Great! Welcome to the United States! What next?
The ISS Handbook is the most comprehensive resource for International Students studying at UW-Madison.
The following list pertains to information specific to Indian Grad Students.
- Email will be your primary means of communication. Ask your graduate coordinator to help you set up a UW login that gives you access to all UW online services. This should be done from India.
- Plan to come to Madison at least 3 weeks before the start of the semester (usually 1st week of September). This will give you enough time to settle in and complete all required formalities.
- The first thing to do is to visit the department and inform the Graduate Secretary about your arrival. Some departments give students a welcome packet with further instructions and a campus map. If your department does not give you a map, pick one up at one of the Unions ("Memorial Union" or "Breese Terrace Union". "Union South" is now closed).
- If you have registered for courses, you are eligible for a UW ID Card. Get one as soon as possible. Remember, you need to be registered for at least 24 hrs before you can get an ID card. Register for courses through the Student Center at my.wisc.edu. You can always add/drop courses later till one week after school starts.
- Inform an ISS advisor at the Red Gym about your arrival. ISS conducts orientation programs for new students. You are legally required to attend one of them.
- Open a bank account. UW-Credit Union is probably the most flexible way to start your finances in the US. It only requires your passport as identification to open an account. It also has several nice benefits, a helpful staff, a location right on campus and a great online banking system. Keep in mind that the interest rates in the US are FAR lower than in India (non-existant almost) and UWCU is no exception. UWCU is a local banking system however. This means that while there is no service charge for using ATMs in Madison, using ATMs outside Madison will result in a $1-$2 transaction fee. UWCU offers debit cards and personal checks for non-employed students, and adds Credit Cards for employed students (those with an SSN). Typically, UWCU offers $1000 credit in the first year, and increases it by $1000/yr based on your credit score. Cash in and deposit your Traveller's check as soon as you open your account. Never carry more than $50 or so at any give time, unless absolutely necessary. Traveller's checks can also be cashed in at the University Book Store on State Street. ATMs are found throughout Madison, and even in some campus buildings.
- Make note of important workshop dates and enroll for them. Most important workshops are for SSN (for employed students), ITIN (for unemployed students), Taxes and Health Insurance. Workshops are not compulsory, but are still important. Contact ISS for details on workshop dates/times. Talk to your Grad coordinator and to ISS as to whether you are eligible to get an SSN. It is far easier to apply for an SSN number thru an ISS workshop than to do it yourself. It is important to apply for SSN AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. If you receive employment only AFTER the workshop dates, you can still apply it yourself. Ask ISS for help on how to do this. Other workshops that might be useful are the UW-Library workshops and the DoIT/DMC (Digital/IT services) workshops.
- Keeping in Touch: Pay phones are available at the Unions. Some departments may also make a phone available to students. You may also request the temporary use of a phone from your host. Consider buying an India calling card to give you toll-free access to call India. VoIP with Skype/Google Talk/etc. is a great way to stay in touch. Several computers are situated throughout campus buildings and at various libraries/computer labs for student use. Some locations also allow free "laptop checkouts" for student use for a period of 3 days at a time. Free WiFi is found throughout all campus buildings. Libraries also have access to scanners/copiers/printers for a nominal fee.
- Getting Around: Walking is the recommended way of getting around campus. The weather will be
beautiful and this will allow you to learn the campus layout. The campus buses (Route 80, 81, 82, 84 and 85) are completely free for students and ply frequently. Biking is also an option. Budget Bikes offers the "Red Bike" Program. You can borrow a bicycle (bike) for a period of 3 months for a $60 deposit. The money will be refunded completely upon returning the bike. All campus buildings and all buses are wheelchair friendly. If you have concerns about a specific disability, contact ISS or your graduate coordinator. ASM issues bus passes for students giving unlimited free rides on any bus through the semester. Look at their website for the date of issue. You can purchase temporary "10-Ride pass" from MetroBus till ASM issues the free bus pass. If paying by cash on a bus, remember to carry exact change. Refer to this link for the fares. Also refer to this link to learn "How to Ride" a MetroBus. The Metrobus website gives detailed (though slightly confusing) schedules for every bus they operate along with live tracking. Most of Madison is connected by the Metrobus. Buses also have a hard copy of the Ride Guide and the Route Maps available for you to pick up. Cabs (see "How to Get to Madison" for numbers) are a good way to bring back stuff after grocery shopping. Typically, cabs cost $15-$20 one way.
- Housing: Housing begins with the search for roommates. Typically, students live alone or with 1-3 other students. Mailing to TheMadIndians Yahoo! Group is a good way to begin your roommate search. We have also started a Facebook page to help new students find roommates/contact each other. Once a few of you have gotten together, you can decide on the size of the house. Efficiencies are small combined bed-kitchen-hall setups, ideal for 1 person, but slightly more expensive. 1 bedroom (BR), 2BR, 3BR and 4BR apartments are also available. You can begin the search for an apartment online. However, you will not be able to inspect the apartment before you decide, and it is important to talk to seniors about your choice before you decide. CDLiving is a good online source. University housing is usually based on a lottery system, and is hard to get. Once you reach here, you can walk around finding phone numbers for apartments with openings. Inspect prospective houses and ask the manager about your concerns. Keep the following in mind:
Location: Is your apartment on a bus route? What is the frequency of buses? How late do the buses run? Is it walking distance from campus?
Condition: Is your apartment well maintained? Is it clean/well ventilated? Check the condition of your
plumbing, flooring, windows, kitchen, etc. Is there enough closet space? Is it big enough? Is the heating controlled by you or the manager? Is the heating sufficient in winter?
Price: What is the monthly rent? What are the utilities included? How much will utilities come to extra? Typically, $350-$450 per person will get u a good apartment including heat+water. Electricity/internet is usually not included. If the apartment does not include heat, factor in $100 extra per month in addition to rent in the winter months.
Neighborhood: Do you party a lot, and will your neighbors mind? Are your neighbors noisy and party a lot? Do you mind?
Parking: Do you need car parking space? Does you apartment include car parking. How much does it
cost? Is it covered?
Management: Does the apartment management perform regular maintenace? Are they prompt with
repairs/etc. Will they collect your mail/packages?
Furnishings: Is your apartment furnished? If not, you will have to provide your own furniture.
Deposit: How much is the deposit? Typically 1 month's rent is common.
- Recreation: Various opportunities for recreational activities are available at UW-Madison. University
and Public Libraries offering works of fiction and non-fiction are found all over campus. Sports/Games/Gym info is available through this website. Hoofers actively promotes outdoor activities.
Social events are a plenty: Check TITU for a listing of all events on campus on any particular day.
Several community events are always happening including festivals, plays, music bands, and even Indian movie screenings. Madison is a party town and has several opportunities for clubbing/pubbing and pool/bowling. Madison is ranked as having the highest per capita of restaurants in the US. Chicago and Milwaukee are very close and offer the big-city life. Several shopping malls/centers and specialty shops (arts, crafts, cloting, electronics, hobbies, etc) are located all over Madsion, especially on the West Side. State Street, the Capitol, and the Union Terrace are hot spots for the latest happenings. Madison is the home to several beautiful parks, trails, museums, theaters, quaint historical streets, the Vilas Zoo, the Arboretum, and the five lakes. Many more exciting things to do (Devil's Lake, Dells, Cascade mountains, etc) are only a short trip from Madison. Courses offered through the university (or privately) cover everything from piano, violin, Kathak, jazz, tennis, swimming, Bharatanatyam, ballroom dancing, Singing, Salsa, Photography, tap-dancing, gardening, crafts, website designing, programming, and on and on! This website has a list of all student organizations on campus. You can join any organization (including IGSA) based on your interests, or even start your own organization!
The Indian community at UW-Madison is one of the most vibrant in the US and IGSA organizes several
events every semester. We bring in renowned exponents of Indian culture (music/song/dance), we
celebrate festivals such as Diwali, Holi, Navratri and Eid, we conduct several music/dance workshops,
we organize fun outdoor trips such as Rafting and Camping, we organize charity and fund-raising events and hold various get-together's and talent shows. We even have an active Cricket community in
("Red Gym: the home of ISS" photo courtesy Vasishta Ganti)