My master’s degree at Bochum University is linked to a compulsory semester abroad, which I was able to complete either at a partner university or as a so-called free mover. Since it was clear to me from the start that I wanted to spend my semester abroad in the USA and that my home university had no partnership with an American university, I decided to organize everything on my own as a free mover. However, I was not completely alone, because the MicroEDU agency helped me a lot with the selection of the university and the application. I decided to go to California State University East Bay (CSUEB) in Hayward because they offer master’s courses in management that go very well with my studies in Germany. So after the university was selected, I received all the documents I needed to fill out for my application. It is advisable to get in touch with MicroEDU 6-8 months before the planned semester abroad, as the whole organization takes up a lot of time. After a few weeks I received the CSUEB’s approval and was able to plan everything else for my stay in the USA.
About three months before my departure, I booked the flight, which was still relatively cheap at the time. So it is advisable to look out early. I also had to take out health insurance abroad, which at AXA met all the criteria of the host university and was also the cheapest. I also took care of all other things, such as the visa, the international driver’s license, credit card, SIM card, accommodation and rental car in good time before departure. Fortunately, before I left, I got the promise for the PROMOS scholarship, with which I was able to pay part of the tuition fees at the CSUEB.
When I arrived in the USA, the first thing to do was to set up the accommodation that I had rented in advance with three other German exchange students. Our apartment, like most apartments in the US, was unfurnished, but only about a 10-minute walk from the university. However, since you can’t even do your shopping in the supermarket without a car in the USA, because the distances are simply so great compared to Germany and the public transport network cannot be compared with that in Germany, there are two options. Either you buy a car for the period and then sell it again at the end, or you rent a car. The purchase is of course always associated with risks and is only worthwhile if you stay there for longer than a semester.
According to Educationvv.com, in the first week at the university there was a tour of the campus and the well-known Class Crashing, where you can look at the courses that interest you and then decide which one you ultimately choose. I opted for 3 “international courses”, the content of which was not that difficult, but which involved a lot of work because you had to prepare presentations, group work and essays every week. The positive thing about it, however, was that you were involved in the material the whole time and therefore didn’t have to do so much for the mid-terms and finals. You should still consider whether you also choose “regular bachelor or master courses”, since you are in the same class there with other Americans, unlike in the “international courses” where I was almost exclusively with Germans and couldn’t improve my English as much as I would have liked. However, there were enough opportunities in everyday life to come into contact with Americans and speak English. Otherwise there was everything you could wish for on campus, a sports hall with a fitness center, a cafeteria, various fast food shops such as Taco-Bell, Panda-Express, Pizza-Hut, Subway etc. and a bookstore.
In addition to the university, there was also plenty to see in the Bay Area. Hayward itself is relatively small, but has a pretty nice “downtown” area. San Francisco, on the other hand, can be reached in about 45 minutes with the BART (the train connection in the USA) and offers an extremely wide range of sightseeing options, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz. The night tour through Alcatraz is said to be particularly good, but you should book the tickets 2-3 months in advance, otherwise you won’t get any more. Even if you have a lot to do for university on weekdays, you should take the time to explore California from time to time, because what the country has to offer is hard to put into words. For example, I have trips to Lake Tahoe over the weekends, to Yosemite National Park or Los Angeles. Entrance to the national parks is unfortunately not cheap, usually around 30 dollars per car. But you can get a year-round pass for around 80 dollars, which you can use to get to almost every national park in the USA. If you plan to travel a lot and visit the national parks anyway, this pass is definitely worth it. Yosemite National Park, which is around 3 hours by car from Hayward, is particularly worth a visit. However, you should already spend 2-3 days there in order to be able to enjoy it to the full. But also the surrounding cities of San Francisco such as San Jose and Silicon Valley, Berkeley or Sacramento are very interesting and only about 1-2 hours away by car.
With the exception of gasoline, everything is very expensive in the USA and especially in California. The prices are always given in net, so you still have to calculate around 10% tax on them. In a diner it is also customary to give an additional 10-15% tip. For a normal lunch you can easily get to $ 15-20. Unfortunately, the high prices of groceries in the supermarket also continued, which is why you should keep an eye on your expenses.
If traveling during the semester is too stressful for you, I can recommend that you hang in for a few weeks at the end of the semester and make up for it. In the end I made a west coast trip, starting on Route 1 towards Los Angeles, to the Grand Canyon, via Utah back to California to Sequoia National Park, again to Yosemite National Park and finally up north to Seattle and Vancouver in Canada. I can really recommend everyone to do something like this, because the impressions you take with you are unforgettable and nobody can take them away from you.
In conclusion, I can only say that the stay in the USA was very worthwhile and I can recommend it to everyone. I got a lot of interesting insights into the American way of life and the country, came into contact with many people and was able to improve my English. The experiences I have gained are very important to me and encourage my independence. If I had the choice to repeat this, I would do it again.