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Midwestern Life

Madison may not be a large city, but it certainly offers swinging hot spots, boasts of having a state capitol second only to that of Washington D.C., and has stunning, picturesque views of the three lakes that surround it. The life here is uncomplicated, the people so friendly that they may surprise most foreigners, and the tranquility untainted by city dins combined with a lively nightlife scene attributed to Madison being voted as one of the best places to live in the United States.

Climate

The weather in Wisconsin can swing to extremes. For most of the IAESTE interns who are coming to stay during the summer, expect occasional thunderstorms and tornado warnings – and the real tornadoes, albeit rarely. Here are some pointers to the summer climate in Madison. Be sure to bring the appropriate clothing for our weather; ask your IAESTE LC members if you're unsure of what to bring.

• Temperatures can fluctuate wildly. The average high would be around 27°C/81°F and the average low around 13°C/55°F. However, expect temperatures to go up as much as 33°C/91°F and as low as 0°C/32°F!

• Humidity is at a very comfortable level here, ranging between 40% and 80%.

• Storms are common features of summers in the Midwest. Expect days of heavy downpour, usually predicted incorrectly by the weather stations.

• What to do during a tornado watch/warning? A tornado watch means a tornado is possible and a tornado warning means it has been spotted in the area and it’s time to seek shelter! A siren will sound during a tornado warning and you should head down to the basement or a tornado shelter until the siren has been turned off. (However, sirens are heard aplenty during summers and you should check if there is any real danger in the sky before running to the basement)

Culture

Americans have a unique culture and mindset that may be very different and hence surprising to foreigners. Here is a general list of interesting things that may not be found in other countries:

• College students usually dress extremely casually. Wearing pajamas to class is not uncommon. T-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts are also common sights.

• Midwestern Americans are generally very friendly and helpful to everyone. Do not be surprised if strangers smile or greet you on the streets.

• The drinking culture is especially deep-rooted and rampant in Wisconsin. Beer is often drunk by everyone at many occasions, such as football games. Drinking is also common at parties; if you're staying at a fraternity house, rest assured that you will not run out of supplies of beer or liquor.

• Generally, life in the Midwest is not very fast-paced, with ample opportunities to meet different races of people from every walk of life and to have a great social life.

Currency

It is necessary to convert your country’s currency into the U.S. Dollar prior to your arrival in Madison. You can do it at these places:

• A bank in your home country – preferable due to the best rates and lowest handling fees.

• A currency exchange at the airport – not advisable due to their high rates, which means you lose more when you convert currencies.

• A local bank in Madison – but you definitely need some form of U.S. currency prior to arrival.

For the most updated currency converter, check out Bloomberg’s currency calculator.

Amenities

Shopping in the USA is very much different from that in most countries. Shopping malls are usually found a distance away from downtown, and a bus/car/bike is often needed for even grocery shopping. Generally speaking, items are cheaper here than in Europe, but more expensive than in Asia. Don’t bring too many things that you can buy here, since storage is expensive and carrying extra luggage around is painful.

Here is a list of some good places to shop in and around Madison:

West Towne Mall – there are huge supermarkets and superstores; you can basically buy anything you need there.

East Towne Mall – slightly smaller than its Western counterpart, but still an impressive mall

Hilldale Mall – a quaint shopping area with two supermarkets, bookstores, restaurants etc. Also very convenient to get to since it is on the busline and is close to campus.

State Street – downtown Madison’s soul. Leads from Library Mall to the State Capitol. Here is where you’ll find the mom-and-pop privately-owned shops, although you can expect higher prices than in the chain stores. This is also where Madison’s Halloween is centered at. A very pretty sight at night.

• Outlet malls – these are huge shopping areas located on the outskirts of cities. If you can find someone who is willing to give you a car ride there, definitely go because of the cheap discounts and greater variety found in these malls.

Transportation

Around Madison

You will need to travel around Madison a lot during your stay here. Here is a useful link to the transportation services available in Madison. Some information regarding getting around Madison is also provided by the University's Transportation Department, including parking and bus services. An interactive map of the campus area can be found here.

• The Madison Metro is the city bus that goes to most places in Madison that you’ll ever want to visit. It is free if you obtain a faculty/staff UW ID card and a free semester bus pass. Both can be obtained at the Memorial Union and the Union South.

• Renting a car – you can rent cars on a weekly or monthly basis from many car dealers and renters for a price, if you have a valid license. Many are located near the Dane County Airport. You should reserve your car beforehand; it is much cheaper than renting on the spot.

• By bike – Ask our IAESTE president nicely for a free bike! Madison offers many scenic bike routes, and most places are accessible on a bike. Useful for going to work daily. Excellent for those who likes a burst of speed on our mostly flat but rough roads.

• On foot – Walking around and getting lost is unarguably the best way to get to know a city and every nook and cranny. Strolling along a lakeshore path in a stunning sunset is one of the best ways to fall in love with this beautiful city.

Intra- and Interstate

There are several interstate highways that pass through Madison – you will have to go on them if you want to head out of Madison, unless you are flying out on a plane.

• By coach/bus – the Van Galder Bus operates between Madison and Chicago (Downtown and O’Hare Airport); the Badger Bus  runs between Madison and Milwaukee; and the Greyhound Bus can bring you to pretty much any state you want to reach.

Amtrak – Trains are pretty much obsolete in the States as compared to Europe. However, the Amtrak is an interstate train system that goes to major cities. The nearest station is in Columbus, Wisconsin, about 40km away.

• By car – ask someone with a car nicely if you want to carpool with them on a road trip.

• By plane – it is not expensive to take domestic flights in the US. Round-trip tickets to most destinations cost about $200-350, depending on the season. Summers are usually more expensive, since it is the peak time for traveling.

International

There are no international flights out of Madison Dane County Airport. To get to international destinations, you will need to get to an international airport such as Chicago O’Hare, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cinncinati or Houston. There are many flights operated by domestic carriers like American Eagle and Northwest Airlines, which link up Madison Airport with these other international airports.