In order to start from scratch, many students, including myself, are faced with the decision in the course of their studies to either complete a semester in the form of an internship or to spend a semester in the same subject at a college or university abroad. Each exit has its own advantages and disadvantages, which everyone should think about in advance and be aware of. In both cases, however, you are largely on your own. While a practical semester certainly offers a lot of experience in terms of subject-related content and an insight into later professional life, a semester abroad is associated with a lot of organizational effort, but at the same time offers the opportunity to broaden your language skills and horizons. Furthermore, there is the opportunity to get to know a different school system and a different culture. Apart from what my potential future employers would prefer to see on my résumé, I personally decided to spend a semester abroad given several reasons. In the following, I will therefore first explain the course of my decision-making process. Furthermore, I will summarize my planning, from the choice of the university, through the application, to the stay itself, and finally I will list my experiences and assess something.
Decision making process
Personally, I thought about studying abroad at a very early stage and accordingly pushed through my tendencies in this regard. Nonetheless, I made my decision very late because I wanted to be fully convinced of it. The first question I asked about the semester abroad was:
(1) What do I really want?
Since everyone makes their own decision based on different ideas, it is difficult to give advice on this question. Personally, I have thought about whether I would like to use these six months to gain an insight into my future professional life and practice or whether I wanted to expand my perception and my field of vision on my field of study and the world in general. Since I am very satisfied with my studies, but do not yet quite know where exactly I want to end up, the idea of an internship sounded to me as if I were committed to something that I am not really sure about yet am right in the clear. Since I am in the field of energy technology and resource optimization, when I decided to focus on renewable energies, I knew in which direction I wanted to work, but not yet exactly where. So it seemed convenient to me to get a little more insight into subject areas that overlap with my primary studies. In my case it was environmental science and resource management. On the other hand, I asked myself the question:
(2) What do I trust myself to do?
The thought of moving to a foreign country or even another continent on your own for six months in order to expand your knowledge of energy technology in a foreign language and to get to know other people and their mentality and culture was a bit intimidating at first, but also very attractive. So at this point I thought about the prerequisites and consequences for a long time. In this case, too, everyone is knitted differently. Do I really want to be away from my friends, relatives and other people who are important to me for so long? On the other hand, the idea of being able to stand on my own two feet in another country without much help and take care of myself there was too promising to let go of it. In the end, it’s only six months and you come back much more open-minded, more experienced and more confident. Everything that stays at home, such as relationships, family or other career matters, is seen again and it can wait if it really matters. Since answering these questions provided the basis for the next steps, I continued to take care of further requirements in the International Office at my university.
As already mentioned in advance, and not sufficiently emphasized, the timely start for the entire planning is the alpha and omega. In order to ensure sufficient buffer, it is therefore only an advantage to think about everything as early as possible. After I was informed about the necessary conditions and forms in the International Office, I was quickly referred to an institution that places students at universities abroad. In addition to the partner universities already offered, I had other alternatives that I could consider. With the help of MicroEDU, I then first have the university with a suitable field of study and continued my planning there. I made the selection here based on its agreement with my field of study and my given language skills. The requirements vary from country to country and from university to university.
A visa, proof of financial support and a language certificate are generally required for all universities in the USA. With regard to the visa, it is again very important to start organizing early enough, as the application and enforcement of the visa can take several months. Proof of financial support is usually the amount of money that has to be raised in total to support travel costs, tuition fees and living expenses for the entire period during the stay. This proof can be obtained from state subsidies such as the Auslands-BAföG, from partial or full scholarships as well as from your own bank with the corresponding capital. At this point it is advantageous to take every opportunity for funding in the form of a scholarship. I personally applied for two different scholarships and, with a little effort, received the PROMOS study grant.
There are also several options for obtaining a language certificate, which take up more or less costs. Depending on the language and requirements of the university, a DAAD language certificate, which is offered free of charge in some universities, may be sufficient. In many cases, however, a TOEFL or DELPH certificate is required, which in turn is subject to a fee. The test itself consists of listening and reading comprehension as well as the ability to communicate in the chosen language at a certain level. After receiving and sending all the necessary documents, you will receive a confirmation or a rejection, depending on the degree of desire of the university. Since my university, California State University Channel Islands, is relatively new and therefore international students are a little more in demand, I got an acceptance pretty quickly. Once the university has confirmed its acceptance, the next steps can be taken. Personally, I booked a flight as soon as I received my approval, but I arranged for an apartment too late.
Personally, I found an apartment at the very last minute with more recklessness and luck. However, since you cannot always rely on chance, it is important to look out for free rooms in advance. Either you meet up with fellow students who speak the same language in advance or you try to find accommodation with local residents. Since I did not take sufficient care of an apartment, I traveled from city to city in the first 2 weeks and got a place to sleep by couch surfing with strangers, helpful people until my final destination Camarillo, the city where I studied secured. Couch surfing in itself is a very good way to make contacts and slowly but surely find yourself on site. However, the smaller the cities, the less likely it is to find someone who will take you in for free. The experience itself was as exhausting as it was unplanned due to the travel, but still very enriching and worth all the unwanted extra effort due to the knowledge of human nature. In the meantime, I got to know a lot of new people, quickly gained a completely different view of everything and immediately got into the everyday fluency of the language because I had to converse in English throughout. Aside from that, the residents of each city were mostly my respective hosts very helpful, brought me closer to the area and some of the local knowledge, sometimes even with regard to my field of study.
Furthermore, it can be difficult to find permanent and cheap accommodation for a longer stay. After the couch surfing, I went looking for a flat with two other German students in California at the last minute and noticed a lot. Most of the apartment complexes are very expensive and have extra requirements for international students. As a result, the negotiations can get more or less complicated. The prices for a moderately cheap 3-person apartment are, for example, between 700-800 US dollars per person, plus expenses for electricity, water, etc. Since the apartment search in the group was unsuccessful, we went looking for rooms individually. You are actually on the safer side if you go looking for a room on your own. Social media or Craigslist are helpful for this, and in many cases the university abroad can help you if you get in touch with those responsible early enough. I myself am through Ventura County Housing Groups to a room in a 4-person household advised by American students. That way I was lucky enough to keep my rental costs at $ 550 and saved quite a bit.
Choosing a course is a stage that can run parallel to looking for an apartment. Since the grades can be very different in another school system, it is important to discuss this with a supervisor from your home college or university in advance. This can preferably be a professor, your head of studies or someone from the International Office. Because in most cases you have to be present for the choice of courses on site you should think about various course options in advance, as many courses can overlap and lead to problems. In this way you can also take a first look at the more detailed course content and the professors themselves. The problem with choosing a course in the USA is that the “more popular” courses are often already taken by the time you go to university for the first time. It is therefore usually necessary to consider courses that may differ in content from your own field of study. Since “course crashing”mostly not limited to just one subject area anyway, you can use this point to further diversify your own courses. For example, many of the students I met but were still in their first year took a course in psychology, a course in economics, and a course in chemistry or biology. The courses themselves have nothing to do with each other in terms of content, but it is possible. If you do not have the opportunity to take thematic courses that are directly related to your own field of study, it is easier to inquire about courses that overlap with your own primary study.
Once the signatures have been collected and the courses set, nothing stands in the way of your study visit. From that point on, you attend your chosen subjects, learn and take exams as you normally would at your home university. The experiences I’ve had with the American school system have been largely positive. Due to the fact that the final grade is made up of several intermediate grades over the semester, it is easier to achieve a solid, good grade. However, in some cases it can get more complicated if you work in depth with the specialist vocabulary. All in all, with the increasing demands, only positive results are achieved.
Experience and tips
Before and during my study visit, I learned several helpful ways of life for my everyday life as well as experiences in general that are more or less obvious. As in Germany, there are supermarket chains in the United States that are more or less expensive. Since I had to work there for six months with a certain monthly capital, it was important for me not to live on finished products and the like in the long run. In most cases, you learn to cook easily yourself if you haven’t already mastered it.
It also helps not to drive to the REWE equivalent every time to do the weekly shopping. So if you have the chance, look out for cheaper stores like Smart & Final or a 99, – cents store. But that doesn’t mean you should turn over every penny twice. At the same time, you should always keep in mind that money is not everything and that being stingy gets you as far as throwing money out the window and living on fast food every day. Definitely don’t stay at home if you don’t have to. Go out, take the bike or the bus and take a look at the city, the country and the river.Go out with friends, sit down in cafes, talk to people and get to know one or the other better. The way I got to know it, people were often much more open than in Germany. You broaden your horizons, make contacts and, in rare cases, make good friends. Don’t limit yourself to just one city. Personally, I haven’t seen individual places or things, but got to know my hometown a little better.
In order to be able to travel, you either need your own car or you have to rely on public transport. Especially in the United States of America, the buses and trains are much more irregular than in Europe. The only exceptions here are large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami or similar. Personally, I bought a bike for on site, as supermarkets and other shops were in the immediate vicinity. I also had to plan a few days in advance for trips to other cities. So if you live with other foreign students, it can be helpful to have a used car on site to buy for the semester stay and to split the purchase price. You should just make sure to put it up for sale again in good time so as not to be left with the costs. For public transport it is just important not to be overwhelmed by the mass of bus routes. If you take 30 minutes to read the timetables and are dependent on them, you will quickly learn by heart which public transport will take you where at what intervals. The last option, at least in California, is to drive Uber. Uber is only the online brokerage of driving services. It is usually cheaper than taking a taxi and therefore a good middle ground as a means of transport, especially if you are traveling in small groups.
According to andyeducation.com, Camarillo in itself is one of the many small towns in Ventura County, with many students but a similar number of families and elderly residents. Since Camarillo is not really big, you can find your way around relatively quickly. If you first land in Los Angeles by plane and take the train to Camarillo, you can either take the Ventura County Line of the Metrolink offers or the slightly more expensive Amtrak train. With Camarillo as the main station, the regular travel times are much less regular than in Germany. It is therefore an advantage to read the timetables online before arriving. If you arrive at the Metrolink station by train, you only have a few public transport options, but depending on your needs, these are often sufficient. During the semester, for example, a bus runs every 30 minutes to the California State University Channel Islands and back, Monday through Friday. As a student, you either pay 1.25-3.00 US dollars per trip or you can buy a semester ticket on campus for 25 dollars, with which you can use the Vista buses in Camarillo free of charge until the end of the semester. The Vista buses include a bus that takes you to college in Oxnard, a bus that can take you south to Thousand Oaks or north to Ventura to the beach, and buses that go to Santa Barbara and Ventura drive back. So lots of travel options for $ 25 if you familiarize yourself with the bus timetables.
Apart from the buses, a small tram runs from the Metrolink station along Ventura Boulevard and almost parallel back again. Also every 30 minutes, with only a small fixed route, but free of charge and therefore perhaps an advantage.
At the university itself, you are integrated relatively quickly. Since the CSUCI is just 14 years old, the courses are usually divided into small groups depending on their popularity. So the professors can cater to you better and you are really seen as a student rather than a temporary matriculation number. The very green campus and the moderate library are accordingly never really overcrowded. You shouldn’t be afraid to speak to new people if you have any questions. Everyone on campus is really helpful. There is also the possibility to dine in several places on campus or to do sports in the Recreation Center or to inquire about clubs. Participation in sports clubs is not mandatory, but it helps to get to know other students better and to try out new things. These include, for example, the surf club, a sailing club, power fitness groups and much more. Next, on-campus living is sure to have a certain attractiveness for every freshman. But if you have the opportunity, I can only recommend not to live on campus,
Last but not least is the city of Camarilloeven divided very simply. There are about 4-5 main streets that run almost completely parallel, every 2-4 miles larger squares with different markets or restaurants and a small district called Old Town. From my own experience of my stay and as others have told me, Camarillo is also a very quiet city when it comes to crime, as 99 percent of the time, there are never any incidents. The well-known outlet on Ventura Boulevard has a lot to offer, but it’s not always as cheap as you might imagine. Old Town in Camarillo has a few restaurants and bars to offer, but if you want to treat yourself to an evening after all that studying, Ventura is often the better stop, as there are more hip locations in downtown, the city center, and it is very close to Beach lies.
The last insider tip from me when you are there in Camarillo, California: Visit “In-n-Out Burger” and “Burger Barn”. In Ventura you should visit the “Palermo” in downtown and the “Tavern” in the evening.