February 13, 2011

Settling in

Shopping Spree

After arriving, you will want to obtain items. Broadly speaking, there are two categories of places where you can purchase items.

        Basic Items

To obtain basic items, such as toothpaste, soap, stationery etc. you do not have to travel very far. There is a Duke Store at East Union (where Marketplace is) that has a pretty decent variety of necessities. However, you should check the Duke webpage on whether it is opened during Orientation Week.


Alternatively, you can take a 5-10min stroll to Dollar General (Junction of Broad Street and Markham Ave) or Harris Teeter (along 9th Street). Dollar General sells some basic furniture and household appliances as well, and is worth a visit if going to Super Target or Walmart is unfeasible.

Furniture and Not-so-basic Items

The primary locations that freshmen go to for move-in items such as furniture, pillows, fans… are Super Target and Walmart. These locations are highly unwalkable and especially so if you are carrying a ton of items. Your options include taking a cab, asking for help from the pick-up service volunteers, or waiting for an I-House organized trip. However, from experience, the I-House trips typically do not commence until a while into the semester.

The nearest shopping mall is Northgate Mall is a 10-15 minute walk from East Campus. However, do not go alone and come back after sunset. Yes, there are ghosts. Options that are further away (but better) include South Point, Cosco and retail shops.

Some things you might consider buying (or not) for your room:

1. Fridge (Walmart/SuperTarget/Amazon/Dukelist – Dukelist is like Craig’s List and often the cheapest deals are found here, ask Lee Kai Yu about this if you have questions) – dormitory kitchens have fridges, but do not expect to see your ice cream again if you put one in

2. Microwave (not necessary as dormitory kitchens have these)

3. 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.

4. Hanging organizers (Walmart/SuperTarget) if you have little storage space.

5. Fan(s) (you will be overwhelmed by the heat in Durham when you first arrive, but this will be short-lived). Highly recommended for non-AC rooms – ask Clement if you do not believe how hot it can be.

On a side note, if you have an American roommate, he/she would have typically visited the dorms and have actually seen the inside of the room. Ask him/her (side-side note: it might sound strange but someone who looks like a male/female might not actually be “male/female-identifying”. Duke is a very liberal place and words insinuating stereotypes are generally frowned upon) 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.

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 I-House package includes a list of restaurants on 9th Street so that you’d acclimatize quickly to American cuisine. It also has stuff that you can do in Durham and North Carolina.

Open 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 Wells Fargo 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. Wells Fargo 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:

1. Identification (Passport, I-20, Visa)

2. Home Address (Permanent = Singapore address and Current = Duke Dormitory – the banks can actually tell you your P.O. Box number at Duke even if you don’t know)

3. Dukecard, if you wish open a student account (if applicable)

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 give you advice.

·   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)

·   Secured Card: A secured credit card – something like debit, except you are able to build a credit history, and is treated as a credit card (useful when some purchases only accept credit, not debit).

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 different accounts may allow you to have the best of both worlds. It is wise to ask questions when you are setting up the bank accounts. It might be useful to check if there is a student combination, which usually yields the best deal.

While both savings and checking accounts will be registered under the same name, they are essentially different account. If you overdraft on one account but have sufficient money in the other account, the bank will still charge an overdraft protection fee. So for first-time user, be careful where you are withdrawing money from on the first time.

Also, be extremely careful about how the bank staff takes down your address (they have a very high tendency of misspelling foreign names). Ask them about setting up an online banking account, as this will be very useful for you to make transactions (including transferring money to other BoA customers for various reasons such as paying off your friends) and to monitor your accounts without having to look for an ATM.

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

·   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 singaporeans@duke.edu listserv that publicize textbook sales.

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.

Get Your Cellphone (and/or a mobile plan)

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. If you do not require data, you can subscribe to AT&T’s prepaid plan, which costs 25 USD monthly – however you do require your own phone.

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 AT&T or Verizon store at Northgate Mall. 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.

Get Your Laptop

The package you get from Blue Devil Delivery is a package put together by Office of Information Technology (OIT) for freshmen only. It’s supposed to be quite a good deal and you’re unlikely to get those configurations elsewhere. Often there are some perks (e.g. Apple’s back-to-school offer, which gives out $100 iTune vouchers). Check if these perks are valid when purchasing from OIT.

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. If you intend to purchase a laptop in Singapore, do check for international warranty.

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). Most education related programs can be downloaded off OIT. They even have anti-virus!

Get 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. You can use these credits to place out of introductory classes at Duke. All of these are for the H2 level only. H1 and H3 do not count. IB: You may only receive credit for IB subjects in which you scored a 6 or 7. You may receive placement credits for both SL and HL subjects.

1. Physics A-level: Physics 141/142 and 151

2. Chemistry A-level or SL Chemistry: Chem 101. You can take Chem 201L.

3.    Biology A-level: Bio20 (formerly Bio19). However, you will still have to take the first-level course Bio201L or Bio202L.

4. Mathematics C A-level or SL Mathematics: Math 105L and 106L You can proceed to take Math 212 or 202 (for Econ majors) or 221/222 (Math majors)

5. Economics A-level or HL Economics: Econ 101. You can take Econ 201.

6.    History A-level: 2”999” credits

7.    HL History: History 19A and History 19B

8.    English A-level or HL English: English 20 and English 29

9.    O Levels Higher Chinese A: Chinese 63. However, as a rule of thumb, Singaporeans are generally barred from taking Chinese courses lower than Chinese 184.

Note: Please see http://www.pratt.duke.edu/undergrad/policies/3483 for the official version; there might be updates that this website does not keep up with


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.