Spontaneously to the semester abroad / the best experience ever
Preparation and organization
After I somehow came across MicroEDU, the adventure of a semester abroad in the USA started. Theoretically, you can apply to universities in the USA in this way, but MicroEDU was and is a very good help with the mountain of organization. I can still remember having tons of questions and each one was answered quickly!
Before you go abroad to study, there is indeed a huge amount of work to do. It seemed so big to me because I planned my semester abroad very spontaneously and at short notice – a few months in advance (at the beginning of the year I had no thought of the USA, in the fall I already studied there). I warmly recommend starting planning a year in advance – but they don’t have to be, as my example shows. With enough stress resistance and the necessary ambition, the whole thing can also be done on a short-term basis. Nevertheless, one should not underestimate the fact that there is a lot of bureaucratic work to be done and that, as is well known, it can take time.
Starting with the passport, which is still the simplest task, transcripts of records from your previous courses are required for the application. A language test, which I was able to take at my university for free, is also part of it. This language test was also quite humane (ok, I also study English, but as long as school English was less than ten years ago, it should be possible). I took out international health insurance with AXA. Make sure, however, that you get a letter from your insurance company that really lists ALL of the points required by the American university. I had to follow up with the insurance company, but everything went well in the end. (Note from MicroEDU: Since spring 2012 all international semester students have to take out health insurance from CSULB.)
But the visa is the greatest fun of all: a specially made photo, additional fees, a nerve-wracking online procedure beforehand and no American embassy nearby (NRW has everything else…). After all, I didn’t have to wait as long there (in Frankfurt) as I’ve heard from others. Read more student reviews on Maternityetchic.
And then there was the Auslandsbafög. Without this it would not have been possible for me to study in the USA. The organization is a bit chaotic here, as the university wants a financial confirmation that you are able to finance the semester abroad, but you only get it from the student loan office when the university has accepted – very paradoxical the whole thing, but it has yes it somehow worked.
Last but not least, you should book your flights as early as possible. Since I only got there shortly before departure, my flights were correspondingly expensive. Many people ask when it is best to fly over and when to book the return flight. Under no circumstances do I recommend arriving in the States until the start of the semester. The time I had before was sometimes the best, because apart from a few purchases you have nothing to do and can settle in well. In addition, at the start of the semester you have the same tan as the Southern Californians;-). You can stay there for a while after the semester.
The first impressions will blow your mind, at least that’s what they did to me. I would have wished for such a beautiful campus with so many opportunities in Germany. Lots of billiard tables, a bowling alley, a “gambler’s room” with consoles, a pool and lots of fast food chains – that’s the way to live. It is not so nice that there are many windowless seminar rooms.
Probably the most negative point is the battle for course places, which has been criticized by many. Considering the fact that we even pay more tuition fees than the American students, but are not allowed to register for courses in advance and then have to humiliatingly beg for them as a mob at the beginning of the semester, that’s tough stuff. What is even worse is that the American students already have course plans, books and all kinds of information about the course that are available online, but you will only get access to them once you have all of your courses. It took me three weeks to put my courses together. Admittedly, I also strived for the best courses and a good timetable, which is why it took a while. You will already get enough courses – definitely! Oh yes, You can use the desired course list as an orientation, but in the end I had completely different courses than planned. Once you have survived these first weeks, you have to do a lot for the university (MUCH more than you are used to in Germany), but then comes the nice part of the semester abroad.
Basically it can be said that the lecturers are all super friendly and teach you a lot (in terms of the material: one semester in the USA = ~ three semesters in Germany – that’s how it felt to me). You have to get used to having classes twice a week or just under three hours. Before that, I was upset for over 90 minutes in Germany – I take that back. Depending on the course level (e.g. 100 or 400) there are of course differences, depending on how far along you are with your studies. My 400 courses were a huge hit, while 300 courses were already looser.
In addition to my teacher training courses, I also had three sports courses, which I advise everyone to do! In no other course did I have so much fun and so much contact with Americans. So if you want to get to know native students this is a good possibility. Otherwise it can happen that you are only among international students, which is fun, but somehow does not make sense, especially since the international students are primarily Germans and one actually has enough of German students here.
California is the best place to study in the States, and Long Beach is centrally located in California, so where else go? On the subject of cars, it can be said that in the USA you are stupid without it. Yanks are the laziest people I’ve ever met. If the cars weren’t that big, they’d drive to the mailbox in front of the house themselves. In fact, they drive routes where even a bicycle would be an exaggeration. They don’t even know how to run. If you know it and are good at it, everything is possible without a car. I did have blisters on my feet several times, for example when exploring cities like San Francisco without a car, but it can be done. Within Long Beach you can take the bus for free with your student ticket and the day ticket for the metro (Los Angeles County) costs a humane $ 5.
In order to reach more distant destinations, like the aforementioned San Francisco, a car is necessary (otherwise train or plane). But since you automatically get to know a lot of students, you usually share one, which can be quite cheap (recommended car rental company: Alamo). I myself have been to San Francisco twice, constantly to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego and on a road trip via Arizona past the Grand Canyon up to Utah to Bryce Canyon; not to mention the many nearby coastal towns such as Santa Monica, Venice, Huntington and Newport Beach.
In Long Beach itself it is also very nice and as long as you are 21 (if you are younger, wait until you go to the USA!) 2nd Street is the place where you will spend many evenings and where you will quickly meet a lot of nice Americans learns. They are much more open than we Germans.
I also have to say something about the weather: pack WARM things! I have rarely frozen as much as in Southern California. At night it gets cool, which is nice in summer, but uncomfortable in autumn at the latest, when you just come from the beach with flip-flops and short clothes. And the thin cardboard walls of the American houses are not exactly heat-storing either. You wake up in the morning to a frozen schnitzel. But the sun shines almost continuously (only experienced rain for a total of one week).
Now that I’ve written so much, I’ll be a little shorter now. The semester abroad in Long Beach was the best time of my life! Financially it’s a disaster. In spite of the foreign bafög, a lot of self-saved money had to be believed in order to be able to take full advantage of the semester. Studying in the US just costs a lot (my books alone cost $ 300). And all the organizational stress is nerve-wracking. Still: it’s worth it! I have mentioned all negative things here, you will still experience all positive things;-). If somehow there is an opportunity to study there – don’t think twice – do it! Even if it starts out difficult, it will be an unforgettable experience that will look great on your résumé.
PS I met Hugh Jackman in LA and got an autograph as well as a handshake;-)