Spring Break at Rice

Spring has finally arrived to the city of Houston. After a rather cold and dreary winter, at least by Texas standards, the sun has finally decided to show its brilliant face. Through the stress of midterms and problem sets, we as a school have collectively survived. This has created bonds between each and every single one of us that are extremely difficult to break. And yes, I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no, not the covalent kinds. Within the eyes of each student, a subtle emotion of excitement exists. The academic year is coming to an end, summer is steadily approaching, and Beer Bike is only weeks away. All is good and all is right at Rice. As these positive thoughts fill our minds, another one begins to form. One that comes at a slow yet sure realization: “What am I going to do for Spring Break?”. The short answer is: there is tons to do both inside and outside of Houston during our break! Of course, I must acknowledge and respect the desire to stay indoors and simply relax for break. Afterall, allergy season is at full force. However, going out and exploring Houston and surrounding areas is a fun activity to do with the amazing individuals you meet at Rice. Here are my top three of the many things you can do during Spring Break:

Houston Rodeo

The Houston Rodeo is both a major fair of the city and the largest livestock exhibition of the world. It runs from the 25th of February to the 17th of March. Between then, be ready to experience near daily artist performances at the NRG stadium located about a 15 minute train-ride or 10 minute car-ride away from Rice. The NRG stadium sits around 70,000  people and can often host major performers like Cardi B and George Strait. This year, Rice’s Passport to Houston program offered free tickets for the Panic! At the Disco concert to selected Rice students.

Houston Rodeo

Visiting Hermann Park

Located a block from Rice, Hermann Park is a perfect place to escape the bustling city life of Houston. If you want to see even more trees and vegetation, this place is perfect for you. Dotted with sculptures and other art, Hermann Park is a 445 acre stretch of well gardened land surrounded by museums, golf courses, and a zoo. Inside the park, you will be able to find the Japanese Tea Gardens of Houston, the Miller Outdoor Theatre perfect for weekend performances, and the McGovern Centennial Gardens.

McGovern Centennial Gardens

Texas Road-trip with Friends

If you have the time, energy, and an amazing group of friends (which I’m sure you’ll make when in Rice), leaving Houston and traveling to cities like San Antonio and Dallas is a perfect week-long getaway that allows students to experience more of the proudly proclaimed “yee-haw” state. Bus companies like Greyhound and Megabus are able to offer cheap alternatives to cars for traveling to these places.

Tower of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas

 

Spending the Summer in Houston

As an out-of-state student, if you had told me I’d be spending my first summer after freshman year still in Houston I would’ve thought you were crazy. Especially after having gone through O-Week and knowing how brutal Houston summers are. But after my friends and I all landed internships in the area, the decision to stay was an easy one.

First things first: Houston’s reputation for heat is one it has rightfully earned. Real feel was easily over 100 degrees each day, and the humidity made it feel as though you had to wade through the air. This isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, though, since you spend most of your time inside anyway (where the AC is wonderfully cold).

What I found most rewarding about spending the summer in Houston, and I think this holds true for spending the summer away from home in any location, is that you have so much free time to explore. Sure, you’re busy with that 9-5 grind during the day, but you have virtually no obligations at night and on the weekends. We tried so many cool restaurants (I’m talking about you, Kura Revolving Sushi and Dak & Bop), took a weekend trip to Austin, wandered through the Galleria and Hermann Park at leisure. The point is, you have the opportunity to dive deep into an entirely new city and culture, and it’s something I’d recommend every student try at least once during their four years at Rice.

Houston Brunch Scene on a Budget

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I hesitated putting the word budget in the title of this post, because let’s face it, Houston isn’t necessarily an inexpensive place to live.

A nice, oversized latte I got at Common Bond, complete with the Snapchat geotag.

But if you wanted to know the most economical way to get around the city (and explore all of the amazing food options), I couldn’t recommend picking up your metro card from the Allen Center highly enough. Included with your tuition at Rice, each student is entitled to a metro card with a $50 balance. If you run out? No problem! Just go pick up another one, no extra cost.

Since it’s our freshman year, my roommate and I thought the best way to explore the city would be to go out for one meal every week. This wasn’t cheap. Even though we kept receiving 50% off our Lyft rides, our weekly excursions were quickly adding up. $3 for the Lyft there, $13 for brunch, $3 for the Lyft back. Realizing we could get free metro cards was a game changer – and it helped us justify our brunch addiction!

A screenshot of the Transit App, providing directions to Ono Poke (so good!)

A must-have app for any public transport user is “Transit.” It’s free to download, and all you have to do is share your location and the app gives you step-by-step directions on how to get to where you’re going. When the bus/metro is coming, what line to take, which stop to get off on, how far you’ll need to walk. It makes the whole process much less daunting, and it’s a cool way to really get a feel for the city of Houston.

As for which brunch spots I recommend? You can’t go wrong with Common Bond, a Montrose staple. Snooze is also quite good. Recently we tried a cute place called Ritual in the Heights, which was amazing. We haven’t been disappointed yet. Our mission for this weekend is to find some quality bagels and lox, and with our metro cards in hand, we should be good to go.

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.

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!

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.