Hey new fellows! It’s been 3.5 months since I came here and I know that all of you are super psyched to be joining in as Class 14 of Atlas Corps!!! Congratulations, and I’m sure you are all getting migranes due to the mix of emotions in your head right now – the joy of bagging a prestigious fellowship, the worry of packing (what to pack and what not to), more worries about how it’ll be, etc etc etc.
As a seasoned traveler and creature of Wanderlust, I thought I’d be super awesome at packing well and managing in the US. I was slightly wrong. There’s loads of stuff that one might take for granted, but comes a long way when you move and try to settle down in your new city! Just thought I’d help you guys out with a few bits of info that’ll help you pack, and figure out your first month here! Most of the info I’m providing here applies to everyone, but some of you might have different circumstances depending on the geographical, economic, and political climate of your country. I’ll try to make it as inclusive as possible
- Clothes – Clothes in the US are not much more expensive than back home. You can find t-shirts for $5 if you know where to look, and there are sales all the time. Carry just a few pairs of t-shirts, some shirts, jeans (definitely), and shorts for the summer. DO carry socks from home, since socks here can be crazily expensive. You can find gloves for $3 if you know where to look. Sweaters are similarly priced, so don’t bulk up your baggage with that. But definitely carry one nice warm overcoat or weatherproof warm jacket that’ll keep you dry (atleast for a while) and definitely warm even in -5°C snowy weather. And there are great stores for second hand jackets and overcoats that are decently priced, so it makes sense to buy the second pair once you’re here. Do NOT forget to get your ethnic dress (or two or more, if it’s lightweight) since people LOVE seeing our traditional dresses. Cheap, but good quality, stores here are H&M, Old Navy, GAP. Check them out online.
- Shoes – For guys, get 1 pair of formal shoes, 1 pair of canvas shoes, 1 pair of other semi-formal party shoes, 1 pair of sports sneakers (if you like that), 1 pair of flip-flops, and 1 heavy duty pair that will keep your feet warm and work on snow and ice (for those sleet days). And don’t forget to get 1 pair of your ethnic footwear that’ll go with your ethnic dress. For girls, all the same applies but I know that some items might be doubled or tripled. For all, just remember – shoes here can cost a bit if you buy it from the wrong places, but don’t bring a truckload of shoes, since you might find some great ones at competitive prices here.
- Medicine and toiletries– carry your prescribed medication, your medicated shampoos, your preferred headache, cold, stomach ache, etc. pills since finding the right pill that works for you here might take some time. Atleast carry enough for backup. Pick up lens solution (a big bottle) back home itself. DO get another pair of your glasses made back home and get them; same with contact lenses. Get a big pack of your favourite face wash. But buy your toiletries here…they are almost the same price (especially if you buy big packs). And get your own loofah!
- Electronics – electronics in the US can be cheaper than back home (due to taxes), so do your research online before buying something at home and lugging it along. Your 3G/4G phones most probably won’t work at those high speeds here (I only get 2G speeds on my old phone), and phone plans here include the device too, and since it is a monthly pay plan, it can come out to be not too expensive for you to get a phone here instead. Get your convertors. Do check the rating on your device adapter – if it says “110-240 V” (like most electronic equipment today) you don’t need any fancy convertors, just a convertor for the plug. It might also help to get a small extension cord with your home sockets so that you can plug all your devices into that without having to buy tens of convertors
- Food – This is a tricky one. If you like your home spices, pack them. Please. If you like some specific snacks from home, pack em too! You WILL find food from home here, but it’ll appear to be crazily priced till you get used to the prices. So for the first few months while you’re dealing with how expensive everything is – pack your favourite items and get em along. If you use some specific utensils to cook (like a pressure cooker for South Asians) get a small one along.
- Etc. – carry a tiny umbrella. A small sewing kit. Some traditional gifts from home (keychains or small artifacts work great!). A nail cutter. Your own shaver/trimmer/grooming stuff.
- Online shopping works great too!
The first month
The first month can be REALLY tricky, from handling expenses, to getting phone connections, transit, etc etc. Atlas Corps offers amazing support for a lot of these, but here are a few tricks and tips to make your first month here amazingly simple
- How much money should I carry? – Apart from the fellowship acceptance deposit to be paid to Atlas Corps, you should carry about $500 on an average. I was able to make do with much lesser, so the leftover went into my savings for a rainy day (which is always great). Depending on how much you might want to buy in the first month itself, this amount can vary. But I’d suggest not rushing to buy a lot of stuff in the first month, since you’ll slowly get to know the cheaper places.
- Banks and cards? – Atlas Corps helps you open up an account with Bank of America, which works smoothly. In the beginning itself, ask them for a card with your photo on it. It might cost a dollar or two extra I guess. Applying for a credit card, if you don’t have any relatives or friends who can vouch for you and help your application by becoming a guaranteer, is futile. You need credit history, and you need a guaranteer. If you tend to use credit cards, get one from home.
- Phone?? Talk to your supervisor if they have a company phone/connection. A lot of organisations offer a company phone or a corporate connection, or atleast have discounted rates on monthly plans that their staff can avail of. Talk to your supervisor about it. If they don’t, and you want super high internet speeds, you’ll have to get a phone once you’re here. But most plans include the phone cost, which you can pay in monthly instalments. Once you get here, don’t rush to buy a phone connection if you don’t URGENTLY need it. Use WiFi, Skype, whatsapp, etc. till you have made a wise informed decision about what provider to go with. Also try to get an unlcoked phone, else it’s difficult to use it once you return home. Verizon has max coverage, but is CDMA, so it might not work at high speeds back home. AT&T is more expensive, but is GSM and has fast internet. Sprint, Cricket, and some others can be slightly cheaper, but check their coverage.
- Stay? – Not staying at the Atlas Corps housing? craigslist is your best bet. Remember – while searching for housing, check how much the utilities cost, if your flatmates are okay with you cooking your home food (if it is pungent like Indian food), and if the heat and water are all working properly. Do get a proper lease, and do see how far it is from major parts of the city as well as from your workplace. H+T (Housing plus transport) versus time is what you should be factoring while checking your budget. It makes more sense to pay $700 for a place closer to your work where transport will cost you $50 a month, or you can walk, than paying $650 where transport is $100 a month and is far away.
- Transport? – Atlas Corps will give you a metro card when you arrive. You can recharge it and use it. Some organisations might offer local transport to its Fellows and interns – check with your supervisor. You might also eventually want to invest in a year-long membership of Capital Bikeshare (DC’s local shared bike initiative; it’s super convenient. www.capitalbikeshare.com) which won’t cost that much.
- Etc – Google Maps is going to be your savior. When you get here, buy some tupperware (those sets of 3 come pretty cheap), put atleast one or two boxes at work, since there’ll be loads of leftovers from events which happen at work. Your Atlas Corps totes will come in handy whenever you go grocery shopping. Carry minimal cash in your pockets at all times once you get your Bank of America debit card.
Any questions? Queries? Tweet to me @QueeredOut or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you think, or if I missed out on something!