Yesterday evening was really exciting: they conducted a mock trial for us, where a defendant was accused of murder, a professor was sitting as a judge, a real district attorney (i.e. prosecutor) and a defense attorney acted for in the People of California v Walker case.
Twelve were selected as jurors in a procedure very much resembling the actual jury selection process, it was shorter, however. Even so, based on one question, a juror was de-selected and the regular clumzy guy, who just entered the room almost half an hour late as usual, was urged to the jury box, so that he would be replacing the juror they just lost to the audience. Luckily, this clumzy guy couldn't understand the question the district attorney asked him (which was: would he be comfortable convicting a defendant on the basis of one eye-witness testimony, if that seemed reliable enough) so he also got de-selected.
BTW, the hearing took place in the moot court room in the law school building, which was about to be taken apart and renovated, so we were the last people who saw it in its old form.
Anyway, two of our group volunteered for the roles of two witnesses and after some pretrial motions we finally began to see how these things are supposed to go around here.
The interesting part was that those of you who are maniacs of some American legal tv series would probably agree with me that this whole thing was exactly like on television. The tension, the way the attorneys were spinning the words and possibly the truth it was all realistic. Needless to say that they have been presenting this case to similar groups for over 15 years, but unexpected developments still came up. Suddenly, one of the witnesses, police office Eddie Murphy, made a reference to his partner, Mel Gibson (picture see below), who allegedly handed him a drivers license identifying the victim. Now Mel Gibson (see below) was actually sitting as a juror, but only the audience knew it. The professors and attorneys had no clue why suddenly everyone burst out in a huge laugh. Nevertheless the trial went on.
After hearing the witnesses, we arrived at the (in)famous closing arguments. Interestingly, the district attorney made a really big fuss about the speech, he argued using both of his hands, yelling, pacing up and down, it was almost like Alan Shore. :) On the other side, the defense attorney was very calm, organized and suggestive, it was obvious that he has been around for quite a while. But he was really spinning the facts, trying to confuse the jury about the testimonies they heard, giving them at least two red herrings to point them in the wrong direction. On redirect the district attorney finally exposed the "S.O.D.D.I:" strategy followed by defense counsel: "Some other dude did it." Now that's something they would not say in Maine or Massachusetts.
Then, we were informed that this mock trial will be a little different from the real ones: the jury has to deliberate in public. Probably the attorneys benefited the most out of this. In any event, it was fun to see that a trial here is not that different from what I expected.
Today was M&A day. Two attorneys from Squire Sanders & Dempsey gave us an overview of an M&A transaction. They were really good, except that the Japanese senior associate lady had a really weird pronunciation, it took me almost an hour to get somewhat used to it. Nevertheless, I finally got to see how a whole deal is structured. I only used to do specific parts of it back home.
Tomorrow will be Supreme Court day, that is to say teams of four (divided into sub-teams of two) must argue a case before the "Supreme Court" in a moot court setting. Probably I should start reading what the case is about. No rush. I will be the last to speak around 4.40pm. :)
a new alltime favorite
just heard it on the radio back from Lake "Tahó".
good girls go to heaven, bad girls go wherever they want...
However, that's not how she behaved on the other day of the weekend. She either wanted to pretend as if she was a "good girl", or she was simply tired. Actually I've ever seen her go really wild. At least in my standards. :)
So, a field trip was put together for all participants of the program: we visited Lake Tahoe (for those of you who speak Hungarian, it is to be pronounced "tahó". Imagine when I explained this to some people). It was a fairly long bus ride, took about 2.5 hrs, so we started early on Saturday. Needless to say what Friday night was about. (Quite surprisingly, most bars were literally empty, even the most frequented ones. But we managed to find the one place where all Davis people were squeezed together. It was alright but not what I would call a great night out. The interesting part was finding a place called Little Prague. The doorman was a Ukrainian guy, and since we had one Ukrainian with us, everything went pretty smoothly. Not to mention that finally I got to drink real BEER. Not that cr*p they sell here as beer. Each one is "light", so has no real substance in it.) Mel Gibson (pictured below) joined us for the trip despite his heavy participation in last nights events.
Now, Lake Tahoe, and even the road to it, was simply marvelous. I tried to upload some pictures to the Flickr address below (do you still remember?) but it rejected them with some error message, so now I'm looking for a different space for my photos. Someone on the bus described the place as Southern Norway in the summer: loads of hills, pine trees and scary altitudes.
When we got to the actual lake, which is like five times the size of Balaton (I guess) it was funny to realize we were no longer in California. We passed the state border and stopped in Nevada. Probably the casinos on the way should have tipped me off. :) The shore was really amazing, some of us did a little excursion (I found the water was kinda cold) exploring the surroundings. Some rented boats or jetskis, but I didn't feel like drying my hair after a swim with the wind at 80mph. I was really amazed that driving a 12 person motor boat did not require a license. Not exactly the safest approach but our guys were pretty excited about it.
Today was merely about relaxing. Should have done a lot of reading for next week but I just don't care right now. Even though I'll have a simulated exam on Tuesday.
Save the Cheerleader
However. This now turned into a nightmare. They really are a crowd and block access to a lot of things, like creating very long lines in the dining hall, causing congestion on bicycle roads (!), even if they are not on the road, since a lot of people stop to watch them. Second, they shout all day long for no reason. It would be one thing if they yelled their rhymes during their practice sessions but whenever 15 or more of the same team step out from a building they start to chant their lines really loud. They scared me a couple of times when they suddenly appeared behind my back. Also, if I were to ignore the first two things and if you would think that a lot of us guys are planning to hit on them, YOU'RE WRONG. They are high school (or even junior high school) teams. None of them (except for their instructors) are over 18. And under California law, as in most of the states, they cannot validly consent to ... you know. Nobody in their right mind would want to risk a criminal trial for that.
I was to take some pictures but then thought it would be rude to do that even if their instructors would agree. So, here's one from another site that should reflect the right age, as well.
The so called "Treaty of Rome on human rights" is properly to be referred to as the European Convention on Human Rights, which was signed in Rome in the year 1950.
My appreciation goes to those who recognized the potential of confusion between this and the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Community.
to ID, or not to ID
I got to know a lot of interesting people here in Davis. One happens to be a professor, who is lecturing at a mid-size university in Northern Norway even though she is from Finland. We heard that there was going to be a party last Sunday evening where some Asian guys promised to cook for us. Certainly I didn't want to appear without proper equipment, so I decided to go to "Rite-Aid", which so happens to be a pharmacy and a convenient store at the same time, to grab some drinks (ie. beer). Since this professor and I sometimes end up having dinner at the same table, and this evening was no exception, she joined me in my quest for drinkable beer (it is not as easy to find, as you'd imagine at first). So we both went to Rite-Aid. When I wanted to check out the case of beer (12 pcs) at the counter, they asked for some ID. They usually do this to make sure nobody under the age of 21 buys liquor. I flipped my wallet open and gave my Hungarian ID card. I explained that the date on it is my birthday and it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away when I was 21. Much to my surprise the clerk then asked for Anna's ID even though she wasn't buying anything. She had no passport or ID on her, so I tried to save the situation by telling that I am the customer here, she just happens to be around. But the clerk insisted and I couldnt buy the stuff. I said what if we go and then I come back alone. The guy at the counter said I couldn't buy the beer because now he knows that Anna was with me and if he sold liqour to me without having seen her ID first, he might be in big trouble. So then we decided to fetch her passport, because otherwise I might never be able to go back to that store to pick up some booze. Ever. So when we went back, they still had my stuff at the counter, so we simply showed her passport. Another thing. A sign below the counter said they ask for ID if the purchaser is under 27. It was long since Anna was 27. I still don't know how old she is because I never bothered to ask but believe me, she doesn't look 37 to me. For sure.
Oh, I stil have the bulk of that beer stashed away in a hidden place because we cannot have alcohol in the housing complex. At least I don't have to bother with buying more booze for the next party.
Another more or less interesting thing was that the coordinators of our curriculum here gave s two group assignments. In one a group of 6 had to review the constitution of a fictious country, which so happened to be identical with the original US constitution, and had to propose some amendments to incorporate fundamental rights. The writing assignment was clearly constructed in a way that they wanted us to adopt the US amendments. You know what? I know better. Since my group was kind of inactive, I decided to do the whole thing myself and let them debate over it. So I skipped a not so interesting class, took 2.5 hrs and wrote a memo (some of you know how I usually do this). But instead of the US amendments, I proposed to adopt the relevant articles of the Treaty of Rome on human rights. At first I thought I would spice it up with some provisions of recent African constitutions but then passed on that. Next day when we were supposed to meet with the group, I just handed out the stuff. Imagine what happened. They added some paragraphs and blended the whole thing with the Japanese constitution (!) but you know how persuasive I can be sometimes (or is it rather stubborn?)... Anyway, the potential of debate about the death penalty and the right to bear arms was quickly eradicated. I wonder what the professors have to say about that. I mean the contents of the whole thing. If they ask, I'll just probably tell them that some (ie. whole Europe) may argue that it is nice that their constitution was the first, but it is slightly outdated in a number of questions. Too bad.
The city of Davis is in Yolo County, California, that's where the title comes from.
So, after chilling in NYC for some 1.5 days and meeting and excessively partying with awesome people (yes, I mean you Annie, Brie and Phil) through an ex-colleague of mine, I finally boarded my flight to San Francisco on Sunday morning. Ticket was not too expensive and I never heard about the airline so I didn't know what to expect. I guess they just gained one loyal customer and probably a lifelong fan at the same time. I went for a ticket on the economy class and guess what, they have leather seats on economy class. Each seat has its own built-in in-flight entertainment system where I could listen to music, watch videos or TV, and if I bothered I probably could have surfed the net as well on my laptop. They actually had electric outlets and ethernet connections to plug these stuff in. Even their in-flight safety video was cool, which normally is a resentful presentation by flight attendants (i.e. stewardesses). See for yourself.
So after flying on such a cool and laid back airline, because the whole atmosphere was like that, for like a fraction of the price per mile as MALÉV, I didn't know if things are about to change for the better or worse. I got off at San Francisco International Airport, where my pre-arrange airport minivan was waiting for me (and some other people as I learned later on) to drop me off in Davis, CA. I took us about 2 hrs to get there, so I again got to appreciate the size of this country. Having arrived to Davis, I went throught the registration for the Orientation in USA Law program and finaly got my key to the room.
I wasn't expecting a five-star hotel, but they could have done better. Anyway, I'm set to live in a dorm in Texas as well, so I might as well get used to it. It later turned out that originally we were supposed to be in a neighboring complete with its own swimming pool and jacuzzi in the middle. That evening there was a small informal reception so that the participants could meet slightly before the classes started. A lot of interesting and fun people are here. Probably it wouldn't be that much interesting to go into details about each of those I got to know but there are a truck load of people from Central and South America (mostly Brazil), there is a guy from the Ukraine, a couple of people from Switzerland, Germany, there's a guy from Amsterdam amongst others. This Dutch guy happens to work for Baker&McKenzie along with four other participants and I just got to know that Baker sponsors a program for some of their associates to come here. Also, there is a practicing judge from Japan. And there is this guy from El Salvador who cannot accept that my first name is not "Otello". So much for diversity.
We have a whole host of lectures, which occupy just about every minute we have of the 24-hour day. Most days we have classes running from 9am to 8pm. All in English, you can imagine who exhausting it is. Yesterday when we finally finished around 8.30pm, I asked the French girl if you would go for having the wine with rest of the gang as we planned earlier. Normally, asking this questions would not be a problem. But inadvertently I asked her in Hungarian. It took me 20 seconds to realize that she looks at me with a surprised face because I wasn't using the right language.
I just got back from a jacuzzi we were not supposed to use. But the Dutch guy got us into a neighboring building complex through some girl he just met. It was awesome. Not only because of the jacuzzi but also because there was a wine tasting party going on around the pool. :) Not surprisingly we soon made friends with two girls marketing wines in the US. Even though we brought some beer to the pool not knowing that this party was taking place there.
Oh, and another thing. The whole campus is riding bicycles so I guess my fitness problem is solved. We go everywhere by bicycle. Even the off-campus parts of the town are made bicycle friendly with desinated lanes and lots of bicycle roads. They say that there are more bicycles in Davis than people.
Hopefully I'll have some time this weekend to roll around campus and take some pictures. When I do, you'll all get to see the essence.
I finally got around to get a US SIM card for my cellphone. I was amazed that the guy in the AT&T store could almost get me a Texas number even from California. Some jam, however, did not allow the transaction to go through, so I got a California (Davis) number for now. Probably will change it when I get to Texas.
Flashback of NYC
The main form of transportation I used:
It really looks like in the movies. And this specific line, running all the way from outer Queens to almost the tip of Manhattan, was sometimes even scary. But of course nothing happened, even though sometimes I was the only white guy in the car, and possibly on the whole train.
But some of the stations had artwork the BKV and Zalakerámia should envy.
I think most of you recognize this lady. This was as close I could get to her, I simply did not have time to take a ferry. So I tried out the zooming function on my camera.
When I turned my back to the lady, there was this giant eagle.
I have no idea who the guy is in the turquoise shirt. This was the clearest shot I could get. This was the inscription on the base.
I suppose all of you have seen similar photos. This is simply to prove I was there and there is always a crowd. I accidentally went there around 1am and the crowd was just ad big as in daylight. Apparently too many vampires live in NYC.
I was offered to go to this university instead of Houston. I hope Houston proves I should have no regrets...
New Yorkers should finally decide what their city is called. Or they should at least decide what name they put on their City Hall.
Yes, I almost went across it, but realized it was just too long to cross on foot.
For those of you who are Sex and The City fans, Park Ave really exists, West Side Manhattan really appears to be a fancy place to live and Madison Ave is packed with stores like this.
But they didn't seem to have the infamous four hundred dollar slippers.
Financial Times must be really big over here.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority also poses as the parents of all its underage users. In case the parents didn't teach this at home, the MTA comes to the rescue.
But sometimes they can be pretty generous. They simply let objects be. In fact, they require objects to be.
I found this on 5th Ave right next to Central Park. Couldn't make any sense of it. Perhaps children often run away to play in the middle of traffic. Or perhaps passengers in cars should not play this game insider the car.
The US has recently committed itself to participate in the reduction of greenhouse gases. It seems they found the perfect solution. A car that runs on milk instead of gasoline and requires 740 units for 100 miles. :)
Again, for those of you who are Sex and The City fans, this is a picture that often appeared in the series.
the idiot's guide to how not to sleep. ever.
And just when I wanted to upload the next batch of pictures my camera's battery went dead. So I'll just have to make up for this later.
Anyway, yesterday was really busy. Once I landed and settled in my hotel room, I realized I haven't eaten for quite a time. So I thought it would be the best reason to explore some parts of the city. The first obstacle to be tackled was to find a subway station. I picked one out on Google maps but when I got there it turned out it was closed down. I learned later that it's pretty common in NYC that public transportation doesn't operate the way the books and websites have it. It constantly changes so it teaches visitors a lot of flexibility. When I was pacing around to find another station a guy asked me for directions to ... the nearest subway station. :) We then joined forces and asked another guy who was a local Jamaican guy (as this part of town is called Jamaica) and could give us some hints. We had to walk through like 10 blocks. It turned out that this guy asking for directions actually lived in NYC just in the Bronx part. Once we found a station he was very helpful and told me how to get to where I wanted. I never imaged that people would be this helpful. Definitely not Budapest.
I was asked to bring some stuff to an ex-colleague so we agreed to meet around 10pm. I told her to just give me the place and I'll figure out how to get there. I ended up getting to know the Friday night Manhattan even though it wasn't my plan. First I couldn't even find the subway station she gave me and I thought there was a typo in her message. So I got off at a station similar to what she said and tried to walk to the junction we agreed. I walked halfway through Manhattan by the time I realized I wasn't even in the right neighbourhood and saw most of 5th ave, the UN HQ ad lots of interesting stuff, it's just that I planned to do that the next day. Finally I got to W8th street and 6th ave. I gave her the stuff and we went on to a party one of her friend was hosting. Apparently we got there too early as the guy was in some T-shirt he seemed to quickly put on when answering the doorbell. So until he got ready he introduced us to his neighbours (!) who were having another party on their balcony. We had a really good time there since the guys were already high on some beer and it was fun watching them doing pranks on each other. Later another friend of my ex-colleague joined us who was from Brussels and have been working in NYC for about a year. We then went to a place called Niagara Bar a couple of blocks away and had the best of times despite the worst choice of music I even heard. A real DJ never plays ABBA's Dancing Queen before 5am. Ever. And they don't just play songs simply one after the other. They mix them. Well, we had enough of it and then went on to explore a place in Brooklyn, which was a true gem. It was a little bar where this girl's friend was bartending (so much for spending more on drinks...) and they were playing reggae when we got there. Then they turned to trip-hop. I'll just have to get my hands on those records. As usual, I got "home" early. Early in the morning that is. :) I'll now have to work on not screwing up my timezone adjusting.
Today I tried to visit as much of Manhattan as I can. It's a pity that I couldn't fit in any other part of the city. So I guess I'll just have to come back sometime. Maybe I'll come back a couple of days before my flight for Budapest would leave in next May.
As I said, pictures will follow once I get new batteries to my camera.
But how did it start?
Got to Ferihegy 2B around 8.15am Budapest time, checked in, waited for some 3 hrs to board.
Once on board the plane, it turned out that "due to the crowd in Austrian and German airspace" our flight did not get the clearence to take off for half an hour. Luckily, our German speaking friends decided that the crowd sat down enough for us to finally take off. I had no idea that it would take about 20 minutes to get over Vienna from Budapest. And that wasn't even a Concord I flew onboard. Talk about small countries... :)
Anyway, my seat was next to a guy from Austin, TX and it took me about 4-5 hours to get to know this information. Neither of us was too talkative. :) But when we both realized that Texas is one thing we have in common I got to learn some interesting things. He is a cinematographer so he is shooting movies and is responsible for the visuals, if I understood it correctly. Anyway, we shared some silent laughs on people strolling through the aisle for hundreds of times appreantly because they could not take sitting still for over 3 hrs. I tried to watch the in-flight movie and these people kept pacing aroung at least one of them constantly blocking the picture. Good thing I've seen the movie already.
So, after a 9 hr long flight we landed on JFK and even made up for half our initial delay. Then came the check at the border which went even more smoothly than I expected. Once having finished with all these things I boarded the AirTrain running from JFK terminals to Jamaica in Queens.
This was how a part of the city looked like from the AirTrain.
Once having got off from the AirTrain at Jamaica Station in Queens I went to find the hotel where I had a room booked. It was about a ten minute walk from the station, but at first I walked in the wrong direction on Jamaica Ave. Luckily, I soon realized that this would not help as worse and worse buildings started to pop up on the sides of the street. So I turned around and tried to avoid looking anyone in the eye. People did not seem too trustworthy and if I appeared as if I had no idea where I'm going I might have not been as safe as I wanted to be. I guess my size also helped a bit. I've seen some guys measuring me and then they seemed to decide it's not worth messing with me. :)
So, I got to my hotel. Pretty decent for its price.
I even have flat-screen TV. Cool!!! :D
But I don't think I would watch it too long. There's a whole city just outside my window.
OK, it's not exactly the Empire State building or Brooklyn Bridge. But all I need to see those is my newly purchased MetroCard.
and still not from across the big pond
Yesterday I had to run some errands in Budapest, and finally I had my (probably fifth) farewell lunch with colleagues. Also, I had a bon voyage dinner with a friend which obviously turned into an drinkfest after a certain point. And they say the Germans can drink beer! :)
So that's all the farewell-bon-voyage-see-you-next-year-why-don't-you-finally-get-the-hell-out-of-here events I plan to have for the next one (!) day. And then come the welcoming parties. The movie previews guy would probably say something like:
"There was a time when one man chose to travel to distant shores. He had several friends. But even he could not forsee the dangers of ... farewells... let alone welcomes. This summer witness an epic fight against constant hangover simply caused by inadequate party planning. This summer become an insider to why Hungarians always want to share a drink with you and how they always find a good reason for it. Are you ready to meet the challenge? Are you ready to raise your blood alcohol to a highly dangerous level? Are you out of your mind? Farewells and Goodbyes. In theaters near you."
Still before leaving...
Well, I finally decided between sending countless e-mails to my friends and colleagues about this upcoming year and wrapping the whole thing up in a blog. My apologies to those who would rather read these threads in Hungarian but I would also want my non-Hungarian speaking friends to be able to follow these events.
So, I guess I might as well get started. For those of you who have not been informed about this in one way or another: I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to the United States so that I can earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.) title in US law. I will depart on July 11, 2008 first to New York for a few days (the flight will be awfully long: 9.5 hrs) then move on to Davis in California (between Sacramento and San Francisco) for a month-long preparatory course. Finally, around August 9 I plan to reach my original destination: Houston in Texas where I will be enrolled in the Foreign Scholars LL.M. program.
So much for the background, and now some (hopefully) more interesting details.
Submitting an application for a Fulbright grant (which I was lucky enough to win) generally seems to scare people away from applying. Although putting together the huge pile of papers does require some fancy footwork, it is not the defining character of the whole process. The most fun part is when you write the two essays: one about your research study objectives, which is rather a one-page reasoning why you really should get the funding, and another essay what is called "personal statement". The latter is more of a description of your achievements so far beginning with a personal background describing your motivations, dreams and then how far you were successful in realizing those dreams. It really helps to bear in mind the concept of the "American Dream", because that is probably what the decision making committee looks for in the course of the selection process. So if one is a hopeless romantic and has big dreams the strict limit of one page represents the biggest obstacle.
And then (for most applicants) comes the interview before a selection panel. Obviously it is in English and can sometimes be frustrating. When I had my interview I was sitting in front of the room where the panel was in session and asked everyone who came out about their experiences. A girl, who wanted to go the Harvard Law School to study international refuge law (or something like that), was asked how she wanted to pay for the remaining balance of the tuition (the grant would only cover tuition up to $15,000, while Harvard tuition is closer to $35,000 for an academic year). They asked her nothing else and apparently she couldn't come up with a creative solution on the spot and despite her charming British accent she didn't succeed. When I went in the panel looked at my application and saw that I wanted to concentrate on energy law. Their first question was if there is such a thing as energy law. That really came as a surprise to me but I pointed to the lighting above us and said that if it weren't for energy law, those lights would not work at all. Now they were surprised (probably because I was harsh enough to get their attention). By the end of my 40 minute interview (most people didn't spend more than 20 minutes inside) they asked me where they should erect their own wind-powered generators so they seemed to appreciate the possibilities in the industry. It also helped that I remembered some things from my high school physics lessons about generating electricity.
When I was notified that I won a combined grant of Fulbright and the University of Houston Foundation Sándor Turányi Fund, then started the sometimes tiresome but otherwise fun part: organizing the trip itself. When I finally chose an airline to take me to Houston and planned to purchase my ticket, Kriszta Dietz from the Hungarian Fulbright Comission sent me an e-mail asking if I wanted to go to a preacademic training in Davis, CA right before my curriculum in Houston would begin. When I read the part saying that all expenses are covered and I would not have to secure additional funding it took me about two hours to give it the go ahead. :) And in these two hours I already solved a slight scheduling conflict between my Davis program and Houston. Then I realized how good it was not to buy my ticket to Houston just yet.
Actually, I thought buying an airline ticket is easy. Here's the news: it not. I searched through a number of databases to find the cheapest carrier to my destination, Kayak quickly became my favorite search engine to that end. I selected a European airline and went to their website to book my flight. First I didn't realize that I need to lift some purchase limits on my credit card. When I solved that problem, the second one came. I thought the flight problem was solved by buying a one-way ticket from Budapest to San Francisco. But then an official from the airline called to confirm my booking. She asked if I was a US citizen (which I'm not) and suggested that I booked a round-trip ticket instead since I might face some additional "questions" from the immigration officers at the US border. We then agreed not to confirm my booking and again I thought the problem was solved and I should restart the booking process and opt for a round-trip ticket. However, my credit card was charged with the price of the one-way ticket even though I canceled it. It took two weeks (!) to sort this out with the airline and finally get a refund. Not surprisingly I then decided to do this the old fashion way and went to an office of the Hungarian Airline, booked a round-trip ticket to New York.
The next big problem was finding appropriate housing both in Davis and in Houston. Having found out that my stipend for Davis would probably not cover on-campus housing I decided to go through some local ads (i.e. their online versions) to find a sublease for the month I would be there. I have sent around 25 e-mails and got only 1 (!) reply. The guy, who sent the only reply, told me that he'd rather let his room for the whole summer so both of us should keep looking and get in touch if none of us found a better solution. Well, I returned to him about a month later asking if he found a tenant for the summer. Unfortunately he did but still was nice about telling me to keep on going:
"Unfortunately I have leased out my room for this summer so I am unable to help you, and wish you the best of luck in your quest for housing. May the force be with you! Always!"
I'd say the force is always with me. It's called gravity. :)
Then I somehow came across an organization that hosts a homestay program in California. The point is that people stay with volunteering America families so that they can get a closer look at how Americans live. I would have opted for this solution but their official said they could probably not find a family in close proximity to campus.
Fortunately, I managed to arrange for some extra funding and decided to go with the official on-campus housing so that the whole one-month stay could be as smooth as possible. I'm fairly certain that I'll still face a lot of other smaller problems, so why make more of them if can anticipate them.
As for Houston, I was lucky enough to get on-campus housing there as well, the lease agreement is signed and an informal e-mail message from the housing department confirmed its receipt. If they try to escape from it, I'll just point to the huge letters saying "this is a binding contract" and tell them it works both ways. It binds them too. The place where I'll probably have my room is called Cougar Place, I sure hope it really looks as nice as on the pictures.
Oh, and just that you all get really envy, this is also included in the tuition:
And if you haven't seen it yet: