University: San Diego State University
City: San Diego
Country: United States
Continent: North America
Field of study: biology
Study type: semester abroad
In the late summer of 2016, shortly before starting my master’s degree and after I had just completed my Bachelor of Science in Biology, I made the decision to start my third semester of my master’s degree abroad. See act-test-centers for UCLA Study Abroad.
Choice of university
Actually, I had planned a stay in a European country with the Erasmus program, but since the selection of universities and study places offered for my course was not extensive, I started to find out about alternatives. A friend and fellow student had already chosen San Diego as her city of choice, and when I researched the city and universities myself, I was very impressed.
San Diego is a well-known research focus for biological research and is therefore very attractive to me. On the other hand, my primary goal during this semester abroad was to perfect my English and to gain experience abroad, since I had never spent a long time outside of Germany. Above all, however, one of my biggest dreams has always been to study at an American university.
If you decide to spend a semester abroad as a so-called “free mover”, i.e. not at a partner university of your own or with Erasmus, then the organizational tasks turn out to be a bit more complicated. Luckily, there are companies like MicroEdu that can help you apply to some of these colleges and even send your application to the US and help with your visa application for free. As a result, I always had competent contact persons in Germany who I could answer all my questions.
The first step in the application was to take an English language test (IELTS, TOEFL or DAAD language certificate), which most universities expect international students to do. This is the first of many cost items that should be considered. After the IELTS had been completed, proof of finances had to be organized in which the bank confirmed that there were sufficient funds to finance the semester abroad. For American universities, this amount is approximately €12,000.
After these two somewhat cumbersome hurdles had been overcome, the application could finally continue. This could be submitted at the earliest about 9 months before the start of the semester. I applied in January for the semester that was supposed to start in August. Again, MicroEdu did a lot of the work by providing instructions on how to fill out the application. Finally, after just 6 weeks, I got accepted from San Diego State University – it actually got serious.
I then started around March with the proper organization of the entire stay. It was necessary to make an appointment at an American consulate (in Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich) where you would be questioned in an interview. After that, you will – hopefully – be approved for a student visa. I booked my flights in May. I’ve already booked my return flight for December 22nd as I really wanted to be home for Christmas. In hindsight, however, it would have been okay to only book the outward flight and to stay and travel a little longer after the semester.
Around the beginning of June, my girlfriend, with whom I had organized the semester abroad, and I looked for an apartment in San Diego, which turned out to be very difficult. Student residences in San Diego generally only offer rental contracts for a period of one year. That meant for us that we would have to look for new tenants for our apartment in December. Since we had read in reports that this was not really a problem, we decided to rent an apartment in the so-called Blvd63 residential complex very close to the university together with two German boys and two Italian women. Here, too, the application was relatively uncomplicated, there were only a few communication difficulties with the partly not very competent employees of Blvd63.
When we finally arrived in San Diego in August, we were surprised to learn that many other students had obtained so-called “short-term leases” in Blvd63 and did not have to look for new tenants. I can highly recommend Blvd63, but the search for a new tenant turned out to be extremely difficult and stressful. If you are interested in moving in there, you should only take care of the apartment at very short notice, about two weeks before arrival or only when you are already in San Diego, because then these short-term contracts are offered because the last free apartments are filled Need to become.
As an alternative to Blvd63, which is definitely one of the nicest college dorms and offers the opportunity to meet a lot of new people, the Pacific Beach neighborhood also offers some student housing options. You can also find short-term apartments there. All in all, however, one must always keep in mind that living in California is very expensive. The cheapest rooms are shared rooms, which you share with at least one person, and good quality rooms are hard to find for under $700 a month.
When we finally got to San Diego in August, we lived in a downtown hostel for the first 5 days, which is highly recommended as that’s where we met many of our future best friends in San Diego. What really surprised us was that an extremely large number of other Germans also completed their semester abroad there, which is why German groups quickly formed. On the one hand, this is very comfortable, because you feel a little more comfortable, on the other hand, it’s a shame, because you don’t come into contact with the locals that much. For us, however, this was not a problem at all, because we were the only biology students among all international students and therefore got to know many Americans in our lectures.
At the university we were offered many introductory events, guided tours and city tours. We were helped with the choice of courses and various leisure activities at the university were also presented. As international students, we were allowed to use the university’s gym for free, which made us very happy, as it not only offers a huge range of equipment, but also different sports courses.
Choosing a course at the university turned out to be quite easy for our subject, since biology courses at SDSU don’t seem to be that crowded. Well-known business administration students tended to have difficulties, as there were many international business administration students and the courses were already almost fully occupied by American students. Everyday university life and learning were very different from what we were used to in Germany. As Masters or Graduate students, we had to take at least 9 units worth of courses. A unit is worth around 3 ECTS points. If more than 9 units were booked, a certain amount of money had to be paid for each additional unit in addition to the tuition fees.
We chose two courses in Biology and Molecular Biology and another in Public Health, which we chose mainly with a view to a future career in healthcare or in the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately, it was hardly possible to take practical courses, since you should already know the responsible professor. Something like that is recommended for students who want to spend a whole year abroad.
To our surprise, there were only about 2.5 hours of lectures per week per subject, which is why we only had to go to university for four days, and then only for a few hours each. But that didn’t mean that we had a lot of free time, because the way of learning at American universities is more reminiscent of a German school than a university: You get homework, you have to prepare topics, write essays and give lectures. In addition, there is not only one final exam, but two or even more, which are spread over the semester.
On the one hand, it’s very pleasant, because you don’t have to expect such concentrated learning stress at the end of the semester. On the other hand, I at least felt somewhat patronized because I had found a way of learning that worked for me during my four-year university career. I didn’t like this exactly prescribed learning at all. Despite this, I got through the semester without many difficulties.
It was very noticeable that the level of difficulty of the courses – at least in the field of biology – was significantly lower than in Germany, which surprised us, since the American universities are the best in the world. But there are probably clear differences between elite and normal universities. Nevertheless, I was able to deepen my existing knowledge with these courses on the one hand and gain experience in other areas on the other hand, which definitely broadened my professional horizon.
Life outside of university turned out to be probably the best time of my life. Despite learning and “homework” we were not only able to visit the beautiful city of San Diego, but also more distant destinations such as national parks, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. San Diego is incredibly diverse and offers fantastic beaches like Coronado Beach, rather relaxed surfer beaches and areas like Pacific Beach, and historic districts like the lively Gaslamp Quarter or Oldtown, and busier neighborhoods like Downtown. As SDSU students, we received free tickets to all university sporting events and were able to experience American sports such as American football and basketball, which is definitely recommended.
But you should be aware in advance that life in the USA and especially in Southern California is incredibly expensive. Not only the rents, but also groceries, especially healthy ones, and everyday items such as cosmetics and drugstore products are not cheap. In addition, one usually travels frequently or pays for admission to events, clubs, concerts, etc. With the 15,000 euros per semester estimated by MicroEdu, it can quickly become tight. For me personally, it was definitely worthit, because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this time under any circumstances.
I really enjoyed my time in San Diego, I learned a lot, professionally, linguistically, as well as personally and culturally. The Californians presented themselves to us as open-minded and incredibly friendly people who always approached you and never made you feel out of place. This friendliness, which didn’t strike me as forced and artificial as I had actually expected, is something that many Germans should learn a lesson from, because life is simply much more pleasant with a smile on your face.
As I said, the only thing to criticize about the USA is the extremely high cost of living and the inedible bread. If I ever get the chance, I would always come back to San Diego.