Since the beginning of my master’s degree, I knew I wanted to spend a semester abroad in California. Since my university has no partnerships with California, I decided to go abroad as a “free mover”. The advantage of being a free mover is obvious:
- You are not tied to the partner universities of your home university and can therefore choose your personal university abroad.
On the other hand, there are of course also disadvantages:
- You have to apply to the university of your choice yourself,
- You have to look for the courses yourself from the course catalog and make sure that these are also offered in the respective semester,
- And of course you are responsible for finding accommodation yourself.
However, these disadvantages turned out to be challenges that make the semester abroad more exciting and make you a lot more independent. Above all, in the end you are not completely alone with these challenges. The MicroEDU team was at my side right from the start.
Planning, organization and application at the host institution
You are doing yourself a great favor by taking care of the planning and organization of the semester abroad very early on. For me the preparation started about 10 months in advance. First of all, I checked out the MicroEDU website to find out which universities in California offer a semester abroad for master’s students. Another requirement was the course. After I had identified 2 to 3 favorites, I requested information packages from MicroEDU about my favorite universities and let the nice team advise me on my selection. In the end, my choice fell on California State University San Marcos, which is about a 30-minute drive north of San Diego is located. After my selection, the language certificate followed. This could be achieved through the TOEFL test (internet-based) as well as the IELTS and a DAAD language test. I decided on the DAAD language test because it was offered monthly at my home university and at € 30 it is a lot cheaper than the other two variants.
Not much was missing until I sent my application. In addition to financial evidence, the only thing missing was filling in the application form and choosing a personal course. All documents were then sent to MicroEDU for inspection. MicroEDU checked my documents for completeness and forwarded them to the host university. On March 9th, I finally received my acceptance, about 6 months before the start of the semester abroad.
Immediately after receiving my approval, I made an appointment at the American embassy in Frankfurt. The whole process was less complicated than expected and the visa appointment on site was pretty quick. Just 15 minutes and I was outside. I was only asked what exactly I am planning to do in the USA and how I will finance my semester abroad. My passport with the visa was sent to me within a week.
Like every university, the CSUSM also requires proof that you have taken out health insurance abroad. I completed this through HanseMerkur. The monthly premium was € 41 and the requirements of the CSUSM were met with the basic variant. According to AbbreviationFinder.org, CSUSM is the abbreviation of California State University, San Marcos.
The CSUSM requires international students to prove that they have been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella and also to confirm that they do not have tuberculosis. The former is not a big expense. There are 2 variants I know of for the tuberculosis test. You can either have your family doctor take an x-ray of your lungs or undergo a tuberculin skin test. I then had to show these receipts to the university on the first day.
For my semester abroad I have set up an online account at the Deutsche Kredit Bank (DKB). You get a free credit card (VISA) with which you can withdraw money from almost all ATMs for a small fee ($ 2- $ 5). Any fees incurred can be reimbursed unbureaucratically on request.
There are two alternatives when looking for accommodation. You can either look after accommodation from Germany or you can do it directly on site. The first variant sounds very convenient, but it is not an advantage if you are looking for private apartments or shared rooms on Craigslist, as there are a lot of fraudsters around. However, if you intend to move into the student dormitory, it is advisable to do so from Germany. The dormitory is called “The Quad” and here you can apply for private or shared bedrooms. Unfortunately, for financial reasons, I cannot recommend the dormitory as it is quite expensive (around $ 1,200 per month with all the trimmings). Also worth mentioning are the strict rules that await you in the dormitory: no high-proof alcohol on the entire premises; no alcohol at all in the room if you have roommates who are under 21; if all roommates are 21 or older, either just a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine, everything else is confiscated by the guards. Loud music is not allowed to be played after 10 p.m., whether during the week or on the weekend, and the guards like to go from room to room. Failure to comply with these rules will lead to an interview with the university dean.
On the other hand, life in the quad can also be quite nice. There is a pool, several barbecue areas, your own fitness studio and of course you get to know a lot of other students, since most of the dorms are occupied by 6-8 students.
I decided on the second option, to look for a place to stay on site. So that I had enough time to look for apartments on site, I decided to fly to the States 14 days before the orientation week began.
Arrived in the USA
On August 10, 2015, my plane landed at San Diego International Airport. The only thing I had organized from Germany was a stay in a hostel in San Diego. From here I started looking for an apartment. I wrote to a number of apartments through Craigslist that had private rooms available. 8 days later I found a room in San Marcos, which I moved into on August 19th.
San Marcos and the surrounding area
San Marcos is a fairly small town with around 80,000 residents. The options for going out are just as small. There are some (sports) bars, but no clubs. If you still want to party, it’s not far by car to Encinitas (25 min.) Or San Diego (35 min.). San Marcos doesn’t have any clubs, but it won’t be long before you get to know students who often throw a party, be it in their private apartments or, despite the ban, in the student dormitory. There will certainly be no shortage of “house parties”. But after all, you don’t just go abroad to party 😉 Because San Marcos is the perfect place if you don’t want to be far from university and still relatively close to both the beach and downtown, San Diego. Even if the surrounding cities and beaches can be reached by public transport, it is advisable to have your own car. Because even the way to a supermarket is very long.
Anyone who cannot afford their own car can always find someone who would like to share one. Since I’ve rented a car myself, I can only recommend it. We were three students who shared the car. So if you want to rent a car, I recommend firstly to rent it together with other students and secondly over the entire period, because that way you can negotiate the price better. We paid a total of $ 1,500 for 3 months and were insured with our car not only in San Diego County, but also in Los Angeles County. The cheapest car rental companies are:
Experience with studying at CSUSM
Cal State San Marcos is one of the youngest members of the California State University system . It has been around since 1989 and it looks accordingly. Modern buildings and also modern equipment. It has a large library equipped with many PCs. In addition to two cafés, there are numerous restaurants, such as Panda Express or WOW American Grill, on campus. The university has its own store that sells books and merchandising items. In addition to a football / soccer or baseball field, there is also a Recreation Center on campus, which costs around $ 60 per semester for exchange students.
Now to my chosen courses. As mentioned at the beginning of my report, I submitted a list of my preferred courses with my application. Afterwards, however, a lot has changed and you always have to stay in contact with those responsible in the USA so that your choice of course is really taken into account. My desired courses overlapped, which is why I had to be a little flexible. Another condition is that you have to get exactly 9 units, ie in the master’s only 3 courses of 3 units each are possible. In addition, it must be noted that one does not choose courses from different cohorts and and and. Unfortunately, all of this was not communicated by MicroEDU at the time of my application, which is why it was really difficult to get his timetable up and running. In the end everything worked out to my satisfaction, after numerous e-mails and personal discussions with those responsible on site. So my courses were set:
- BA 615: Statistics for Management
- BA 616: Organizational Behavior & HR Management
- BA 625: Business Analytics
Overall, it can be said that the higher education system in the USA is much more academic than in Germany, both in the Bachelor and in the Master. Weekly assignments, several exams, individual and group projects with final term papers and presentations or individual journals are the order of the day. Even if the material is a little easier for us German exchange students, the effort involved should not be underestimated.
My courses took place as part of an MBA program (more precisely: FEMBA – Fully Employed Master of Business Administration ). This means that the courses took place late in the evening (from 5:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.) or on Saturdays (from 9:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.) and the students were mainly employed in Ages between 28 and 45 acted. The really good thing about this program, however, is that, in contrast to the bachelor’s degree, you sit in the course with very few Germans. In one course we were 2, in the other two 3 and 4 Germans. The fellow students were very open towards us. Due to their age, job and family, however, it made getting to know each other more difficult within the master’s program.
Everyday life and free time
The cost of living in California is quite high. Regardless of whether rental prices or shopping in the supermarket. Especially when you crave dairy products or good, healthy bread. In contrast, clothing and fuel are many times cheaper than in Germany. If you want to eat cheaply, the best thing to do is to go to one of the many fast food chains. In-N-Out Burger, Carls Jr., Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Panda Express, Five Guys and many more. Among these, In-N-Out Burger is by far the tastiest and inexpensive variant. A bikini figure is guaranteed by visiting these chains;)
Regarding leisure activities, it can be said that in my entire life I have never experienced such a multifaceted leisure time as in California. Along the Pacific Coast Highway there are many endless and beautiful beaches that are very easy to reach by car. If you want to visit a safari park, you don’t have to drive long from San Marcos. If you want to see an NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS or NHL game, you are in good hands in Southern California. When it comes to going out, numerous discos and bars await you in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, would you like to have a cozy beer? Take a look around the neighborhood (Escondido, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas). On Tuesdays you shouldn’t miss Taco Tuesday in Pacific Beach (San Diego). If you don’t want to go far, just switch off in San Marcos and enjoy the view, visit the Double Peak Park. Do you want the full roar of nature? Then you should visit the numerous national parks:
Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon – Arizona, Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Yosemite – California, Zion – Utah. You see, it never stops.
Conclusion (best and worst experience)
Overall, California was like a dream that I didn’t wake up from until the day I left. The most important thing about a stay in California is not to be disturbed, to enjoy the sun on the beaches and to make as many new contacts as possible. Even if the university can become a minor matter with the diversity that California has to offer, you should always stay on the ball.
The best experiences for me were definitely the trips to the different cities and national parks in and around California. The great people from the USA and around the world that I met during my stay made this experience very special.