The timing was perfect. Before the coldest winter in Germany broke in at the end of 2012, I said goodbye to California. I spent an instructive and varied time there as a student at an American university until the end of March 2013.
Before that, in addition to my job, I was studying part-time using what is known as distance learning. This is an online based self-paced study with very few days of lectures. A part-time course of study certainly has many advantages, but the everyday study routine is often neglected.
That was the trigger to delve deeper into the subject of studying abroad.
The following is a process description for the approach to semester abroad planning:
In the beginning, of course, there was a general coordination with the local professors. Is it possible at all and when is the best time to integrate the semester abroad in the best possible way in the German course of studies? Are there partner universities? In my case there were no partner universities, but I got the green light for my project and from now on I had about eight months until it started in the 2012/13 winter semester. Of course, in addition to organizing on your own, which should definitely not be underestimated, everyday study and professional life should not suffer.
To make it easier for me to choose a host university, I created a catalog of criteria as listed below. Only the implementation period was given to me by my home university.
Type of study = full-time
Language during studies = English
Language in the host country = English
Courses offered are the same as planned modules abroad?
Maximum budget (tuition fees, travel costs, accommodation costs, etc.)
Seasonal weather Housing
After doing some research on the Internet, I discovered MicroEDU, an agency that places foreign students at foreign universities free of charge. A stroke of luck, as MicroEDU represents a large number of universities all over the world and places students there. Using their database, I was able to compare universities with regard to student ratings, tuition fees, courses, etc.
All you have to do is decide on the university of your choice (and hope to be accepted, of course). The agency provides a checklist of all the documents to be submitted and, after checking, forwards it to the foreign university of your choice. A huge relief in the otherwise time-consuming selection and registration process, in which you would have to address each university directly.
In addition to specifying the desired university from the MicroEDU partner directory,
the following documents are required: Registration form for admission to the host university
Evidence of previous academic achievements (= transcript of records)
English evidence (TOEFL or IELTS test)
List of desired courses at the host university
According to mcat-test-centers, the targeted host university will then check the documents (sometimes there are application review costs for this) and give an acceptance or rejection (seldom, as MicroEDU points out discrepancies in advance).
When choosing a course at the host university, the supervising home university professors should be consulted in advance for the purpose of possible crediting of the course if they are identical with local modules. In addition, some courses at the host university require certain basic courses, which should be completed before departure in order to avoid course admission problems abroad later.
After confirmation, the other organizational stuff has to be taken care of:
Information from the home university (possibly due to vacation / mobility semester application)
(student) visa matters (outside the EU)
Flight booking for
health insurance, vaccinations, if applicable Search for
accommodation (student dormitory campus / off-campus; flat share;…)
Even after registration, MicroEDU offers support throughout the process. I recommend at least half a year in advance, after which it will be stressful. After everything was dry, my anticipation rose until the day of my departure… and I shouldn’t be disappointed.
As a guest university, I chose California State University East Bay, 30 minutes east of San Francisco. In addition to the desired country, the range of courses and the price also matched. I also found the location close to the city and the mild winter weather appealing.
An orientation week was held in the first few days at my host university. A good opportunity to get to know fellow students before the classes started the following week. Unfortunately, there was a so-called course crashing, which means that you had to ask the professor to join the course. The condition was, of course, that this was not yet fully booked, as the Americans have priority in choosing a course. I was doing well, but occasionally the desired courses could not be attended. In some cases, however, the professors could still do something about increasing the number of participants. The courses were very international and, compared to Germany, already very schooled. The class size was usually around 40-50 students and there were often spontaneous question-and-answer discussions, which the professors took up in a very instructive and understandable manner. Hardly any consideration was given to non-native speakers, but the exchange students got along very well after a short time. In addition to the lessons, case studies, term papers and intermediate exams were often required. They kept on learning and did not postpone everything until shortly before the semester exams to study à la studying in Germany. Of course, it depends on the learner type, but it suited me very well.
Nevertheless, there was still time for campus life and the trappings. On the weekends, travelers were always quick to explore the beautiful city and the surrounding area of San Francisco. Within an hour you can be at the Pacific (Santa Cruz), within three hours you can reach the mountainous landscapes of Yosemite National Park. You can probably only spend three months as a traveler discovering everything in California.
Hayward as a city is not particularly interesting. The university including the campus is on a mountain and it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the city center. There is also a bus to the BART station, which connects Hayward with San Francisco, and there are taxis for night owls. There are grocery stores and a cafeteria on campus. We usually combined a visit to the supermarket with a trip to San Francisco, since then one was already at the BART in the city center. There are also rental cars available on campus, otherwise talk to people with cars or buy one yourself. America is very spacious, even in the cities, and you are much more mobile with a car.
Of course, many of them see university life from films like “American Pie”. Of course, I was also looking forward to the campus flair offered by the media. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, the media exaggerate a little.
There are quite a few activities on offer outside of the classroom, where you can quickly make new contacts. In addition to an extensive university sports program, participation in student associations, discussion groups, music / dance lessons, etc. is an option. Parties are to be scheduled in private.
I lived with three friends in the Cityview Apartments, a 10-minute walk from the university. A good choice because you were more undisturbed and free than in the student apartments on campus.
However, I would like to mention that American universities charge comparatively high tuition fees (outside of the partner programs) for this inspiring learning and campus climate. I strongly recommend that you have the financing (with a buffer) in place. Earning money in a non-EU country is difficult due to the lack of a work visa.
Sources of funding to be clarified in the planning phase can be:
foreign student loans, German scholarships (e.g. SBB), foreign scholarships, sports scholarships, savings, parents, employer subsidy, (KfW) student loan,…
After returning, I then had to prove to my home university that the certificates had been passed and that the foreign courses had been covered. As I said, it is best to find out beforehand what the German professors need for crediting.
In retrospect, it was really a fantastic time, which will certainly develop your personality, deepen your language skills and create new friendships.
Ultimately, I can recommend everyone to take their time in the busy day-to-day student life and to take a semester abroad or at least one semester break summer term. Wherever you go, you will definitely not regret it.