*My Top 10 lists are not necessarily in order of importance.
**Some of these things are for couples in particular, since that has been our experience, but single students can learn from them as well.
1. When applying for housing, it’s easy to look at the housing rates and decide “We’re married. We can live in the same room together for four months to save the extra money on a bigger dorm apartment.” I strongly caution you about this. Yes, it’s cheaper, but there is literally nowhere to move around. Everywhere you go you’re in the same place and there is no room to get away from each other when you are both home. Living on campus is not such a bad idea the first semester, since you won’t have a car for a while and it helps you meet people, but don’t go with an efficiency (studio) apartment. Splurge for a two-bedroom or opt to go off-campus right away. (Efficiencies are fine for single students.)
2. Make finding a car your first big financial priority. Yes, there’s a public transportation system that can take you virtually anywhere you want to go, but trust me, it gets old fast. Cars down here are not like cars in the states; they all have weird problems and would never be given a second glance off the island. But here, it’s all you’ve got, so bring your standards down and get used to it. The average vehicle around here in between 5-7,000 US dollars, when you wouldn’t pay 2,000 back home. But take heart, you can probably sell it to an incoming student when you leave and make most of your money back. (Single students will want to keep this in mind as well, although it’s much easier for a single student to use the public transportation or bum rides off other students for the first semester and buy a car once you move off-campus.)
3. Bring plenty of cash with you in your luggage. The Mister and I only brought enough cash to pay our Visa fees, which we thought they would take at the airport, and brought the rest in traveler’s checks. You don’t pay your Visa fees at the airport, and you don’t deposit traveler’s checks until 5-6 days after you arrive, so thankfully we were able to use that cash for spending money or we would have been in a lot of trouble. You’ll eat out A LOT during orientation week, so be sure you have enough cash with you for a week of expenses. And remember, it’s a tourist economy so things are expensive here.
4. Wean yourself (or your husband, in my case) off milk and soda. Ram’s is the only grocery store that sells large packs of soda bottles (or cans, for that matter), and a 24-pack pallet is around $60EC ($1US = $2.7EC. You do the math. Still not good.). Milk is about $11EC a quart, so we only use it for cooking now and the Mister has just had to learn to live without his three gallons a week. Milk is also very unpredictable, since it’s not processed in all the same ways as in the states. Regardless of the printed expiration date, it’s a toss-up. I’ve bought milk and had it last in our fridge beyond the printed date, and then I’ve bought the same brand from the same store and had it be semi-solid in 3 days (long before the printed date). So you never really know.
5. Also wean yourself off chicken, if that’s a personal favorite, and prepare to eat a lot of fish. Ground beef isn’t such a problem to find and usually turns out well, but chicken is another story. You can find it, but I wouldn’t always eat it; let’s put it that way.
6. The VIP (very important partner – aka, the non-student) needs some sort of creative/productive hobby. Lots of VIPs have online jobs from the States, which is awesome if you can find one, but otherwise, you need a hobby. Whether you paint, sew, crochet (like me), read, write, do complex mathematical formulas, it doesn’t matter. You just need something to occupy your free time, because trust me, you’ll have a lot of it.
7. Be comfortable being apart. Clingy couples will not make it here. Neither will over-protective/jealous couples. You won’t spend a ton of time together during the week because the student will be in the lab or studying with other students, so the VIP has to be comfortable on his/her own. If you’re not good at making friends without your significant other around, practice before you come. If you don’t like your significant other having a lot of friends of the opposite sex, get over it. Most students are female and most VIPs are male, so if you’re a male student and a female VIP, that’s going to happen a lot.
8. iPads are something I think all students should consider here. It’s an investment that will really be beneficial in the long run. The Mister has apps to track his constantly-changing class schedule, to organize and search through his notes, to view class powerpoint presentations and to create flashcards with images of the various bones, muscles, etc. iPads are also much easier to carry around campus and to use at other places on the island (beaches, pools, restaurants, etc.) if you want to study on the go. You can also hide them down in your bag easier than a large laptop, which is important to not getting it stolen.
9. Don’t order your textbooks from the campus website. Just don’t. Find them on amazon.com or through another online retailer, or see if upperclassmen are selling them on the various Ross students facebook pages (that’s probably where you’ll get the best deal). If you HAVE TO order them from the school page for whatever reason, only do it if you have several months in advance of when classes start, and don’t bother paying for more than standard shipping. They won’t get here when they are supposed to. Period. It never happens, so just don’t even waste the money or the brain cells worrying about it.
10. Bring a camera, one for each person if you can afford it. It doesn’t need to be a big fancy camera, just something to keep in your pocket for those off-guard moments when you glance across the sea on the way to class or the market and see Nevis haloed in mist and rainbows. Trust me; you’ll want to snap that. Also, if it takes underwater pictures, be prepared to share because everyone will want to borrow it. It is gorgeous here, despite the discomforts, and you’ll definitely want to have those pictures to look back on and remind yourself that the experience wasn’t a loss after all. (And to post on Facebook and make your friends and family jealous. :-))