Common Questions From New Students

Since I enjoyed it so much last time, I have volunteered again this time to be an orientation advisor for the new upcoming September 2010 class! The school is expecting about 225 new students coming in next semester, and they will soon be the largest class in AUC history. Because of this, a lot more of my friends and colleagues have signed up to help out the new students (our future colleagues and friends) settle into med school and the AUC community.

Over the semester, I have already had the pleasure of meeting and corresponding with many of the new upcoming students of the September 2010 class (the benefit of keeping a blog). I have received many wonderful questions about settling in. Here, I’d like to share with you some of the answers I have given. I will add more as they come along.

Is it normal to be nervous?

Don’t worry, I was anxious too before coming to AUC, since I didn’t know anyone here, heard all about how hard medical school was, and knew very little about the island besides what I can find on the internet. But once I got here, everything fell in place. I met a lot of new, wonderful people and we all were more than happy to help each other out. The school understands very well that this is probably many people’s first experience living abroad, and even some people’s first time traveling outside the United States! They offer a lot of resources, and support, like a wellness counselor, study skills counselor, faculty advisors (you’ll be assigned one once you arrive), and not to mention, orientation advisors!

How do I get around the island?

There are many ways to get around the island. Some people purchase cars when they get here, either from a local dealer or from another student. Others ship their own cars from the states or get a moped. There are also a lot of people like me who do not have cars. Since I live within walking distance of campus and spend most of my time around school, I don’t feel a big need to have a car. If I need to go to Simpson Bay or Maho or the airport from AUC, I usually just take the bus, which cost $1 for each town they pass through, so $1 to go to Maho and the airport and $2 to go to Simpson Bay. Every weekend after block exams, 2 friends and I would rent a car and do our grocery shopping and travel the island. The place we like to rent from (Empress Car Rental) is only $25 per car per day during the low season (summer/fall) with the AUC price and splitting it among 3 people, it is cheap. Remember if you rent a car, always ask if they have an AUC student price. Empress picks you up from campus and take you back when you return the car for free.

Where can I get food?

There are lots of places you can get groceries. Most students like going to Le Grand Marche for their groceries and Cost-U-Less to buy food and other things in bulk (like Costco). They come here because these are pretty large stores and are cheaper than other places. However, they are located in Philipsburg, about 20 minute driving away. However, there are many smaller grocery stores closer to AUC, like Le Gourmet Marche which is about 15 minutes walking distance from campus (and probably closer depending on where you live). There are also many restaurants around campus where you can get food, like BB’s, Thai Savanh, Deep Bleu, Coffee Shop, Pizza Dan’s, Sugar Cane, Cupecoy Market, just to name a few. There is also of course the AUC Cafeteria, which offer the best deal on food in the area.

How much would groceries and things cost?

Things are going to cost about 1.5x more than most places in the states, unless you are from places like San Francisco or New York City, in which case the prices may be comparable. You can pretty much find every product from the states here, as well as European and Caribbean products.

What will classes be like? What is the schedule?

For your semester, the school is expecting about 225 students, the largest class in AUC history. You will take all three of your morning classes in Lecture Hall 1, which seats 300 students. The classes are Molecular Cell Bio from 8-9:20, Anatomy from 9:30 to 10:20, and Histology from 10:30-11:20. You’ll have a 10-minute break in the middle of Molecular Cell Biology, and you’ll also have 10-minute breaks in between all your classes. Then, you’ll have Anatomy Lab in the afternoon from 2-5pm. Many classes offer group tutoring sessions (taught by upperclassmen tutors, optional, free) and these happen around 5pm or 7pm.

How do students take notes?

A lot of students get printed class notes from Note Services on campus for $150 per semester (except fifth semester, which is $75), and then write additional notes on them during lectures. Some students record lectures, although I personally don’t find this very useful. Some people type their notes on their computers. Others download the powerpoint lecture slides onto iPads or other tablet PCs and directly annotate them. All the lecture slides can be downloaded for free from ANGEL, the school’s web portal.

So what are the notes like that I can buy from Note Services?

The printed notes come in packets of several lectures each. You pick up each packet of notes from Note Services (recently renamed Campus Service Center) before every several lectures. Each class has its own set up note packets, but you pay a one-time fee of $150 that gets you all the printed notes for all the classes for all the lectures in the entire semester. The notes are printed 2 slides per page, black and white, front and back. The slides on the notes are identical to the ones in class. You may also download all the same power point slides for free from ANGEL if you prefer to study them on your computer, iPad, or tablet. You get access to ANGEL once you receive your username and password during registration.

During the first two weeks of school, you can get the printed note packets for free for all your classes, just to try them out to see if you like them. If you do, you can pay the $150 and continue getting notes.

Is there a dress code?

There is no dress code for the lectures. Come in a t-shirt and flip-flops if you like, or come with a jacket if you get cold. For the Anatomy Lab and Dry Lab, however, all students are required to wear scrubs and a white coat with AUC’s logo (which you can purchase when you arrive on campus). If you don’t have scrubs you can also buy one on campus. Scrubs can be of any color. You will also need to wear closed-toe shoes and your ID in the lab.

The only time you will need to wear formal clothing during first semester is during the White Coat Ceremony. For guys, a shirt and tie will do, while for girls, a nice dress will do. From second to fifth semester, you will take Introduction to Clinical Medicine (ICM). For ICM, you will also need to wear formal clothing with your white coat and name tag (which will be provided) for advanced interviews and hospital mini-rotations, especially for ICM 4 and 5. It’s also recommended (though not required) that girls bring a tank top, sports bra, or something that you could wear comfortably to learn, practice, and perform physical exams on each other. Guys usually just take off the shirt for the physical exams.

My family is coming with me to St. Maarten. Any hotel recommendations?

There are a couple of nice hotels to stay at around St. Maarten, and they all vary in price. Sonesta Maho is pretty nice. They have their own swimming pool, beach, restaurants, casino, and it’s in Maho, which is close to the airport and has a lot of stuff to do. It’s also just 2 minutes away by car from AUC. I know they often give discounts ($105 per night) to AUC students and their families who are moving in during orientation or white coat ceremony. Just ask.

There are also two hotels that are within walking distance of campus: Wyndham Sapphire and The Summit Resort. Wyndham Sapphire is pretty nice… They are not as big as Sonesta, and they are in a more rural part of the island, but they have their own pool, beach, and outdoor eatery. They also have a rent-a-car place and a travel planner within the hotel. The price is probably around $175 or so. The Summit Resort is the closest hotel to campus, only 3 minutes walking away and the cheapest. They are little individual bungalows and are more like apartments than hotels. In fact, a lot of students rent from here. They have a pool and a restaurant, but no beach. They are $85/night.

My family stayed at the Royal Palm Beach Resort in Simpson Bay, which is probably about 10-12 minutes by car away from campus. The location is great, with lots of restaurants, shops, and what-not nearby. Their rooms (suites) are the newest and best out of all the hotels I have listed in this email. And all the rooms have ocean-view balconies. They have their own restaurant, gym, pool, and beach, but their beach isn’t that nice, at least not as nice as Sonesta’s. When my family stayed there, the hotel had a deal where if you stay 4 days or more during the off-season (which is now), then the price for the room is half-off for your entire stay. My family liked the hotel.

The four places I’ve listed are all great options in my opinion,but it all depends on your budget. Always ask if there is an AUC student discount. You never know. You can also have guests stay in the dorms with you officially for $100 for five days. But remember, you’ll only have a single bed in the dorms, and the couch will probably be too small. Contact housing to arrange this.

Are there fitness classes on campus?

Yes, there are fitness classes every Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Friday afternoons in the multipurpose room (underneath the library). As they are taught by students, spouses, and faculty members, the types of classes may change semester-to-semester. During my first semester (September 2009), there was aerobics, salsa, martial arts, and swing dancing. This semester (May 2010), there is swing dancing, yoga/pilates, meditation, dance aerobics, and belly dancing. All the classes are open to anyone in the AUC community and are all free.

I couldn’t get into the dorms. Any off-campus housing recommendations within walking distance of school?

There are a lot of apartments around the Cupecoy area. The nices places within walking distance around the Cupecoy area would be Rainbow Beach Club and Cupecoy Beach Club, but they are pricier. If you are looking for something more economic, Solutions Management manages the most affordable apartments around Cupecoy. If you are looking into getting a single, Campus Village and Aventura are probably the nicer and newer of the Solutions apartments.

I currently live in Aventura. It’s one of the newer apartments in the area owned by Solutions, and it’s definitely spacious enough for one person. It is gated (with card-access, or code, and a guard at night), has a swimming pool, free washers/dryers, and a nice roof garden (plus a small gym that hardly anyone uses). It’s directly in between campus and the grocery store, so it’s about 8 minutes equidistant walking to each one. Pretty convenient. I haven’t had any problems with the management yet. I pay $1100/month and this is about the average price with apartments around campus.

The least expensive housing in Cupecoy within walking distance of school is probably Mahogany Residences, at $725-$825 or so per person per month. They are doubles but they only have 8 units, so you’d have to check if they are available. I personally didn’t like Mahogany too much because I feel there isn’t enough sunlight and there are no dryers, only washers. They are also the farthest of the apartments in Cupecoy from campus, about 8 minutes walking maybe (but closest to the grocery store). I’ve known other people who like it because it feels more like a “home.” and is spacious and cheap.

The Summit is nice too. I especially like the summit because they are individual houses (bungalows) in the forest and only a few minutes walking from campus. They are also in the $1000-1100 range. I hear they have good management too.

The general rule is the farther from campus, the cheaper. So if you find roommates and are willing to get a car and drive to school, you can probably save money living somewhere like in the Beacon Hill neighborhood (the money you save may more than pay for a cheap car). I know people who pay as low as $600-something dollars per month here. There are also a lot of studio apartments scattered in Maho, Beacon Hill, Cupecoy as well as the French side that can be cheap, but I have no idea about the quality.

Check out:

Wow. St. Maarten seems like a pricey place to live. How do you feel about that?

One thing I learned coming to St. Maarten is that you just got to throw what you know about price and value out the window. I learned that the perception of price is relative and changes depending where you are. Back when I was living in Georgia, I paid $200/month for rent. Now in St. Maarten, I pay $1100/month. If it were in the states, I’d probably never pay this much for a place, and even if I did, it would probably be much larger and fancier than my apartment here (unless you live in New York City or San Francisco of course, where price per value is probably comparable to St. Maarten). But now that I am here, $1100 is actually considered a good deal for an apartment like Aventura. I have lots of classmates who easily pay a lot more than this. Most importantly, I can say I’m satisfied living here… no bug issue, no water leakage, no noise, no mean landlords, and no weird smells.

I’m going to be living off-campus. How much do you pay for power, water and internet?

My power bill last month was $114 and my water was $15. Power can vary depending on your living habits. I’ve heard of people paying as low as $70 for power every month. I personally turn off the power when I’m away from home which is about from 8am-5pm or so, but usually turn on the AC all night.

For internet, I use Caribserve, which you can set up during orientation at the business fair. With Caribserve, internet is $60/month if you prepay for the whole year. You could bring a wireless router with you (or buy one on the island at Blue Point in Simpson Bay) and share the internet with your neighbor. I do this, and so I only pay $30/month. Get to know your neighbors early so you can talk it out and save money. Other apartments like Regency Park use satellite internet, so it’s not possible to share with a neighbor.

Where can I get a haircut on the island?

There is a hair cutting place at the basement of the Wyndham Sapphire Hotel, 5 minutes walking away from campus. There is also one in Porto Cupecoy, about 15 minutes walking from campus. Some students also go to Ginger Hair Salon in Maho, about 30 minutes walk away for a $25 haircut.  There are also some spouses that may give haircuts.

How can I ship things to the island?

While it’s not necessary to ship things to the island when you move here, since you can buy pretty much anything on the island, some people have lots of stuff that they prefer shipping. Many students that do ship their stuff to the island use Tropical Shipping. Check out my post on shipping.