You might want to arrange with one of the professors to come for
summer research. If you don't have any special plans for summer,
this might be a good decision for you. Summer months Research
Assistantship is at least as much as during the year and often more,
so you will be earning money instead of spending. You will have a
chance to improve your English before classes begin. Another
advantage it that you will have a chance to find appropriate housing
before all students arrive and start looking for it. Also, you will
get some experience working with the professor who can possibly
become your scientific advisor. Ask the secretary whether there
exists such an opportunity and if it does (which, as I know, almost
always does in Physics, Math and Biology) ask the faculty members
who you might be interested to work with whether they would agree to
take you for summer research assistantship position.
Stay in touch with the current graduate students at the chosen
university, all universities have Russian students, ask the
secretary for e-mails or check for the Russian Club on the
university webpage. It is nice to get to know some people before you
come to unknown city in a foreign country. Ask these students about
the climate, about life at the university, get some understanding of
what to expect.
Prepare for the visit to the embassy. Gather all the necessary
documents: passport, 2 pictures (3X4), admission letter from the
University and I-20 are usually enough. To be sure find out about
current situation at the American embassy from your friends or visit
web-site of American embassy in Moscow.
The interview normally goes smoothly. Be relaxed and confident,
speak English with the council. Remember that you want to get good
graduate education in USA (because it's better than in Russia) and
then come back and work "na blago svoego otechestva" (because you
love Russia no matter how hard life here is, you have friends and
relatives here, you think that Moscow is the best city to live in).
Book and buy airplane tickets. Most people I know order their
tickets through STAR Travel (Student Travel Agency Russia). This
agency allows you to book tickets 2-3 month in advance, you can book
couple of tickets if you are unsure about the date of departure. The
tickets are usually held for you until 1-2 days before departure.
Also of great advantage is their return and exchange policy. You can
change the date of flight or return the ticket for the fee of $25,
which is really low.
STAR Travel phone# (095) 797-9555
Attend pre-departure orientation at the American Center. It is
usually organized in June and last 4-6 hours, you might come and
leave any time. The program features talks by U.S. Education
Information Center staff, panel discussions with Russian students
who studied in US, etc.
Buy books and CDs which you might need in US. Books are very
expensive in US, especially textbooks, plus you won't find textbooks
in Russian. Don't take many but take the ones you especially like
and often use. Also, such programs as Mathematica, MatLab, etc.,
non-licensed copies of which are ready available in Russia, will be
very expensive in US. Universities are usually subscribed to some of
them and you can get a permission to install them, but still it is
better to be safe and take them with you from here. If you like
music don't forget to take music CDs with you.
How much money to take with you? To answer this question ask the
department when will be your first payment? Think about where are
you going to leave before you find a permanent place. If you are
short of money (which is often the case) try to arrange to stay with
somebody of current graduate students there. In terms of expenses
for food, you can always find cheap and reasonable Chinese fast-food
for $5 per meal. Frozen dinners are available in all supermarkets
and are $2-3 per meal (I am not saying that this food is healthy,
this is just a suggestion if you are unused to preparing meals
yourself). Prices for food in supermarkets are somewhat similar to
those in Moscow supermarkets. Check out www.vons.com for more
details. Thus think in terms of $150-200 per month, I assume that
you won't always go out for food.