Welcome! Most of Baltimore isn’t that scary! I don’t know the area your school’s in very well (FI is at the Homewood campus) but I’ll ask around to find out. Some things to keep in mind:
-the majority of the violent crime in Bmore is drug-related. dealers killing users killing dealers, very much a subculture. if you don’t get involved in that, the crime rate is unremarkable.
-what is common is car break-ins. don’t leave anything in your car ever esp visible, not even gps holders or ipod chargers.
-some areas that look more run-down actually have lower crime rates. when you narrow it down to a few neighborhoods, look at crimebaltimore.com or baltimoresun.com to compare. oh, and ignore people who tell you not to live in an entire quadrant of the city. it really can change from block to block, you need to look in person. some of the most popular areas have bad parts and vice versa.
-it is such a neighborhood-based city. a lot of people don’t travel much outside their few blocks, really! so choose your neighborhood carefully, the advantage of the city is having stores, bars, parks nearby, so you might as well live someplace near stuff you like.
-similarly, if you meet people you like at the orientation ask them where they live. it’s awesome to be someplace with grad student friends up and down the block (actually my FI is playing wii across the street right now!)
-getting involved in your neighborhood is a great way to meet people, and knowing people is the only way you’ll find stuff to do. Bmore is much more underground than other places I’ve lived, there are some great scenes but there’s not the street culture of NY or even DC where you can just happen upon stuff.
-relax and give it a chance to grow on you, you don’t have to be totally comfortable right away. when I moved here I wouldn’t walk at night, now I feel fine doing that in places I know.
-visit visit visit before you choose a place to live! the most important thing. go at rush hour is there too much traffic noise, go in the afternoon are there children outside, go on Sat night are there crowds of partiers or is it deserted, and which do you prefer?
-public transportation sucks here, but Hopkins runs some useful shuttles you’ll be able to use.
-many grad events at Homewood are open to Public Health students! http://www.jhu.edu/gro (ok yes that’s a plug FI runs a lot of them)
-you need a/c. seriously. don’t live anywhere without it.
You’re going to like it here!!!