Houston Winter is Coming

There are many things that join the Rice students as one. Similar classes, parties, Coffeehouse, and residential colleges can give Rice students from around the world a common bond. These experiences all give a chance for students to bring their past experiences and share them with one another, creating bonds through differences. But one experience at Rice causes everyone to forget their past and uniformly struggle through together: Houston Winter.

At the time Houston Winter arrives, everyone has been at Rice for about 3 months. This means everyone is acclimated to the fact that we don’t ever have below 90% humidity and summer lasts through October. No matter where in the world students come from, air conditioning is now cold, and a good day is defined by when you can’t feel the sun burning your skin. Everyone is convinced that summer will never end, and so the cries roll in at the first sign of a chill in the air. And when students have something common to complain about, that is when everlasting bonds form.

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Houston Winter attire: Short sleeves and gloves or scarf (not both or you’ll sweat too much)

Houston Winter is defined in most other parts of the country as “fall”.” However, in Houston, winter is defined as any period of time where you prefer to be inside because air conditioning is now warmer than outside. This usually begins around the start of November, a confusing period of time because the outfits can no longer be planned based on how you feel when you wake up. You feel a brisk wind in the morning, and decide to break out that olive green sweater, only to find yourself trapped indoors after 10am because it is above 90 degrees and there is no sign of a single cloud.

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Rice Snow fight when it is 80 degrees and sunny

Snow in Houston is like the Loch Ness monster: there have been a few sightings, but relatively few people have actually encountered it. Luckily, Rice brings us snow! As a study break last year, Lovett College decided to have some shaved ice brought in so we could experience “a real winter.” And Houston Winter is the perfect transition to when everyone goes home to visit their families where they may be able to see real snow, and try to convince their friends that a magical place where fall lasts 6 months really does exist.

FALL in Love with Rice

Fall is in in full swing (and has been for some time – technically the fall equinox began on September 22nd), but it’s only just beginning to really feel like autumn. There’s a common saying in Texas: our seasons are summer and not summer. This saying is especially true in my hometown of Dallas, but applies to Houston to some extent as well. The extra humidity can make the cold a little colder and the hot a little more stifling, but generally, it stays in a pretty comfortable range with some days being absolutely breathtaking (I’m talking clear skies, cool breeze breathtaking). Even so, there is a slight transition into fall that is signaled more by the students than anything else. I know that fall is coming when I see winter boots coming out, long sleeves, and flannel tied around waists. I’ll see warm cups of coffee or tea clasped in the hands of students as they hustle to class or settle down to study in Coffeehouse. Suddenly, pumpkin carving study breaks, fall treats, and decorations for Halloween pop up around campus. Our library is set alight with lights the color of orange and yellow and a spooky skeleton greets you as you walk in.

Pumpkin carving study break at Hanszen College.

Pumpkin carving study break at Hanszen College.

I can even tell what region from the United States people are from by what they’re wearing when they leave their dorm on a chilly afternoon (that’s chilly in Texas-speak so anything under fifty). In general, it seems like a student from the south will be bundled up to the chin, complete with scarf, thick sweater, jacket, pants, wool socks and boots, while my friend from Wisconsin (and other students from the north) feel fine walking out in athletic shorts and a thin T-shirt. Whatever your preference, we all make it through the weather together (with plenty of pumpkin spice to spare).

Among the many events that happen during this celebration of fall, one that is especially exciting is Rice Program Council’s “Night Owl Antics: Trick or Treat on the Rink.” Rice Program Council is an organization at Rice that provides “opportunities for campus-wide bonding and entertainment.” They’re truly an amazing part of campus life, encouraging social events and interaction between students. As just one example of the cool events they sponsor, Trick or Treat on the Rink is an event where they rent out the entire ice skating rink at the Houston Galleria for just Rice students! You’re encouraged to wear costumes to do some cool tricks on the ice and there are plenty of treats to consume off the ice. I was a little nervous to wear a full outfit (I was Pikachu!) in case others didn’t dress up, but true to Rice culture and community, everyone was super encouraging.

Rare photo of Pikachu preparing Ash for battle

Rare photo of Pikachu preparing Ash for battle

I didn’t know how to skate at all, but it was so fun to scooch around on the ice and have all my fellow Rice students right there with me. There are events like this that cater to students and are designed to increase student connection and interaction all throughout the year. Just as the seasons change (or stay the same), so too do the activities and study breaks at Rice. One thing you can count on? Rice University being an amazing place to be.

Beyond the Hedges

When I have free time at Rice, I try to go out and explore the city. Houston is the third largest city in the country and we have an unparalleled number of leisure activities to partake in. Here is my list of the top places to visit:

  • The Galleria: The Galleria has everything – stores range from basic shoe stores to the more unusual stores, such as a Tesla store complete with model cars. In addition to hundreds of stores, there are a variety of restaurants and even an ice skating rink (with rental skates available).
  • Wild West: If you aren’t from Texas, you may not be familiar with the dance form called “two-stepping.” Even if you are from Texas, and maybe even Houston, you may still have never heard of two-stepping. That’s okay. Two-stepping is easy to pick up and it’s really fun to go with friends. Most people go at night, usually during the week.
  • Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24 & RPX: It’s the movie theater. I always enjoy taking in a good film once in a while, and this theater is conveniently located near Rice, has lots of show times, and comfortable seats.
  • The Fine Arts District (Downtown): Once in a while, Rice will have ticket giveaways and discounts to shows via Passport to Houston. I’ve been lucky enough to see an opera (Marriage of Figaro) and a symphony (Mahler Symphony No. 5). Other fun parts in Downtown include Discovery Green, a park filled with festivals almost every weekend.
  • Rice Village: The Rice Village is the nearest mall to Rice (a short walk, and the Rice bus has a weekend route to the Village as well). There are tons of restaurants and niche stores that are great to check out, especially a boba tea store (your newest favorite drink once you arrive at Rice).

This concludes my short list of places to visit; the majority of places are very close to Rice and are within the 610 loop. Next time you have a free evening or weekend, go out and see some of the best places that Houston has to offer!

Houston: A Collection of Culinary Delights

“What hashtag are you? #deepthoughts, #nom –“

Before I can even hear the other options on the Buzzfeed quiz that my suitemate is reading out loud, I immediately respond “#nom.” I happen to love food: eating it, talking about it, (attempting) to make it, watching others successfully cook it. Houston, Texas has more than readily gratified my love for food. I have spent nearly my entire life in Houston, and if there is one thing I absolutely and wholeheartedly love about this city, it’s the dining options.

With delicious year-round flavors and fun seasonal flavors, Fat Cat Creamery in the Heights has my go-to ice cream, with warm chocolate chip cookies and crisp brownie bites.

With delicious year-round flavors and fun seasonal flavors, Fat Cat Creamery in the Heights has my go-to ice cream, with warm chocolate chip cookies and crisp brownie bites.

Rice itself takes pride in its close proximity to various restaurants, many of which are located in nearby areas like West U, Montrose, and the Museum District. However, Houston has so much more to offer “beyond the hedges” (a term used at Rice to refer to what lies beyond the outer loop of the campus). There are constantly new restaurants opening up, beloved chains constructing new locations, and food trucks changing up their sites to meet customer demand. I have recently found myself following blogs and social media accounts dedicated solely to eating out in Houston, as I am always wanting to discover and try new places. I even have various restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries saved on my Google Maps app. When you live in a city like Houston, there is always more to do, more to try, more to explore. Diverse dining options are definitely abundant and accessible (by car, Metro, Uber, etc.). And while it is easy to eat at the places I know and love and trust, I make it a point to try eating at new places as often as I can.

Tried and tested: tater tots, eggs, and tacos make for a marvelous combo at Velvet Taco on Washington Ave.

Tried and tested: tater tots, eggs, and tacos make for a marvelous combo at Velvet Taco on Washington Ave.

As a Rice student and a native Houstonian, I can’t imagine spending four years here without attempting to explore all of the city’s cool neighborhoods — and their respective dining options. Perhaps you did not consider location as an important factor in your decision to apply to Rice. But the university’s location in Houston is a big part of our college experience. And I can confidently say that the diversity and extent of eating options in Houston are on par with (if not better than) cities all over the world. This city has a variety of culinary delights, and they are all yours once you call Rice your home.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Outside of your Comfort Zone

Rice has a bunch of students that all come from different places— from neighboring towns in Houston to foreign countries across the globe. Nevertheless, we all amalgamate together on campus and bring special diversity to the undergraduate student population. In my case, I hail from the state of New Jersey, just a meager 1,607 miles away from Rice. Whenever I mention that I’m from New Jersey, people never hesitate to ask the token follow-up question: “So why did you decide to come to Rice and live in Texas?” As much as I understand why they ask me, over time I’ve realized that the question implies that most people don’t choose to attend a university far away from home without an explicitly good reason.

My token answer to the token question? I wanted to go to Rice because of the amazing community they have with the residential colleges, its proximity to the largest medical center in the world, and its unique social and cultural environment. Additionally, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, with a myriad of great opportunities (academic and non-academic) for college and beyond. I feel like that answer very much justifies itself, but many people still ask me why I wanted to move so far away. Yes, I don’t get to see my friends and family as often, but I do not regret exploring and going out of my comfort zone in a new environment. From my perspective, I’ve had some of the most unique experiences living in Houston, whether that be cultural experiences from living in Texas to academic experiences from interning at special organizations here. I’m someone who can struggle with change, but lately I’ve become more open to saying yes to new things because they are usually the most rewarding. And going to Rice is a prime example of its benefits.

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Houston has so many cool attractions to visit with friends! This is Discovery Green, and they had a cool interactive exhibit this past March.

I’m not saying that it’s better to go farther away from home, but you shouldn’t limit your options. There are many factors to consider (like finances and family), but I think that I made the right choice going to school here. At Rice, I’ve been exposed to such a unique culture within the diverse campus and beyond. Even though Texas is a new environment for me, Rice makes me feel like I very much belong here. Besides, I’m not the only New Jerseyian or Northeasterner here. I’ve befriended many other students who come from the same area as me. There are still internship and job opportunities connected to Rice that are located throughout the country (including where I’m from), so my college experience is not limited to Houston.

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The MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) is super close to Rice. And the best part is that Rice students get in for free!

To any student who lives far away from Texas and is considering Rice: keep in mind that going beyond what you’re comfortable with can yield some of the most worthwhile experiences. And the best part about living far away from school? The trip back home is 100 times more special.

What I Miss the Most about Houston while Abroad

Houston is home. For me, this huge, flat, humid city is not just one of the largest in the nation; it’s a welcoming and comfortable place to live. Whenever I go abroad, I am usually fully immersed in everything happening there. International adventures make life exciting and fun for the time being, but there are always a few things about Houston that I miss while I am away.

  1. The food. Houston has so many options when it comes to eating out. If you haven’t already heard, we have the most diverse selection of restaurants in the nation. In the neighborhoods surrounding Rice alone, there are multiple options for tacos, Thai, and Turkish cuisine. The Tex-Mex options in the city can’t be beat, and it’s becoming harder and harder for me to find and enjoy its equivalent in restaurants abroad.
  2. The green. Although Houston is a large, urban city, it has several parks, picnic grounds, and tree-lined running trails. Rice Blvd and the Outer Loop alone have some of the most beautiful pathways in the city, lined with a dense canopy of trees. I have yet to see these picturesque sites in the middle of another major city while abroad, and I find myself missing the green scene around Rice the most.
  3. The sunsets. Okay, I know this last one is cliché, but bear with me. I have never seen a sunset more beautiful than the ones I have seen in Houston – anywhere in Houston. For me, there’s something incredibly soothing about ending the day under cotton candy-hued skies. At Rice, I am fortunate enough to witness some of the most vivid sunsets. These, paired with its already appealing architecture, makes Rice’s campus one of the most enchanting places to be in Houston on a daily basis.

    A typical sunset I see every day from my room on campus at Wiess College.

    A typical sunset I see from my room on campus at Wiess College.

Notice a pattern here? Each of the above categories mentions Rice, and, needless to say, I miss my school while I am thousands of miles away. However, it’s not just Rice that I miss, but Houston as a whole. Houston is lucky to have a school like Rice at the heart of the city, and Rice is fortunate to have a city like Houston outside of its hedges. And I’m pretty lucky to call both my home.