Freshman Guide to Life at Duke University
Author: Tan Swee San (2003)
Yang Lin and Harry Lee (2007)
Teo Yinquan (2009)
Ku Ren Yu (2009)
Harold Au (2010)
Tables of Contents
Visa applications are approved and issued by the US embassy. There are three ways of obtaining your student visa:
- Doing it yourself. Print off all the forms (for females: DS-156 and DS 158; for males: DS-156, DS157 and DS 158) from the Singapore US Embassy website (http://singapore.usembassy.gov) and complete them before submitting them to the US Embassy. You will need to submit:
- 2’ by 2’ photo on a white background
- Cashier’s order of S$183.40 (accurate as of Feb 10 2009) made payable to the “American Embassy, Singapore”
- For males, an exit permit from the NS website for the period of your study is required
- Evidence of Financial Resources
- I-20 issued by Duke
- Passport with 6 months validity beyond date of arrival in the United States
- SEVIS fee receipt of payment (this is a USD $200 fee paid to the US Government online and you should be made aware of it from Duke University)
- Student questionnaire found at the US Embassy website
As of this year, you will need to schedule an appointment with the Embassy for you to submit your application. Complete details can be found on the How to Apply section of the US Embassy website for non-immigrant student visas. On arrival at the Embassy, you would submit your application forms and will be scheduled an interview with the visa officer on the very same day.
- Relying on an agency like UOB Travel Planners or STA Travel. The US Embassy website has an extensive list of agencies that perform such a service. There would be additional administrative fees that range from S$40 to S$60. It’s debatable whether it’s faster than doing it yourself but you are spared the queue before the interview as the agency will schedule a time for your interview with the visa officers after they submit your visa application for you.
- If you are a under a scholarship, sometimes your officer can help you arrange for your visa. This varies from scholarship to scholarship though. Most scholarships will prepare visa application letters for you which will speed up the interview stage. This letter typically acts as proof of financial resource for the visa officers. For scholarship holders, the interview stage takes about a minute as the officers are aware you need to return to Singapore to serve your bond.
Your visa will be either rejected or approved on the spot by the visa officers. Visa applications are generally approved if you indicate that you do not intend to stay in the United States after completion of your degrees. If you are accepted, you would be informed of a separate date to come pick up your visa. You will have to go to the US embassy twice whether you go through an agency or you do it yourself.
Note that you will need to get a signature on your I-20 every year because the signature expires after a year. Make sure that the correct person signs your I-20. The International Office at Duke frequently mixes up Pratt and Trinity students.
Making a new passport before going down to the US Embassy is a good idea because you are ensured that your passport has the required six months validity for visa applications and when you travel during your first year of study, your passport will be valid with all major airlines. Some airlines do not allow passengers to board if they do not have the required six months validity on their passport.
It is advisable to start applying for your visa by mid June, to provide ample time before school starts in late August. Don’t apply too early either, as the embassy can only issue your visa 120 days or less before the date that you are supposed to report to school. Useful links include:
Application Forms, Fees & Supporting Information: http://singapore.usembassy.gov/niv-apply-step1.html
Additional Info about Student Visas: http://singapore.usembassy.gov/student_visas.html
2. Your Duke Blue Book
The blue book you get in your matriculation package contains a lot of information on administrative issues like housing, dining plans, etc. The purpose of this section is to provide you with some useful advice.
- Dining plan – The dining plans have a fixed board plan for the marketplace (an on campus canteen where you’ll eat most of your meals). They differ only by the amount of additional food points you can use at the other on campus merchants (such as McDonalds, Subway etc). We recommend that you take the cheapest option because you might not know your eating habits on campus yet. Besides, you can always go online to top up your food points easily.
- Dorm Housing – Your housing application affects the roommate you’ll get, so fill this in carefully. For Singaporean males who have served NS, you may be asked whether you want to stay on East Campus (this is where all the freshmen stay). We advise you to do so because it is very cliquish elsewhere. It’ll be easier to start making friends on East just because all you guys are fresh and eager.
Lastly, don’t bother with the phone and cable service first. Landlines are not very useful because everyone has a cellphone these days and you get free cable TV for the first week of school so you can always decide later.
- Duke Card – It is nearly a necessity to set up a flex spending account. The flex account allows you to use your Duke Card like to credit card. You’ll need it to pay for laundry and can use it to pay for school supplies, books, event tickets etc.
- Registering for classes – You’ll be notified of when you can register for classes. Minutes before registration, people generally camp at their computer (with a reliable internet connection) to wait for the enroll button to show up. It is a good idea to do this because your position on the waitlist for registration depends on how fast the server receives your enrollment request when the registration window opens. Many a time, this would make the difference between whether you get into a particular section of a class you want to take. Using a wired connection instead of a wireless one may also help you to get an earlier queue number in your enrollment request. Refer to the ‘Academic Advice’ section to hear our thoughts on registration.
3. Buying tickets
The nearest airport to Duke University is RDU but there are no direct flights from Singapore to RDU. You’ll have to take an international flight somewhere before flying down to RDU. The most popular places to fly to are New York (JFK airport), Los Angeles (LAX) or Washington DC (IAD).
Ensure that your stopover times between flights are sufficiently long (>2 hours). Domestic flights in the US tend to get delayed, especially those that originate from the busiest airports like New York (JFK airport). In addition, you will have to clear customs on your first port of arrival in the US, which may take over half an hour. If you have goods to declare, you may take up to half an hour depending on how long the queue is. A stopover time that is too short might cause you to miss your connecting flight.
Northwest and United Airlines are two American carriers that fly to RDU via the Pacific route with stopovers in Narita then Detroit or Chicago respectively. Flying a single airline allows for direct baggage transfer (i.e. you don’t have to pick up your baggage after landing in the states to check-in to another airline that you are flying domestically). My personal favorite is the ANA route, which flies through Narita and Washington (IAD, which isn’t as busy as the other transfer hubs). The connection to RDU is by a United Airlines flight, and you get seamless baggage transfer because of the Star Alliance partnership between ANA and United.
Which tickets are cheapest?
Tickets are cheap when airlines are having offers during that particular period. Check the websites of the above- mentioned airlines online for rates. Websites like www.orbitz.com, www.expedia.com, www.sta.com, www.sidestep.com and www.studentuniverse.com may give you better rates.
4a. What to bring
We have come up with a list of essential things that you must bring and also a list of things you should not bring. What you bring in the end however is entirely up to you. Travelling light is the best piece of advice we can give you but if you’re travelling with parents, go ahead and bring your very own bathtub from back home if you should so wish.
Remember to check your baggage limit on the website of the airline you are flying with. All baggage flying into the US are subject to checks by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration). There is a high chance that your bag might be checked. It is a good idea to use baggage with TSA locks or buy external TSA locks for your baggage because the TSA will break open your bag for inspection.
- Your passport, I-20 and visa (stuck on one of your passport pages)
- Credit cards (It is a good idea to own a supplementary card from any of your parents’ account)
- Original GCE A-Level certificate if you do the A-level so that you can get your International Placement Credit which allows you to accelerate
- JC/High School Notes: A-Level Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Math and Economics notes are particularly useful sometimes
- Singapore driving license if you have one. It is recognized in the entire US and acts as a form of ID.
- Casual wear for Fall
- A waterproof winter jacket. Down jackets are recommended. Don’t buy them in Singapore if you don’t already have any. Buy them in the US instead because they’ll be cheaper and you don’t really need them until late October.
- A small umbrella. It rains often in Durham and the umbrellas they sell on campus are ridiculously overpriced. Think 30USD for a medium sized umbrella.
- Backpacks are useful to have on short trips and for lugging engineering/math textbooks to class
- Graphing calculators – you need them for engineering classes! Bring if you have one at home, or else you can get a Ti-89 online (it’s really useful for your engineering classes)
- Prescriptions and prescription medicine. Aspirin is the United States equivalent of Panadol. American medicine tends to be stronger than usual and you may not be used to them. If you can bring some medication from Singapore. Multivitamins are encouraged too if you take them regularly. If you believe in TCM, bring a sufficient supply; traditional medicine can be found at the Asian market but they are rather pricey.
- Contact list of names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of key contacts both in the States and at home. Please make sure you have the contacts of various members of the SSA because we are always willing to help.
- Previous upperclassmen recommend that you bring passport-sized photos in case you need to get a new passport or visa or some other documentation such as the International Student Card as it is not convenient to take passport sized photos at Duke. However, you should have been asked to submit a photo for your DukeCard which can be retrieved for use to make any sort of photo ID within Duke such as the International Student Card. On a side note, the International Student Card is a great card to have as it offers you identification within the United States and may have travel insurance and travel deals for holders of the card. Your only other form of recognized identification would be your passport. (More on that later.)
- Essential toiletries to last for the first week. Make a trip to Northgate or Walmart or Super-target to get the rest of your toiletries.
- Multi-adapter and transformer is a must if you are bringing electrical appliances from Singapore. Note that the States uses a lower voltage than Singapore does (AC 110-120V, 60 Hz). Advice from the electrical engineer: most electrical appliances from home such as kettles, lamps DO NOT support 120V at 60Hz, while most electronics such as laptops or iPods come with a power adapter that DOES support 120V at 60Hz. However, CHECK FIRST before plugging in. US plugs are flat vertical two pins, with and without a round pin on top. Note the output wattage of the adapter as well.
- Accessories: The following items may seem inconsequential but you will find them very useful: Pens from home (pens in the US are not extremely advanced and if you are the sort that can only write with particular pens, it would serve you well to be well stocked with your favorite gels/Pilots), short ruler, correction tape, pad of paper (but you’ll have to get used to the Letter-sized paper in the US), safety pins, paper clips, sewing kits, extra buttons, nylon cord, first aid kit, alarm clock/watch, flashlight, spare batteries, plastic bags and duct tape.
- TSA lock. As long as you fly to, from, within the US and you wish to lock your baggage, you would need a TSA lock. Please see http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/locks.shtm for more information. Your locks will be cut by TSA agents if you choose to use non-TSA locks. You can otherwise choose not to lock your baggage.
- Food. If you cannot live without Singaporean food, you should bring some. Note that food that contains pictures of chicken or other poultry will subject you to ridiculous TSA checks due to a fear of the Avian Flu, after which they’ll most probably confiscate it anyway. This also happened when I tried bringing in vacuum-sealed Bak Kwa. There is an Asian market near Duke but it is difficult to get anywhere without a car.
- Personal effects such as photos of loved ones and friends will be extremely useful if you should get homesick. The SSA however strives to be a home away from home for you to help you deal with any homesickness you might develop.
- Desk Lamp. If you are used to using fluorescent desk lamps, you might want to bring your own from home as desk lamps in the US uses light bulbs which tend to heat up easily. Fluorescent white light bulbs are harder to find and pretty expensive. The closest substitute for white light is a ‘soft white’ bulb which emits a yellowish light. Fluorescent desk lamps, however, are available at Office Depot at rather steep prices.
4b. What not to bring
- Do not bring dictionaries. Online dictionaries are readily available.
- 2-Hole Punchers because 3-Hole Punchers are used here. If you bring the 2-Hole punchers, make sure you bring enough 2-Hole files or binders because you would not find any here.
- Staplers possibly face a similar problem the hole punchers face due to difference in sizes of staples. However, you can’t find small portable staplers in the US so it might be a worthwhile investment, if you’re willing to bring a small box of stapler refill cartridges
- Essence of Chicken. Walmart and the Asian market nearby sells these them.
- Linen. Beds here are longer. If you wish to bring your own linen, check the dimensions in the pre-enrollment package you received before buying and bringing over any. A short trip to Northgate however will allow you purchase comforters and linen cheaply. Buying Duke is a lot more expensive but more convenient. Pick up will be at the truck parked at the car-park next to the Housing Office (behind Brown) where you pick up your dorm keys when you reach East Campus.
- Singapore IC. Bring it only if you don’t have a driving licence. Your Dukecard and Singapore Driving Licence will be your IDs.
- A combination of cash, bank drafts or other monetary instruments exceeding USD 10000USD. You will have to declare it at the customs and the procedure is troublesome. Electronic transfers of cash are a viable option although there are wiring charges.
- Too many T-shirts. The first month in school will leave you with at least 5 new T-shirts. Eagle-eyed awareness of events/activities will land you at least 5 more.
4c. Miscellaneous Packing Advice
1. Pack a spare set of clothes in your hand-carry luggage. A couple of us had a nasty experience in freshman year, when our airline chose to offload our baggage from our connecting flight from JFK to RDU, as they had no more room (!). It really helped that I had a spare set of clothes and undergarments to last me the two days it took for my baggage to arrive.
5. Academic Advice
1. If you’re going to be on a tight academic schedule, i.e. if you’re intending to graduate in three years, it will be wise to plan ahead. It would be very helpful to do some research on the pre-requisite classes, and take them early on so that you’ll have a wider variety of course options later on.
2. All the courses are designed to be four-year programs, and some of them (i.e. Mechanical Engineering) contain chains of pre-requisites that stretch throughout your four years. If you’re intending to graduate early, you must be prepared to take classes concurrently, even though one of the classes is a pre-requisite for the other.
3. Feel free to contact the various members of the SSA, as we’ve experienced it before!
Freshmen typically arrive one week ahead of the rest of the undergraduate student body. As international students, you have the option to sign up for International Student Orientation. I believe that some years this is not an option. This is strongly encouraged because you’d find a lot of the visa issues that Duke sends you will be resolved during a session during International Orientation. Dorms will open by the time International Orientation begins but if you arrive even earlier than that you will have to stay at a hotel. International House typically recommends Millennium Hotel. Feel free to approach any of your upperclassmen for advice on where to stay.
From the airport, take a cab to Duke University East Campus where your dorm is (if it’s open when you arrive). Taxiontime (number to call is 9194935050 if you have a phone, or go to http://www.taxiontime.com/) charges a flat rate of $25 to Duke. Other good options are Round The Clock Taxi, which also charges a flat rate of $25 for up to 2 people, and $10 per person for groups of four or more (9199867263, http://roundtheclocktaxi.com/). Sharing rides will make it cheaper for you. Remember to tip! (10-15%).
It is best not to arrive at night if you travel alone (for that matter even in groups) because the housing office (behind Brown) will not be open and you will not be able to get your dorm keys immediately.
If you are headed to Millennium hotel, look for the free shuttle at the airport.
- Make a trip to I-House. I-House is a treasure trove of information to help you settle in. You can get directions to everywhere from here and staff at I-House will give you advice on what to do when you get to Duke University. The nearest shopping mall is Northgate Mall and it is a 10-15 minute walk from East Campus. Do not however go alone and come back after sunset. The I-House package includes a list of restaurants on 9th Street so that you’d acclimatize quickly to American cuisine.
- Opening a bank account. Open a bank account as soon as possible to avoid long queues during the orientation period (for all freshmen, after international orientation). Most students use Wachovia or Bank of America. BoA is more common around America, and might be more useful if you think you’re going to be travelling around a lot. You can also request your photo to be on the ATM card, which is useful. Wachovia however has ATMs on both East (where freshmen live) and West Campus while BoA has an ATM only on West. Before going to the bank, make sure you have the following documents:
- Identification (Passport, I-20, Visa)
- Home Address (Permanent = Singapore address and Current = Dorm, the banks can actually tell you your P.O. Box number at Duke even if you don’t know)
There are three types of accounts that you can set up and a combination of them might allow you most flexibility and cater to your specific needs. The bank staff will be more than willing to advise.
Savings Account: Interest yielding accounts
Checking Account: Interest rates are low or zero but this is where the money you use via CheckCards (Debit Card/ATM Card – it’s all the same card) or checks come from
CD Accounts: Higher interest-yielding accounts (typically 5.5%) like our fixed deposit accounts. You cannot withdraw the account until it matures (typically at least 10 months) and a minimum sum is required in the account (typically 5000USD)
Some banks allow you to overdraft (draw more than you have) with low overdraft charges, while some banks maintain that you need at least 2.5K in your checking account at all times before they charge you a fee. Combinations of the three accounts that you maintain with the banks may allow you to have the best of both worlds. It is wise to ask questions when you are setting up the bank accounts.
This year, Wachovia is offering 50USD for a friend to recommend a customer to the bank. Arranging with an upperclassman with a Wachovia account will help net the 50USD and also give you the best deal. Bank of America also has a 10USD referral bonus for both parties.
- Buy your daily stuff like toiletries, stationary or food at Duke Store, Kerr Drug (on 9th Street behind George’s Garage) or Walmart. Stuff for your room like desk lamps and posters can be found at either of these two places. If you don't want to head too far, there is a Dollar General that is just off East Campus on the corner of W Markham Avenue and Broad Street where you can get cheap deals on household items like fans, irons and cookware.
- What to buy for your room:
- Fridge (Walmart/SuperTarget)
- Microwave (Not necessary as dorm kitchens have these)
- DO NOT RENT anything from Collegestuff (in your Blue Devils Pamphlet). Previous upperclassmen have said that the microwave and fridge they provide is old lousy and expensive.
- Hanging organizers (Walmart/SuperTarget) if you have little storage space.
- Fan(s) (you would be overwhelmed by the heat in Durham when you first arrive, but this will be short-lived)
On a side note, if you have an American roommate, she would have typically visited the dorms and have actually seen the inside of the room. Ask him or her assessment of the place so you have an idea what you need to get. Also arrange with him what she’s bringing so you won’t have two microwaves or two fridges. More than likely he’d approach you first with these queries over Duke web-mail.
- Class registration. Freshmen are allowed to do up to 4.5 credits in their first semester. You should have received an envelope that contains your classes for the semester. If you have not, fret not because international students receive everything late anyway. However, if you have yet to receive a separate envelope from OIT informing you of your Duke NetID and password when the deadline has passed according to your matriculation package please give the OIT office a call. This NetID is integral to your class registration and your access to Duke Webmail. Research majors on the various program websites that you are interested in and choose classes that fulfill the degree you’re pursuing. Talk to any of the upperclassmen too for help on class registration. If you are in FOCUS, you will be enrolled in up to 2.5 classes by FOCUS and you’d be allowed to choose another two credits. Typically the 2 credits that most FOCUS programs register their participants for do not count towards any degree requirements. FOCUS students however get to do the writing class that all freshmen have to complete within the first two semesters in fall. For more opinions on FOCUS, such as ease of getting good grades and the effect it has on acceleration speak to your upperclassmen. It is never too late to apply/withdraw from FOCUS. There is always a drop/add period to ensure you get the classes that you want. It helps also to email the professor of the class you were waitlisted for (especially towards the end of drop/add) as professors may be able to accommodate a few more students and expand the class size. Waitlists will be erased one week after the start of school.
- Buy textbooks. Check out www.amazon.com or www.half.ebay.com or www.abebooks.com under second hand books if you want cheaper prices. Shipping and handling takes time but most professors don’t expect you to have textbooks on the first few days of class. You can also purchase from Duke Textbook stores first for temporary use and sell it back to them with no penalty by the date stated on the receipt. Websites like http://www.campusi.com/, http://www.bookase.com and http://www.uloop.com offer price comparisons that may be effective in sourcing for the cheapest textbooks. Duke Marketplace on facebook will see people posting textbooks they want to sell; since the users are Duke students the books they sell are usually relevant and should be cheaper. Also many of the upperclassmen want to sell their textbooks so watch out for random emails to the email@example.com listserv that publicize textbook sales. We are working on a Google Document that serves as an online marketplace for Singaporeans to buy & sell their books. Some textbooks here are much more expensive (up to 4 times the price) than in Singapore (e.g. Math 103 textbook) so before you leave Singapore you can check out the textbooks for your courses either on the course synopsis or by emailing the professors to ask them. The Duke Textbooks Store websites allow you to check the textbooks also. Bookstores in Singapore worth checking out include Clementi Bookstore, NUS Co-op, SMU bookstore, NTU bookstore, Knowledge Bookstore (for 2nd hand books), Borders and Kinokuniya (expensive, sometimes even more expensive than Amazon)
- Make a Social Security card if you qualify. Check with international house for the days that officers are coming to Duke. You’d find yourself eventually on the I-House mailing list which will send you weekly updates of their activities. You need your Social Security number to apply for student credit cards. For Singaporeans (F-1 visa holders), you need to get a job in the US before you can get a social security number (SSN). If you’re keen to get a job, check out the Student Employment Fair in Bryan Centre for more information within the first two weeks of school. Check that your visa status allows you to work for the period of time you are committed to for whatever job you apply for.
- Getting your cellphone. The two main network providers that are used by Duke international students are AT&T (a GSM network, with SIM card) and Verizon (CDMA, no SIM card), as these two networks have the best reception on campus. If you intend to bring a GSM phone from home to the states, you have to subscribe to AT&T, the only telco that does GSM in Durham. If you subscribe to Verizon during the orientation period from the booths at Duke, expect to pay 44USD a month for a Verizon plan. Family plans exist for both providers, and an AT&T family plan with 5 users will cost around 30 USD a month. It is extremely convenient to sign up with the Verizon / AT&T representatives at Duke during orientation to get your cellphone, and like in Singapore, some of the cellphones come free when you sign up for a plan. Alternatively, you can go to the closest Verizon store at Northgate Mall, or the closest AT&T store right next to Super Target along highway 15-501. Note that users of the same network provider get to call each other for free. Try to get the plan that most of your friends are on so as to take advantage of the free calls you make to people of the same network. Based on our experience, you would not exceed the free minutes unless you use your phones for silly overseas calls (get your parents to make reverse charge calls to your cell, i.e. they pay). If you’re interested in getting an iPhone your only option is AT&T, but be prepared to pay about $85 a month for the minimum phone and data plan (do ask for a Duke student discount). It is very unlikely that you’ll exceed the number of free minutes and free messages on the iPhone plan anyway.
- Getting your Laptops. The package you get from Blue Devil Delivery is a package put together by OIT for freshmen only. It’s supposed to be quite a good deal and you’re unlikely to get those configurations elsewhere. I have heard conflicting opinions on laptops, some say it’s cheaper to buy in Singapore which you can configure it yourself, some say that there is no way you can get the configurations OIT provide at those prices. I am no expert but I can tell you that laptops purchased from Duke are well covered for damage. In the event your laptop crashes, you’d find the OIT extremely helpful. Another option is to buy online in America. Delivery takes awhile but the prices are pretty competitive. If you’re keen on an Apple, rest assured that you should not face any compatibility issues with the classes you take. I took a class that had a program that couldn’t work on Apple computers, the school eventually sorted out the problem without the students incurring any cost. In fact, OIT has a suite of free software, including Microsoft Windows, which you can install on your Macbooks using your dual boot software such as Boot Camp or better still, VMWare Fusion. You may also want to take advantage of other free OIT software offerings, such as Microsoft Word, but take note that most of the OIT software packages need to be periodically validated on the Duke server (and you can’t use them elsewhere).
- Getting your AP or IP Credits. If you are an A-level student, you will (most probably) get the following IP credits for your successful completion of the A-Levels.
- Physics A-level: Physics 61 and 62 (You will then have to take Physics 63 or another upper-level Physics course at some point in your studies)
- Chemistry A-level: Chem 19 (You have to take Chem 43 or Chem 151 instead of Chem 31 and 32)
- Biology A-level: Bio 19 (this is equivalent to Bio 25)
- Mathematics C A-level: Math 31 and 32 (the next course you’re eligible to take is Math 103)
- Economics A-level: Econ 51 (the next course you’re eligible to take is Econ 55)
- Further Mathematics: No IP Credit
- History A-level: 2”999” credits
- English A-level: English 20 and English 29
When you get to Duke, make a trip to the registrar’s office (http://registrar.duke.edu/) in Smith Warehouse, Bay 9, Room A289 and produce your original A-level certificate so as to finalize and confirm your IP Credits. Smith Warehouse is located near to East Campus. Get off at the first stop on the C-1 route from East Campus to West Campus. It’s also a good idea to call them at 9196842813 before you drop by.
If you do another program during your high school years, the appropriate AP credit will be reflected in the documents sent to you by the university. A-levels are not included there and hence we make mention of it here.
Getting an NC driver's licence. Getting a local driver's licence is recommended but not essential. If you have a Singaporean licence, you should have no problems using it to drive around. Getting an NC driver's licence, however, has its own benefits. You will not have to carry around your passport as an ID for certain essential activities (e.g. identifying yourself at the bank, buying alcohol, taking domestic flights), and you can also start building up a driving history so that you can get cheaper car insurance quotes in the future (should you so desire), or earn eligibility to hold a Zipcar account. There are two DMVs (Department of Motor Vehicles) in the vicinity of Duke (excluding the one at Northgate which does not handle driver's licences). International House organises trips to the DMV once in a while (or talk to an upperclassman).
The procedure for obtaining a licence is roughly as such:
- Head down to the DMV. Try to go during non-peak hours such as in the morning because the lines can get quite long. Make sure you bring your passport and your I-20. Bring your SSN card if you have one, if not, it doesn't matter. You will also need proof of residence. One way to do this is to go to the Registrar in Smith Warehouse and ask the guy at the counter to print out something on official Duke paper certifying that you stay in whatever dorm you stay in.
- You will need to take a theory test. The test is generally easy compared to the BTT in Singapore. Study for it here: http://www.jaytomlin.com/NCDMV/2006/09/study_guide.html.
- Once you pass the theory test, you will be eligible to get a Learner's Permit. Unlike the PDL in Singapore, the Learner's Permit will allow you to drive a car, as long as someone else with a full licence is sitting next to you in the passenger seat.
- For the full licence, you will need to take a driving test. You will need to provide a your own car with insurance in your name in order to take the driving test. Again, the test is also easy by Singapore standards (general driving, reversing in a straight line, 3 point turn, e-brake, no parking), although one mistake will cause you to fail. Once you pass the driving test, you can obtain the full licence. You can take the test immediately but they will not let you take it multiple times in the same day (or possibly week) if you fail.
- Alternatively, if you do not have a car with insurance in your name, you can rent a car (with insurance) from a regular rental agency to take the test. However, you will receive a special restricted licence that only allows you to drive rental cars (as opposed to personal cars). This restriction can be easily removed in the future when you have car insurance in your name.
- Another alternative if you do not want to bother with all the driving but want an American ID is to simply get a state ID. All you need to do is to go down to the DMV with the required documents (as per step 1) and pay a small fee to get the ID.
- Security and crime. Durham is not Singapore and crime is generally something to be more aware about here. That said, there is no need to be overly intimidated and general precautions should keep you in good stead. As always, it is better to be safe and sorry, and until you have a good enough understanding of the local areas, I would recommend keeping in mind the following points:
- On-campus is generally very safe. However, as in Singapore, you should be wary of crimes of opportunity by keeping your rooms locked when you are out and not leave your valuables unattended. There have been cases of unattended laptops getting stolen in libraries, or in the middle of the night in unlocked rooms.
- Off-campus (Central and the Gardens included), I would recommend not walking around alone after dark. If you need to go somewhere, go in a group or get someone to drive you.
We would like to make clear that the opinions presented in this document are mostly that of the editors with various inputs from the Singaporean/Malaysian upperclassmen population at Duke. We hope that this document prepares you well for your time in Duke. If you encounter any serious difficulties, don't hesitate to talk to upperclassmen, as they might have gone through a similar experience before. Feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if you have any further questions.