University: California State University San Marcos
City: San Marcos (CA)
Country: United States
Continent: North America
Field of study: business administration
Study type: semester abroad
- Before departure
Once the decision has been made to complete a semester abroad, the next step is to organize it. The organizational effort is quite high, especially if you want to study as a “free mover” at a foreign university, like me, but it should be said at this point that this effort is worthwhile in every respect and with a little help and structure it is initial to master a large mountain of work well. But let’s start from the beginning:
Unfortunately, the University of Paderborn does not (yet) have a partner university in the part of the USA I chose for my stay abroad, so I looked for support from the “MicroEdu” organization. Such support is extremely helpful, especially at the beginning when it comes to application, enrollment and planning. An organization like “MicroEdu” not only has existing contacts to the respective contact persons at the universities, but can also give helpful tips that make the entire procedure easier. After careful consideration, I decided to do my semester abroad at California State University San Marcos to be completed. It’s possible to apply to more than one university, but many colleges charge a significant enrollment fee, so it’s a good idea to narrow your decision down as much as possible. MicroEdu gave me the name of a contact person at the university of my choice and provided me with numerous documents, including on the application, but also general information such as guidance on the timeline. Check ehuacom.com to see SHU study abroad opportunities.
The application documents to be submitted include, in addition to an application form in which essentially general information is required, proof that the language of the foreign university is mastered to the extent that one is able to actively participate to take part in the lectures and to articulate oneself. In my case, the DAAD language test was accepted. Compared to other certificates, such as a TOEFL, this proof is by far the most economical and can be completed directly at the university. In addition to auditory comprehension, reading comprehension, communication skills and writing skills are tested.
The DAAD speaking test is currently offered twice a year at the University of Paderborn. Proof of existing international health insurance is also required. This proof is also required for the visa application. Although I also have my own health insurance in Germany, this insurance is limited to Germany and holiday trips abroad, but a long-term stay abroad is not also insured. It was therefore necessary for me to take out health insurance for a stay of several months in the USA is applicable. I opted for the international health insurance of the ACE Group and can warmly recommend it afterwards. Unfortunately, I had to claim my insurance during my semester abroad, but the staff were very helpful and I was reimbursed quickly. In the event of illness, it is really pleasant when you can feel that you are in safe hands with an insurance company!
After my application was submitted, the waiting for an answer began, because of course every university has the right to reject an application. A few weeks after submitting my application, however, I was fortunately accepted, so that further planning and organization could begin.
A very interesting point after acceptance at the university is of course the choice of subjects. Among other things, my coordinator in the USA asked for a desired course list in which I should select at least 10 subjects from the course catalog of the university that would be interesting for me and my studies. I was expressly informed that this list was no guarantee of a place in the selected courses. Although the wishes expressed are taken into account, a binding commitment can only be given at a much later point in time. It is therefore advisable to plan very flexibly and always have a plan B or even plan C in case one of the courses cannot be attended later.
The choice of course can also play an important role in terms of financing, namely when financial support in the form of foreign BAföG is being considered. A claim for foreign student loans can only be made if the subjects that are taken during the semester abroad also result in creditable progress towards the desired degree and the status of a full-time student is fulfilled. When studying in the USA, this is fulfilled as soon as a credit number of 12 credit points is reached or even exceeded. In addition to your own savings, applying for a scholarship is also a recommended financing option. A semester abroad in the USA is quite expensive, especially as a free mover if you have to pay the tuition fees yourself. Not only do the said tuition fees have to be paid, the cost of living in the USA is also more expensive and various costs for applying for the visa and, of course, for traveling within the USA must also be taken into account. Personally, I applied for the Phoenix Contact Border Cross Studies scholarship from the Phoenix Contact Foundation and I am happy to have received it. This scholarship represents a great financial support for me, as the costs incurred are a high financial expense, especially for a student.
Detailed planning of the existing financing options is also necessary when applying for a visa in the USA. Not only are there various fees required to apply for a visa, a declaration from the bank is also required as part of the application documents, confirming that the financial means are sufficient to enter the USA, live in the USA and leave the USA.
Sufficient time should be allowed for applying for the visa. After collecting my documents and paying the required fees, I had to make an appointment at one of the three American embassies in Germany. At this appointment, my fingerprints were taken, among other things, I had to show my documents again and justify my efforts to get a visa. At the end of the appointment I had to hand in my passport, which was sent back to me within the following weeks along with my visa.
Now that all the essential formalities for the upcoming semester abroad have been clarified and I knew with complete certainty that I could start this semester, the detailed planning phase began. In addition to the flights that had to be booked, there were also initial considerations regarding accommodation and transportation options in the USA. From a previous internship abroad in the USA, I already knew that the public transport system is not particularly well developed in most cities and regions in America. It was therefore clear to me relatively quickly that I would buy a car. Initially, however, I only reserved a rental car for the first few days, I already knew from experience reports that it is usually cheaper to take care of a car on site. The same applies to looking for an apartment: I booked a hotel in the neighboring town of my university for the first few days before my departure, but I wanted to look for my long-term place to stay in America first. With that, I was ready to leave, with my suitcases packed, I left Düsseldorf Airport for Los Angeles at the beginning of August!
- First steps after arrival
After a long flight with a short stopover in London, I arrived safely at Los Angeles Airport. It was very easy for me to get from the terminal to my car rental via the airport shuttle and received my rental car without any problems. The European driver’s license is recognized in the USA, so the costs of issuing an international driver’s license can be saved in advance. After a two-hour drive, I finally arrived at my destination. It was evening when I reached my hotel, the perfect arrival time in terms of jet lag, as the body is already exhausted from the long journey and can get used to the new time zone right after going to bed.The next morning, I was still up before sunrise, but it was all the more beautiful to watch it from the hotel balcony against the backdrop of southern California’s palm trees.
My arrival time was about a week before the start of the orientation week at the university, within that week I wanted to arrange both long-term accommodation and a cheaper car. The latter turned out to be quite easy. I had previously heard from former exchange students in this area that there is a car rental company in San Diego that specializes in long-term rentals over several months and also offers student discounts. Said car rental company was indeed able to give me a cheap offer for a new car, which proved to be extremely reliable. This car rental company was also very courteous in terms of service, a free car check was offered once a month, so that you could be sure that the car was in good condition, especially before longer trips. The car rental company is called “Dirt Cheap Car Rental”, but I can say that the name (thank goodness) didn’t tell the whole story. Although definitely cheaper, but not to be considered “dirty”, I have had the best experiences with this rental and would warmly recommend it again and again.
The search for suitable accommodation, on the other hand, turned out to be more difficult than expected. I was looking for a furnished and affordable apartment, if possible in San Marcos itself or one of the neighboring towns. As it soon turned out, most of the apartments were either unfurnished or so expensive that they didn’t fit into the budget. I had already resigned myself to renting an empty apartment plus monthly furniture when I found a perfect apartment in the beautiful seaside town of Carlsbadfound. I found the apartment via an internet advertisement and am also subsequently glad that I first rented the apartment here on site. During my search I visited numerous apartments and not all of them really looked the way they were advertised, described and shown on the internet. It is always an advantage to get to know the landlords personally and to be able to see the potential accommodation with your own eyes – even if this means that you can travel to the USA without having any long-term accommodation at first.
In time for the beginning of the orientation week at the university, all organizational matters were clarified. On the first day at the university, all documents including the status of payment of the semester fees were checked. The semester fee has to be paid in advance using the university’s online payment system. This is quite simple and secure and also allows you to have a confirmation of the payment issued immediately. After all the formalities had been clarified on this point, our student ID cards could be issued, access data assigned and the various organizational systems of the university shown and explained. Furthermore, we received a tour of the beautiful, very new and great designed and built campus. Most recently, we were treated to “ Course Crashing“ Familiarized. This is the way to safely enroll in courses and is immensely different from anything we have seen before. It is not possible for exchange students, like American students, to register for courses via the online system, but they have to “crash” the desired courses in the first week of lectures. This means that each student creates a list of courses that he would like to take and attends the first event of the desired course, introduces himself to the professor there and asks for a place in the course. The desired course list submitted in advance can lead to preferences, but is no guarantee that you will actually be able to take the course. Therefore, this list can of course be taken as a basis,
At first glance, this procedure may seem quite unsafe and unfamiliar, but from experience I can say that the professors try very hard to include exchange students in their courses. They are happy about every, but especially every international face, as these students often represent a great enrichment for the course due to their different cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds. The decision is made very differently from professor to professor, while one proceeds according to the principle “First come – first serve”, the next one draws a lot and then the next one decides purely from the gut. Personally, I got all the courses I wanted, but I also had a flexible schedule that offered fallback options if a course was really full. The procedure should not deter you at all, in the end I even enjoyed it and encouraged my flexibility. A nice side effect of this procedure is that that I was only one of two or at most three other German exchange students in my courses. I was here primarily to get to know American learning and life and was therefore also very interested in getting to know as many American fellow students as possible. But more on that in the next chapter!
- During the stay
The academic year at the CSUSM is divided into semesters – of which there are three per year (Spring, Summer and Fall). I was at the university during the fall semester, which roughly coincides with our winter semester. As I have already indicated, I got all the courses I wanted by “Course Crashing” and with these 3 courses I already achieved the 12 credit points paid for with the semester fee. It would have been perfectly possible to choose other courses, but each additional credit point incurs an additional cost of several hundred dollars. In addition, the effort that has to be made per subject and per week is higher than I was used to in Germany. Therefore, I recommend not necessarily getting far beyond the limit of 12 credit points. The magic number of 12 credits is also relevant for the visa, because only if you have exactly or more than 12 credits do you achieve the status of a full-time student and thus meet the conditions of the visa.
In terms of system, everyday university life is more like a school than a university, as we are mostly used to in Germany. The courses are far smaller and more personalAs a rule, the professor is addressed by his first name and he also knows each and every one of his students by their name. The overall grade of the course is always made up of many individual achievements – for me one of the biggest differences to the German system, since in my degree program the grade of the final exam usually also represents the overall course grade. In the courses I took during my semester abroad, this grade consisted of oral work, tests, homework, several individual exams, etc. This may sound more time-consuming at first glance, but it also has great advantages. On the one hand, the grading through this system is far more fair, because even if an individual performance may not have turned out as well as the rest, this is not so important and an excellent course grade can still be achieved. Furthermore, this system encourages you to think along and as soon as you get used to it, it is a great change from what you are otherwise familiar with lower. By that I don’t mean that you learn less or that you only focus on light content. The biggest difference is that a professor would never ask about anything that hasn’t already been discussed in class. This simplifies the exam preparation immensely, overall I completed all my courses with the best grades, even though the language of instruction was not my mother tongue.
Of course, social and cultural life is at least as important as teaching. In the university it is very easy to get to know fellow students, precisely because the courses are quite small and personal. In general, I was also able to state that Americans are extremely sociable and interested in other cultures, views and ways of life. You get into conversation with them very quickly and often even the first conversations develop in such a way that you meet for the evening in a bar or in the afternoon for sports. Sport is of course a topic that is strongly associated with American university life. So there is also at California State University San Marcosnumerous sports clubs and courses as well as a very new and well-equipped gym, which can be used by any student without additional costs. In addition to sports, the university offers various other leisure activities that are relatively inexpensive and represent another opportunity to establish contact with local students. For example, I took part in a trip to Disneyland and can definitely recommend it. The trip was very well organised, priced far below what you would have paid for regular admission and was a lot of fun.
But the “short” free time between two lectures or during the lunch break can also be spent on the friendly designed campus of the university. During my stay, the university celebrated its 25th anniversary, so all the buildings, furnishings and general equipment are new and modern. In the so-called “Student Union” there are spacious seating areas, billiard and table football tables, game consoles, but also a small supermarket and various food stalls where you can find food from a wide variety of nations. In terms of price, these branches do not differ much from other locations of fast-food chains, but in the long run it is more expensive if you eat here every day.
Of course, living and learning is always accompanied by the wonderful Southern California weather.Even winter is incredibly mild here, with temperatures hovering around 30°C in the first months of August and still reaching 20-25°C during the ‘winter’ period. However, almost more important is the number of hours of sunshine, during the entire time I lived there I hardly experienced a day when the sky was not bright blue and the sun shone powerfully from the sky. So it stands to reason that a large part of my life in San Marcos and the surrounding area has taken place outdoors. Whether this meant exploring the beautiful coastal region around San Marcos or undertaking further trips and excursions to America’s numerous national parks. In the first few months it was even possible to camp in the parks, during the winter months it gets quite chilly at night,Travel should definitely be planned as an integral part of a semester abroad, America has such a diverse nature to offer that it would be a shame not to take advantage of this opportunity. Should it not be possible to attend one of the lectures due to an excursion, the good relationship between students and professors will also benefit you here. Honesty and openness always score, the professors usually understand that exchange students like to explore the country and culture, so they support these projects.
I’ve done most of my travels by car, which was the cheapest option given the cheap gas prices and the fact that I was renting a car for the whole time anyway. It also means a high degree of flexibility at the destination. However, it is important to find out beforehand what the parking situation and costs are, especially when traveling to larger cities, as these can sometimes cut heavily into the budget. It is advisable to spend the night in motels instead of hotels, as these usually include a parking space and still offer a cheap alternative to other accommodation options.
Of course, the cities also differ greatly in terms of the need for a car, depending on the location of the hotel there are also some very good local transport systems; however, these are much rarer than we know from Germany. A city like Los Angeles, for example, does not boast a convenient public transit system, while San Francisco is easily traveled by bus, train, and cable car.
Even if a large number of the most beautiful places can be visited easily and comfortably by car, there are also great travel destinations where the planewas my preferred means of transport. For example, I flew to Seattle and crossed the Canadian border in a rental car there to spend a few days in Vancouver. For my trip to Hawaii the plane was of course essential, it is hard to believe that even after an 8-hour flight you are still in the same country. Despite the long flight time and quite high costs to be taken into account, Hawaii is definitely a recommended travel destination. I visited three different islands there (Kauai, Maui and Oahu) and due to the diversity, it’s hard to say which should be my favorite. Although still in the same country, but still in a completely new culture, it is a great experience
Of course, I did not undertake my travels and excursions alone. Always there was my friend, fellow student and roommate, who, like me, is of German nationality, with whom, crazy enough, I only spoke in English during the entire six months in the USA. On the one hand, this made it much easier for us to integrate into American society, but on the other hand, it also meant that our language skills improved immensely. Of course, it’s easier to articulate oneself in one’s mother tongue, but we noticed that you quickly get used to the change and that you can take great advantage of it!
- After the stay
I came back from my stay abroad in mid-January. I deliberately chose this point in time so that I had the opportunity to take more exams in the subsequent semester break, so I didn’t have to worry that my study time would be extended due to the semester abroad. Since I am a freemover in the USApre-assurance of academic achievement was not possible and recognition is the responsibility of the individual professors. The general procedure is to look for subjects from the module catalog of the University of Paderborn that can serve as a counterpart to the subjects taken in the USA in terms of content. The respective professors are then to be contacted and the subject to be recognized is presented. Important here is the certificate issued by the CSUSM, as well as the so-called syllabus, in which the contents of the subject are precisely listed. Under certain circumstances, lecture documents such as scripts or self-written work may also be required, this depends on the respective professor.
- Conclusion and tips
Looking back, I can warmly recommend a semester abroad at California State University in San Marcos!It was a really great time, during which I had unique experiences and made many new friends. The six months I spent in America taught me not only about the further education, but also about what makes American culture so special. I constantly sought contact with local students and not only strengthened and improved my English language skills immensely, but also learned a lot about the different perspectives, views and experiences of American society. I notice that I see many things with different eyes or question them more critically than I might have done before my stay abroad. In addition, through my numerous trips and excursions, I got to know such diverse and different places that I could hardly have imagined before.
A semester abroad means a lot of organizational and financial effort, which makes me all the more grateful for the support I received from the Phoenix Contact Border Foundation or the MicroEdu organization. It is through facilities and offerings such as this that such a unique experience can be made possible that I would say is irreplaceable. I’m glad that I decided to spend a semester abroad and appreciate the fact that I was able to get to know and experience American life.