My study abroad in the USA – Fall Semester 2011 at California State University Fullerton, CA
Since the beginning of my studies I had planned to do a semester abroad. Finally, in the winter semester of 2011, I went to California State University Fullerton (CSUF) for a semester.
Preparation & application
The semester abroad required long-term planning, which can be very difficult, especially with regard to the visa application, but the effort is definitely worth it. But first I had to think about where exactly I wanted to study in the United States. As a cultural studies student, I initially chose the United States. Factors that played a role in the exact selection of the university were e.g. E.g .: courses offered by the university (for the purpose of crediting at the home university) as well as the amount of the associated tuition fees (if no partner university); Reputation of the university (quality of support etc.) and also local characteristics. Since I am very interested in film and cultural studies,
After the university of my choice was determined, I applied for a scholarship. I submitted my application in mid-April and was accepted at the beginning of May for the semester abroad that started in August.
Since my home university does not have a partnership with a Californian university, I then had to apply to the CSUF as a private person. A great help was found with your website – an organization that helps free of charge with applications to, among others, Californian universities (similar to the Ranke-Heinemann Institute for applications to Australian / New Zealand universities). On your website there is, for example, an overview with information on language requirements, tuition fees, application deadlines and courses offered by many universities (Caution: the information should be understood as a guide and should always be checked on the respective university website, as changes may be made at short notice can come).
After all the documents had been submitted, it took a few weeks for the university to accept the application. Only with the I-20 form handed out by the CSUF was I finally able to apply for a student visa (F-1) at the US Embassy in Berlin. Here, too, the appointment should be booked early at the embassy, as weeks of waiting can be expected, especially in the summer months. In order to receive the visa, it is mandatory to appear for an “interview” on site. In fact, however, this “interview” consisted of just two short questions (1. What do you want to do in the United States? 2. How do you plan to fund it?). In order to be able to substantiate your statements, you should bring evidence to the interview (e.g. acceptance of the scholarship).
In the course of the preparation, I also found out about possible foreign health insurance, as these can usually only be taken out in Germany before the start of the trip. Unfortunately, however, I was forced to take out insurance from the university, which at around $ 300 was significantly more expensive than German international insurance. Finally, I had to look for a temporary tenant because I didn’t want to give up my room in Germany – depending on the time of the search (start of the semester; end of the lecture period) and the location of the room, this can be more difficult than initially thought, so that enough time is planned here as well should be.
Arrival and life in Fullerton
After a 13-hour flight with a change in London, I finally landed in Los Angeles from cool Berlin and took a shuttle bus straight to my university. The CSUF has an International Students Office (ISO), where I first had to register and where I was also helped with my apartment search. Since I was flying to California without a permanent home, I stayed in a cheap motel for the first few days. That was not a nice experience because a woman there asked for help who had lost everything in her life and now wanted to have all her belongings carried into a hotel room. The “American Dream” remained unfulfilled, at least for them. I also had a rather unpleasant experience on the drive to the hotel, as the taxi driver wanted to cheat me. The first time in Fullerton was generally quite exhausting, as the semester had not yet started and I was quite disoriented. Incidentally, I couldn’t believe that I hardly ever saw people running along the streets or on bicycles – instead, tons of (large) cars were driving up and down the streets at all times.
Fullerton is a classic little suburb of Los Angeles and flows seamlessly into other cities like Anaheim or Placentia. For me it was a bit strange that the cities are literally divided up. Large parts consist only of streets with small shops on the sides. In addition, there are purely residential areas, areas with huge shopping malls and finally downtown Fullerton with many bars. The university is right on the freeway, not too far from downtown Fullerton. The offered dorms (student dormitories on campus) were out of the question for me as they were combined with three meals which drove the price up to over $ 1000 / month. However, I didn’t want to live too far away from the university either, so I first looked through apartment advertisements on craigslist.org. Even if many students are looking for an apartment at the beginning of the semester, it is not too difficult to find a place. There are plenty of apartments, also near the university. Many of the Germans I met shared an apartment together. However, that was out of the question for me because I was looking for contact with Americans. I found many offers, but most of them were unfurnished, which was not my first choice. A few days later I spoke again with Jessica Hammond from the ISO, who is responsible for housing brokerage. I have seldom seen such tireless, friendly and helpful employees at a university. One day later she offered me a place in the “Homestay” program. As a result, I spent the semester with an American host family with whom I did a lot. And there is really a lot to do in the sunny state: National parks, Las Vegas is not too far away, fantastic beaches, Hollywood, San Francisco, San Diego with its large zoo, Death Valley and much, much more. Those who like to drive or fly a little further can also make a detour to Mexico or Hawaii.
University & Events
The events at the university differed from those in Germany in several ways. On the one hand, you attend significantly fewer courses per semester (as a foreign student only four), which are more time-consuming (4 SWS / week). On the other hand, the learning culture was designed to be much more open and participatory than in most of my German events. Due to the relatively small number of events, the purely quantitative increase in knowledge was less than I was used to up to now. Nonetheless, I’ve had some of the best seminars in the States in all of my college years. The excellent quality of the seminars was largely thanks to the lecturers, who were always approachable and extremely helpful both in and outside of the events – for example, a lecturer invited me to his home for a coffee to discuss a question with me. In the events themselves, you were consistently challenged, as you had to write exams or papers again and again. In addition, there were isolated group presentations, which were always fun, as I got to know the American students as very friendly, collegial, easy-going, but also determined. Probably the most exciting seminar was “Film – TV Industry”. On the one hand, the lecturers were extremely easy-going, helpful and funny. At the same time, however, they challenged the students with five unannounced quizzes, a mid-term exam and a final exam. Above all, the presence and “taking part” were important. Attendance was never checked, but those who weren’t at the meetings had a very difficult time in the exams. What I particularly liked about all the seminars was that there were always references to “real life”. Theory was not viewed in isolation from current world events, but always treated with reference to it. In the film seminar, for example, this was expressed in the fact that we had many guest speakers from Hollywood who had worked on large productions (e.g. Shrek, 2012, Heat). In addition, the guest speakers were from different areas of the film industry – for example screenwriters, actors, cameraman. And the two lecturers are also active in the film business – among other things, Bob Engels helped write the script for a Twin Peaks episode. Fortunately, the students (most of them studied “Radio, TV, Video & Film”) were given a glimpse behind the scenes of Hollywood in clear words (“More important than a good script are good contacts”). Finally, we had to set up our own production company in groups, write a script for an episode of a new series / film, shoot a trailer (alternatively, cut existing video material into a trailer) and present the result to the audience. Even if it was a lot of work, everyone in the seminar had noticeably fun and some really high-quality trailers were presented. Check ehuacom to see more reviews from current students.
My second seminar dealt with “Mass Communication in Modern Society”. Here, too, the atmosphere was very good. What I particularly liked was that the lecturer was often critical of his own country and the government – for example in the media staging of Jessica Lynch’s “rescue operation”. In general, I have met many Americans who are aware that the reputation of the United States in the world has suffered significantly over the past decades and who are more critical of their nation than expected – but without appearing unpatriotic. I would like to emphasize that the lecturer asked the students to do something unusual, namely to write a blog on a topic of their own choice. Blogs are far more common in America than in Germany. Blogs are also a means of self-marketing. For example, an older student wrote a blog about beer in a seminar. Some beer companies became aware of this and contacted him. The student now makes his living with the income from his blog. And even if I was skeptical at first, I really enjoyed writing my blog.
Another task in the seminar was to spend a day completely without media and to log media consumption for a week and then write a reflection on it. I was enthusiastic about these tasks, as they stimulated students to question what is now taken for granted and to reconsider it critically.
In addition, a paper and three exams were written in this seminar. You shouldn’t necessarily expect a “foreigner bonus” because almost all of my exams consisted of multiple choice questions – either you got your answers right or you weren’t.
In summary, it can be said that the events all demanded a lot and continuously, but all of this was manageable with a little effort. In particular, I found the contact between students and lecturers to be very pleasant, as the lecturers meet you at eye level and are always approachable.
As a student of cultural studies, I did not only draw my professional profit from the university events. Outside of the seminars, I got a lot closer to the country and got to understand the culture and the Americans better – especially thanks to my host family, with whom I had so many great moments.
Besides all the positive things, I also want to mention some negative things that I didn’t like. At first I was a little disappointed with the teaching conditions. The university campus looked fantastic with palm trees, swimming pool and fitness center, but some of the seminar rooms were in poor condition. The number of participants in the events was also astonishingly high, so that I was initially excluded from a course. When building the timetable, you should therefore have some alternative events ready, as it is not certain that you will be admitted to all of the desired events. Alternatively, you can go to the first session of the respective event and ask the lecturer whether you will still be admitted (course crashing). If you consider the tuition fees of several thousand euros, the given framework conditions seemed quite sobering. The university’s health insurance, which had to be taken out, also annoyed me because part of my tooth broke off and treatment was not covered by the insurance. I was also a bit stunned when, despite the semester fee of $ 4200 paid, I was charged additional costs for the proof of my completed courses (Transcript of records) ($ 8 for three sheets of paper). The tuition fees left me wondering again and again because, with the exception of the beautiful campus, I couldn’t see where all the money is being invested and benefiting the students. Unfortunately, the on-campus fitness center was also not included in the fees and cost a modest $ 25 / month. In general, one should be aware that the cost of living in California is generally quite high. Whether homestay or just a room in an apartment – you should expect rent of $ 600-800 per month.
Outside of the university, I was particularly negatively surprised by the public transport. There are buses, but some of them only run every 60 minutes. No comparison to a big city or even a medium-sized small town in Germany. Most of my friends therefore bought a cheap car together. I used buses, my bike, rode with friends or rented my own car for longer trips.
One last thing that I wasn’t really disappointed with, but that made me appreciate Europe more: the architecture. As impressive as the nature and beaches of California are, the cityscape is so sober. At least in the suburbs of Los Angeles, more is being built in width than in height, with the houses all looking similarly simple. My friends and I had to laugh when I was invited to church for Christmas. For a moment I had typical imposing stone churches in front of my eyes, but what I found was just a large, one-story rectangular building. A former diaper factory, as Americans later told me with a smile.
Nevertheless, these negative aspects were ultimately marginal and cannot tarnish the consistently positive overall picture of my semester abroad.
What did the course ultimately bring? Was all the effort worth it? Definitely yes. The greatest benefit was clearly that the opportunity was given to look “outside the box” of everyday German university life and at the same time to be able to look at German studies from the outside. The semester abroad is also the best opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and experience it. It has been said and written many times before, and I can only confirm it: the semester abroad as part of the course is an opportunity that every student should take advantage of, if he can. You should also not be afraid to apply for scholarships in order to be able to pay the usually very high tuition fees at foreign universities. The semester abroad was one of the best if not the best semester of my studies so far. In terms of planning, the semester abroad should be planned at least 6 months in advance, or better still 9-12 months in advance.
Anyone who travels to a foreign country not only to study there, but also wants to get to know the country, the people and the culture, should not commit too closely to other German students at the beginning. Contact with Germans is made quickly, but there is a “danger” that one can easily isolate oneself from the new influences. The best way to get used to the new culture is to move in with the Americans (either in a shared apartment or in a host family).
All in all, I had an incredibly good time in Fullerton and can only recommend a semester there.