help you if you have problems, and are really very friendly, so don’t be concerned about going to them if you need help, especially after hours when other offices are closed.
The campus police office can contact designated persons in the Health and Counseling Center (for physical or mental health emergencies) as well as for the Office of International Education (in case of travel/immigration emergencies) outside of normal office hours in case of emergencies. They can also assist in calling an ambulance, fire department, or other emergency services if needed.
If an emergency occurs in your residence hall (on-campus housing), you can contact your RA-Resident Assistant (student employed by the university to help other students as needed) or RD-Resident Director (professional staff member who oversees your residence hall) for help. All RAs and RDs live on campus and someone is always nearby should an emergency occur. Contact information for the RA or RD on duty is posted in every residence hall and given out during orientation.
You should contact an RA or RD in the case of urgent problems with your room, bathroom or other parts of the residence hall (such as a broken pipe, fire, or other serious maintenance problem). You should also let them know if someone on your hall (including yourself) is having serious problems or is engaging in inappropriate behavior.
Office of International Education
The Office of International Education is available to help you with emergencies related to being an international student. These might include lost or stolen documents (while in the U.S.A. or abroad), immigration problems, emergencies in your home country that affect you while in the U.S.A., and anything else related to your status as an international student.
If you aren’t sure who to go to for a problem, you can always stop by the Office of International Education for help finding the right person/office to help you.
Important Notes about Your Visa Status: F-1
Students on F-1 visas are required to be enrolled full-time during regular semesters. For undergraduate students, this means enrolling in at least 12 credit hours a semester (typically 4 courses) and for graduate students, this means enrolling in at least 9 credit hours a semester (3 courses).
You can work on-campus as a F-1 visa holder, but are limited to 20 hours per week or less during the regular semesters. You can only work off-campus if the work (internship related to your studies) meets all the necessary requirements. Your international advisor can advise you on the requirements for Practical Training (work authorization) and let you know if you are eligible.
Do be aware that on-campus jobs are limited and may not be available. You should not expect to have an on-campus job while you are here. Budget carefully to make sure all your costs can be met without depending on an income from a job in the U.S.A.
I-20 Program End Date
The program end date printed on your I-20 is based on the average amount of time it takes a student to graduate from your program. If you need more time to complete your degree, the end date on your I-20 can be extended as long as you talk to your international advisor before the program end date is reached (at least one month is advisable).
60- Day Grace Period
After the program end date printed on your I-20, you have a 60 day grace period during which you can still be in the U.S.A. Be aware that, if you leave the country prior to the end of the 60 days, your status ends and you cannot re-enter on your J-1 visa, so you will want to plan your travel accordingly.
*More details about your immigration status will be covered at orientation. If you have urgent questions, please contact the Office of International Education.
Things to Know About Living in Austin
Austin, Texas is located in Central Texas on the eastern edge of the American Southwest. It is situated on the Colorado River.
Although Texas is the second biggest state in the United States in terms of area (after Alaska), Austin is within driving distance of many big cities that have tourist attractions. Below are some of Texas’s big cities/tourist attractions and their distance from Austin.
San Antonio: About 90 miles (144 km or 1.5 hour drive) from Austin. Some popular tourist attractions are Fiesta Texas (amusement park), Sea World, the Riverwalk, and the historic Alamo.
Houston: About 165 miles (265 km or 3 hour drive) from Austin. Tourist attractions in Houston include NASA museum, the Museum of Natural Sciences, Houston Zoo, and the Reliant Astrodome.
Dallas: About 199 miles (320 km or 3 hour drive) from Austin. Dallas is the home of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Dallas aquarium, and a Six Flags (amusement park)
Galveston and Corpus Christi: Both about 218 miles (350 km or 3.5 hour drive) from Austin; Galveston being located near Houston, and Corpus Christi located directly south of San Antonio. Both of these cities are coastal towns and border the Gulf of Mexico. For this reason, many Texans visit to experience the beach.
Austin has a humid subtropical climate, characterized by hot summers and mild winters. Austin summers are hot and humid, usually ranging from about 90 °F to 100 °F (34–37 °C). Winters are mild and dry, with average temperatures about 45 °F (7.2 °C). Spring and fall are beautiful in Austin are when most people spend a lot of time outside. On average, Austin receives 33.6 inches (853.4 mm) of rain per year, mostly in the spring and then in the fall.
Residents of Austin are known as "Austinites". The population is made up of a diverse mix of politicians, musicians, state employees, recent immigrants, university professors, and students. “Keep Austin Weird” is a common saying around town as the diversity and eccentricity of the city is seen through restaurants, art, music, a variety of religious offerings, and shops.
In general, Austin is laid back and informal. Additionally, it is not uncommon for people who you don’t know to say “hi” and smile just because they want to. South Congress Avenue, just north of campus, is a good area to get a feel for what makes Austin unique and “weird” and has a fun collection of shops and restaurants that you won’t find anywhere else.
“Cowboy Culture” may be what you are expecting from Texas, and it does exist. You will see police officers on horses downtown on Friday and Saturday nights, people wearing cowboy boots and hats, and advertisements for the rodeo that comes to town every spring. In general, though, Austin is a modern and cosmopolitan city where cars far outnumber horses.
You may be concerned about finding a religious community while you are in Austin. Though St. Edward’s University is a Catholic university, all religions and spiritual beliefs are welcome. Both on-campus and around Austin, you will find a diversity of spiritual beliefs. There are many Christian denominations represented in town as well as Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and other religious communities in the area.
Just as the city itself is unique and eclectic, so are dining options. You can find any type of food you are looking for. From sandwich shops to Ethiopian restaurants, google.com or yelp.com are good sources for finding foods of all sorts. Dinner is usually the main meal in the United States, and Austin is no different. Also keep in mind that food labeled “spicy” at one place does not mean the same thing at another just as food you would find spicy might not seem spicy to someone else. Ask someone at the restaurant or a friend if you have questions. If you find that the food you order is too spicy, ask for some water, sour cream (especially in Mexican food restaurants), something yogurt-based, or even just some bread or plane rice as these items can help balance the spice.
Some fun things to do
Live music: Known as the “Live Music Capital of the World”, Austin has an abundant live music scene with a variety of types of artists playing in different venues year-round and at music festivals that take place annually. The most popular music festivals are SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival and ACL (Austin City Limits) music festival. SXSW usually occurs mid-march and ACL during early October. For more information on the music scene, you can visit http://www.austintexas.org/timeline/?currentActivity=1.
Outdoor activities: Austin is notorious for being a place where lots of people spend time outdoors. Especially in the spring and fall, people are outside riding bikes, swimming, running, doing water activities, and enjoying the sun. Below are some suggestions for outdoor activities:
- Go to Lady Bird Lake to run, canoe, kayak, hike, or bike.
- Visit the Wildflower Center, Austin Zoo, Zilker botanical gardens, or Umlauf sculpture garden.
- Swim and refresh at Barton Springs Pool or various “swimming holes” around Austin.
- See the Congress Avenue bats as they depart nightly for dinner at sunset (April through October)
Local museums and historical sites: Many museums and historical sites are found all around Austin. Some of them include:
- The Capitol Visitor’s Center
- The Blanton Museum of Art
- The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
- Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
- Rodeo Austin, which usually takes place in March, includes rodeo events, daily Concerts, Livestock Show and different types and styles of food vendors.
- City Tours such as tours of the University of Texas at Austin and Austin Duck Tours.
Nightlife: Downtown Austin has a thriving nightlife, with many music venues, restaurants, bars, and dance clubs (discos). While there are a lot of nightlife options for a variety of tastes, some (mostly bars) do not let individuals under the age of 21 which the legal drinking age.
Important Contact Information
Important Contact Information
Contact the Office of International Education regarding arrival and orientation information, questions related to your visa status and immigration documents, cultural adjustment, and if you have a question, but don’t know who to ask.
The campus police office is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in case of emergencies. You can contact campus police if you have an emergency related to your physical or mental health, have concerns about your safety, have an emergency while traveling, or any other emergency. They can contact the appropriate person to help you with your emergency, even after normal business hours.
Health and Counseling Center Phone: +001 512 448 8686
The Health and Counseling Center offers medical and mental health support. Registered nurse practitioners can attend to the majority of medical ailments students present and licensed counselors can help students with mental and emotional challenges. A nurse or counselor is on-call at all times, and can be contacted by calling the campus police department.
Residence hall staff are available on every hall to help with matters related to on-campus living. There is a professional staff member in residence in each hall, called a Resident Director, and a number of Resident Assistants, who are students employed by Residence Life to help out with residence hall life. The Resident Assistant (RA) On-Duty phone number will be posted on each hall, so that you can contact someone in case of an urgent matter.