Things to do before going abroad
Shared by: nfj14094
1 Von: Silvana Astudillo E-Mail: Silvana.Astudillo@gmx.de California, the Golden State - this state has always been a fascination for me. Many connotations like Hollywood, palm trees, long sandy beaches, wealth, gold, Beverly Hills, Baywatch, The O.C. and most of all sunshine come up when I think about it. Having had the chance to study one semester there, more specific: in San Diego, made one of my biggest dreams come true and I hope that in the following I can give you some insight of why this has been one of my greatest semesters ever and why California will continue to be a fascination for me. Things to do before going abroad Before going abroad there were lots of things to be taken care of and it required a lot of nerves to do all the paperwork carefully. TOEFL, Visa, Health Insurance, Money Matters San Diego State University is one of the few universities which requires the TOEFL to enter. When you apply to take the test (which costs about 130$) they send you a CD- ROM with which you can practice, do exercises and test yourself at home in order to prepare for the big day of the exam which I took in Berlin. The day I went there it was good to have arrived early, that way I could get my thoughts together before taking the exam which only took a few hours to complete. A few weeks later I had the results in my mailbox - they were quite positive and I made an appointment at the American consulate in Frankfurt for the VISA and most importantly booked the flight for the 15th of August 2006. Like I mentioned earlier lots of paperwork needed to be done, it seems like the US do love bureaucracy. The SEVIS fee and also the VISA were quite expensive (thank you Mom and Dad at this point) and “No, I’m not a terrorist I would really just like to study there for one semester.” It is amazing how many detailed questions were asked. To my appointment at the consulate in Frankfurt I had arrived very early but which I did not know was that the appointment they had given me was the time to be in line and not the time where I was going to be asked why I wanted to go abroad. So I spent quite a few hours talking to a few of about 300 people who apparently all had their appointment at noon and time went by fast eventually. One good thing was that SDSU offered health insurance so I did not have to purchase an additional one here in Germany. You were also only able to choose your classes after having purchased health insurance. After having been accepted at the SDSU, the ISC (International Student Center) had sent me a “Welcome Packet” via e-mail which answered many questions and gave good advice. SDSU advices to take about 2000$ in form of Traveller’s Checks as a starter with you which -I should find out later on – you will need until you get settled. Bank accounts can be opened easily with no extra charge but it is always good to have a credit card so you always have the chance to take money off of your account back home. 2 The flight – San Diego here I come School did not start until the 30th of August 2005, so in order to have some time before to get settled, Annika – another student that was to study at the same school - and I chose to fly a couple of weeks earlier. So on Monday, the 15th of August 2005 we took the plane from Frankfurt to Atlanta, Georgia where we were supposed to have a stop-over but then had different connection flights to San Diego, California. Our plane had left Frankfurt a few hours late so I missed my connection flight but Annika was lucky to get hers. Unfortunately I had carried some of her carry-on luggage and she had to sort of jump on her plane so I held on to it. Since there were no more flights to San Diego that night I got to spend the night in this small but comfy hotel close to the airport. Knowing that my luggage was on the way to San Diego gave me some comfort but the 2 kilos of cereal that I had taken off of Annika made me worry a little bit. My flight was scheduled for 6 am the next day so I went and checked in and very soon learned my lesson not to EVER take over somebody else’s luggage. But the cereal also made its way to San Diego. My luggage was there – yay! And Juan, the head of the ISC came to pick me up and Annika was with him to pick up her luggage which had not arrived the night before – very strange, I say but we were happy that in the end we got there safe and did not lose anything. C It was about 28° that day, sunny and warm and I wa s overwhelmed by all those palm trees and those big SUV’s that we usually do not see at home in Germany in that amount of number. Juan took us to our Youth Hostel in Downtown where we checked in and then took us to the ISC on campus, we were very excited. Check in and getting settled At the ISC we should soon get to know the “Welcome Team” which is a group of friendly students who voluntarily help international/exchange students out in order to not have them feel lost. Gustavo, member of the “Welcome Team” and who should soon become one of my best friends, checked us in and answered many questions concerning housing, cell phone etc. that I had. We were informed about the day the “Orientation” was going to take place and some excursions that the ISC hat planned for the international students such as the San Diego City tour or Seaworld. Since I had taken care of formalities such as health insurance back home in Germany the check-in was quick and on Orientation day we received lots of more helpful information, do’s and don’ts and we had our pictures for our Student picture ID’s taken on which you could put money on to pay your copies or food and it also carried the Red-ID (my own identification number) with which I could log on to the Internet and find out about my personal classes and grades. That day I also chose the classes I wanted to take this semester. SDSU has a good system for signing up and a great variety of classes. I signed up for all my classes online and was able to print out the syllabus, books required and information regarding the classes and the respective professor. Now we were ready to take our next challenge which was to find housing. 3 Housing Finding housing in San Diego turned out to be a big challenge because prices are outrageously expensive and public transportation is not very advanced. Luckily they had finished extending the “Green Line” which made it possible to get to school by trolley. Luckily there were plenty of volunteers, two of them were Mark and Chau (both Gustavo’s roommates) who helped us out a lot and eventually became very close friends of mine. They drove us around to see apartments, mostly referred to as “apartment-hunting” and gave us good advice on where it is safe to live and where there are good connections to the trolley since I did not plan on buying or renting a car. I decided not to live on campus because the rent for single bedrooms was barely below a 1000$ and you would have had to also stick to the campus rules which included curfews or a certain meal plan. Furthermore mostly American students live on campus in so called fraternities and sororities. Off-campus prices for single bedrooms are 300$ and more. A good webpage to find housing and lots of other useful information is www.craigslist.org where we got most of the addresses for potential housing from. At the ISC we were introduced to Steve, a landlord who owns an apartment complex about 25 minutes from school by trolley – in Mission Valley – and who likes to rent out the apartments to international students. We went, had a look, liked it and signed the contract (month-to-month, very important so that way you can move out any time as long as you give one month notice). Our apartment was available from September on and Chau offered us to stay at his place in the meantime which was very nice and it saved us a lot of money which we otherwise would have spent on the Youth Hostel. I was pleasantly surprised by the all of the volunteer’s empathy, the time they spent on us and the effort of trying to make us feel like home. In September we moved into the 2-bedroom-apartment (2 bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom and laundry facility) which rent was 1000$/month, utilities not included. Annika and I shared the bigger room and later on we had a Chinese student move into the other room. In about 6 other apartments next door international students had moved in also and this way we had a very fun and mixed group of students who all became good friends and with some I am still in touch with. Steve became our “personal manager” because he was always there to help us out in personal matters or things like shopping which – unlike in Germany – you have to have a car unless you live right next to a grocery store or risk your life getting run over by a car while walking. He also took us up north to L.A. once, made it possible for me to see Aretha Franklin live from the Jacuzzi, showed my a great spot to find sand-dollars (Coronado Island), took us snorkling, taught me how to surf and informed us about free events all the time. I was amazed about how many events (concerts, markets, shows, art exhibitions) took and still take place in San Diego downtown. Steve’s most famous words are: “for free?!” I cannot even list all the exhibitions and events I participated in or Sushi I have eaten “for free”. He knows San Diego as to what in german you would refer to as “wie seine Westentasche kennen” – Thanks Steve! 4 Bank account, cell phone, public transportation, utilities I opened a bank account at the Union Bank of California which gave you 50$ as a thank you for opening an account and paid in my traveller’s checks. That way I had my money in a safe spot and was able to pay by card with no extra charges. Cell phones are almost a must-have if you like to keep in touch with other students. Since the one I brought with me was very antique I purchased a new one with a prepaid card. Unlike here in Germany in the States they charge you by minutes which means that every time you are using “air-time” which means you receive a call, not only the caller but you as well is being charged (usually 10cts/1min). It took a while to get used to it but I have to admit that I like the German system better. Public transportation is not very common in the States but San Diego was improving its system and we were lucky enough to profit from the extension of the “Green Line” which took us right to the SDSU-campus. A semester pass (about 120$) could be purchased on campus which came in form of a little silver sticker which was put on my student ID. It allowed me unlimited rides throughout the semester on any line in and around San Diego. In the first weeks TV and radio stations were on campus to greet the students getting off the trolley and ask them about their opinion about the trolley. It was very funny to see how excited many were about it whereas to me it is something completely normal. Busses ran frequently and like the trolley station the bus station was only about 15 minutes away from home. To the closest beach it was about 10 minutes by bus so on the weekend and in my spare time it was no problem to jump on the bus and spend a day at the beach. Riding the trolley was safe because securities watched over the passengers not only when riding the trolley but also on the bigger stations. Since utilities were not included in our contract we paid a monthly electricity bill to SDG&E (San Diego Gas and Electric) which was usually around 30$ (shared). We also got a home-phone and got a very good deal with one company where we paid a fixed monthly rate which covered all the local phone calls. For all national or international calls I had the possibility to purchase a phonecard in any grocery store or gas station. Those phonecards were quite cheap and you can talk up to 300 minutes for only 5$. Classes From my advisor I was given different fields of studies from where to pick out classes of interest. I signed up for 4 different classes (= 13 credits, International students had to have at least 12 credits): Spanish (4 credits), Psychology (3 credits), Criminal Justice Administration (3 credits) and Translation (German-English, 3 credits) 1 credit = 1 hour Spanish California and especially San Diego has many native spanish speakers since it is so close to the Mexican border. I wanted to improve my spanish skills and prepare with this class for the following semester which I spent in Madrid, Spain. This class took place 4 times a week and lasted about 50 minutes. The instructor was a spanish native speaker from Pamplona, Spain who is very committed and whose classes were fun to attend because she had a good way of 5 explaining and attached great importance to pronunciation which for many Americans due to their language was quite difficult to do. The class itself held only 20 people so it was a quite private atmosphere and every single one had the chance to speak frequently. Exams were taken once a month and Vocabulary- and Grammar-tests every Friday. That way every student was required to study and keep up with the material on a daily base. Psychology This class took place twice a week each one was set up for 1 hour and 15 minutes. It was held in a huge lecture room which held about 1000 students if not more and had two huge screens for PowerPoint-Presentations. Unlike at the FH in Magdeburg almost every single classroom but definitely all the lecture rooms were equipped with a beamer which made it easy and comfortable for the instructors to organize their class and for the students easier to understand and follow. The Instructor was a family dad, young, committed and had a very interesting and fun way of explaining the most difficult topics. At the end of each lecture we were asked certain multiple choice questions relating the just discussed and we could answer directly with an A-B-C-D buzzer. This way we were able to see the results instantly and if less then 90% had answered the question wrong the instructor would explain it again and ask the question again in order to then have a more positive result. Exams usually covered 3-4 chapters and were held 4 times. The night before the exams we could log on to the “Psychology Portal” where we could participate in chats with other students of this class and discuss class related questions or ask the instructor personally. I also had the chance to take an online-test to see if I had understood or not. Criminal Justice Administration Probably the most interesting and exciting class I have ever taken. I have never seen such a passionate, enthusiastic, disciplined and pragmatic instructor before – Paul Sutton. I can only recommend his webpage www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~psutton/, I still enjoy reading through it. Even though the class held about 80 people, discipline, attention, responsibility and critical thinking was required every single minute because even though it was supposed to be a lecture it mostly ended up in one big interesting discussion. It took place twice a week (1.15hrs). We were shown many videos and he managed to explain the most difficult topics with clear, vivid and concrete examples which made it easier for me to follow. He kept his classes very up-to-date so we could relate to certain topics individually or even keep discussing them outside the classroom. The most interesting thing in this class would have been the “prison tour” which I unfortunately was not able to attend because it was planned for January 07 when I had left already. There students get to see California’s biggest prisons such as San Quentin (the only one which contains death row) and the chance to talk to inmates personally after having worked on and researched specific information regarding certain inmates, their story and sentence. Tests were taken once a month and workouts (additional homework) could be handed in for extra credit. 6 Another thing I would like to mention is the size of the lecture halls, the one this class was taught in resembled a hall in a movie theater, the seats had very soft, red cushions and you had plenty of room for your feet and little desk which is attached to the each seat you have to fold up in front of you I could go on and on but to keep it short this class has most definitely left the greatest impression on me and intensified my curiosity for the study of Criminal Justice. I can only recommend it to future students. Translation (German – English) This class held only about 15 people and was mix of american and german students which was perfect so we could discuss and explain certain translation difficulties since we had native speakers on each side. Our instructor was a german native speaker, she came up with many interesting texts and based her classes on teamwork. That way we had to often meet up outside our regular classes which made studying and preparing for exams more fun. Exams were taken every other week and at times we could work together as a group to do certain translations. To wrap it all up I enjoyed every single one of my classes and I wish I had the chance to study even more because since SDSU is so well equipped and the instructors very professional studying is more fun and interesting. The variety of classes is amazing and huge. Classes - which one can possibly only take in California - are offered: Surfing, Sailing, Diving, Golfing etc. If one day did not only have 24 hours and one week 7 days I would have probably taken more classes to profit from all the opportunities at SDSU. I like the system of having exams on a more regular base, that way there is no big exam in the end and you can study in small portions. Multiple choice (Criminal Justice Administration and Psychology) was something I had to get used to and I did not like very much. Books and Supplies are very expensive and the chances of being able to resell them after the semester are very small because many times there are new editions which decreases the value of books bought earlier. Almost every single textbook included a CD-ROM which delivered background information and with which I could practice before the exams. Even though some classes did not have to do anything directly with my field of study I enjoyed getting an insight into other areas, learn for life and awaken new interests such as Criminal Justice Administration. Campus The SDSU campus is huge and can be compared to a little town with its own restaurants, stores, hairdressers, flower shops and sports facilities. Since it is very widespread it was good to have participated in the Orientation at the beginning of the semester but it was always helpful to have a campus map on me in order to find places more easily. It has a very big library with computer areas from which every student had instant Internet access or print out papers. In addition to that there were many designated 7 computer areas in different departments so I never had to wait long when I had to do research or just check my mail. Wireless was accessible all over the campus. In the bookstore I could buy all of the books needed for class and also resell it after the semester. There was no “Mensa” but a huge variety of restaurants and food which in the beginning was overwhelming but in the end I had tried pretty much everything and I now find it hard to stick to the three choices I have here in the “Mensa”. Since the weather was sunny and warm throughout the whole semester we most likely ate outside where we had our “International table” where most of the international students met to have lunch or study together. Every Friday at noon “Coffee hour” took place at the International Student Center. During “Coffee hour” certain countries were to represent their nationality and give other students an insight into their culture. Most likely one country prepared lunch – something typical for this country – students donated 1$, tried the food, had the chance to get to know many other international students and make plans for the upcoming weekend. Culture and personal highlights I am already realizing that this report is becoming very detailed and I could probably go on and on but I will try to keep it to the most important. San Diego has lots of culture to discover and if someone ever says “I was bored in San Diego.” it is definitely a lie. You can find everything and I mean literally e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. I have seen many exhibitions of different artists and listened to quite a few singers and interpreters I have not known before. The sunny weather and healthy climate has played also a big role in making this stay so wonderful. The 22nd of December, the C, day that I left, the temperature was 22° no cloud s and blue sky. It had rained once until then. There are 3 major shopping malls and plenty of grocery stores. 4 big sandy beaches and the border to Mexico is only about 30 minutes away. My personal highlights would fill pages but I definitely have to mention my surf- lessons, the Aretha Franklin concert, the San Diego Zoo, the trip to L.A. and Hollywood, San Francisco, Alcatraz, Las Vegas and Baja California (Mexico). I got to know so many fun and international people and with the closest ones I am still in touch, some I have met again already. One of the sad “highlights” was the execution of Tookie Williams in San Quentin whose life we discussed in my Criminal Justice class and reinforced my anger and hate towards the death penalty. It made me study and learn about this topic more than ever before. I have to say that I did not feel homesick at any time, yes I did miss my family but studies and friends kept me busy and there was so much to explore and so many experiences to make – not only good ones but also some strenuous ones. Annika moved out in October because she was dealing with some major personal issues but was well taken care of by the school’s psychologist as far as I know. I did not want to get involved in issues like that one so it was better for both of us for one – in this case her- to move out. We were just two different of a character to perfectly get along with. The last months we barely saw each other but I’m sure she also had a wonderful time. I kept the room to myself which was also a good thing because at times I needed some time to myself to think things over, relax or sort myself out. 8 Eventually a friend moved in and took over the place after I had moved out. I got to know Americans as friendly an open minded people and I am happy to consider some of them as very good friends and one of them as my boyfriend – Chau - who is coming over next spring in order to take a German class, that way I can give him an insight into my culture as well as he has given me one into his during my stay. This semester has enriched my study and I expanded my English skills. It made me grow and develop as an individual and I can only recommend an experience abroad to other students. I would like to thank my Mom and Dad for giving me all the support needed: financially as well as “psychologically” at times; my advisor Leigh Love without her I would not even have had the chance to study there; and last but not least all of the students and friends I have met during my stay and made it so special fun and most of all an unforgettable experience.