Die passende Universität für Ihr Auslandsstudium:
Uni- und Programmsuche

Erfahrungsbericht: Tamara Berberich


1    Introduction
During my studies I spent one semester as a free mover from mid-August until the end of December 2012 at the State University of San Marcos in beautiful California (CSUSM). I thought, especially as a bachelor student you should make an advantage of going abroad. Six semesters pass by to quickly and if I don´t take the chance to study in a foreign country now I don’t know when I will get another chance to live in another country again. Besides, I think you can only benefit from this kind of experience in every aspect of your life.

2    Application and Preparation for a Place to Study
In regards of the country and state I made my pre-selection very quickly. I love the sun and the beaches so I decided to go to California for my studies. There was only one problem, our university had only the private University of San Diego in its partner program, so I had to look for something different because of the tuition fee and the financial statement were much higher in comparison to the CSUSM. This was the reason I decide against going to one of our partner universities, instead I choose to go as a ´free mover´ with the help of the organization of IEC.

IEC  – is an International Education Centre, which is focused on providing professional application and information services to students. They provide assistance starting from a first vague interest to the start of your studies. Overall, IEC is the official representative of more than 90 international universities within twelve countries with English-language study programs.

Speaking from my experience the staff of IEC was well-prepared, always friendly, reliable and offering help quickly - no matter if on the phone or via e-mail. They made a lot of good suggestions of universities, so I made my decision and applied for fall 2012 at the California State University of San Marcos.

The applicant process requires to submit the following documents to IEC:

  • The fully completed application form of the California State University of San Marcos, which you can download from the IEC – Website
  •  Curriculum vitae in English
  •  Certificate of sufficient language ability (IELTS, TOEFL)
  •  Current transcript of records
  •  Financial statement about 9.000 $ plus bank statement about 500$ on your own bank

Once I had all application documents together I submitted them to IEC, which was forwarded by them to CSUSM. After only two weeks, I got the permission via e-mail and one week later I had a copy in my post box, too.

Obtaining the visa for the United States of America was the most complicated step in the whole applying process. In order to study in the U.S., you need a so-called J1 visa. All required forms can be downloaded on the website of the American Consulate. Apart from a valid passport, the following documents were additionally required:

  • DS-2019
  • DS-156 and DS-158 (for male applicants also have the DS-157)
  •  Proof of payment of the SEVIS fee and application
  • Passport photo that meets the requirements of the U.S.
  • Certificate of enrollment
  • A proof that you are willed to leave the states after your stay. A flight ticket is sufficient for that purpose
  • Stamped addressed envelope (A5, € 1.45)

After submitting the documents in electronic form at the Travel.State.Gov – Website  you are obligated in regard to the subject to visa requirements to submit a consular application for a student visa in person to the Consulate responsible for their place of residence. In my case, it was in Frankfurt. I received my visa one week later and was now able to plan my accommodation.

I booked a hostel  for the time of two weeks in Downtown, San Diego and my flight aswell. Granted, it was kind of risky not to know wether I could find an appropriate accommodation or not, but in the end it turned out to be my best decision ever. Shortly after my arrival at the San Diego airport I took the bus to the hostel and started my online research for shared rooms at the craiglist-website , which was recommened by IEC. The following days I visited some shared apartments and after appromaxitely nine days and a lot of viewing appointments I found an appropriate room. I lived with one retired person and another student together in a very big house, for a monthly rent of $450, close to the Mission Beach in San Diego.

In terms of the distance to the university you have to consider that San Marcos is around forty miles away from San Diego and it took me about 35 – 40 minutes by car, depending on the traffic. Taking the bus or other public transport was illusionary because it would have taken 2 – 3.5 to reach the university. This is the reason why I shared a rented car with two other students from CSUSM on a monthly rate of just $135. I have met the students through the CSUSM homepage where I placed an online insertion at the carpooling center. They emailed me and we met to discuss our schedules. So, all the important things were fixed and I was relieved and reassured.

3    California State University of San Marcos 
The California State University of San Marcos also CSUSM or Cal State San Marcos is a public university in San Marcos, California, United States, and one of the 23 general campuses of the California State University system. San Marcos is a suburban town in the North County area of San Diego County. It was founded in 1989 as the 20th CSU campus. The first class was admitted in 1990. The university has four colleges: the College of Business Administration; the College of Science and Mathematics; the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences; and the College of Education, Health and Human Services.

3.1    Key Reasons for the selection of CSUSM – College of Business Administration
I had chosen the California State University of San Marcos for a number of reasons. One of the most important aspects was the small number of German exchange students in order to improve my English skills. In 2012 the San Diego State University had about eight hundred German exchange students at their campus comparing to just forty-five German exchange students assigned to the California State University of San Marcos. Based on this information from the mediation of IEC I selected the CSUSM to get closer to local students and professors and not to end up speaking my mother tongue. Besides, during my school time in Germany I always took the path of least resistance as a result I just learned the necessary vocabulary to pass my English classes. Because of that, I saw the semester abroad in a foreign country, such as the USA with English as their mother tongue as a perfect opportunity to become familiar with the language and the culture. I knew that I had to invest more time for studying to pass the exams in a foreign country with a foreign language where all the lectures are held in English in comparison to Germany where I have a low number of English courses.

The second reason was the ’class crashing’ aspect, which is more of a result of the first one. In consequence of the small number of students at CSUSM it was very easy to get in my desired courses. Especially, you have to consider this point if you attend as a ’freemover’ at a foreign University, which means that you are not attending in the exchange program from your university and you are not automatically enrolled for your desired courses. You apply on your own for an appropriate university, for example through an organization like IEC. In regard to the courses you have to email the instructor and explain your interest in the class, and ask if they would mind if you sat in. Offer to meet with them in person. The absolute worst time to talk to a professor is before class; they are trying to get ready for their lecture and may feel hassled if they are peppered with questions then. This is especially true on the first day of classes when everything is hectic.

3.2    Motivation
My motivation was to get to know a foreign culture by staying in a house or apartment with foreign students and a complete new environment for the entire 5 months. I wanted to figure out how they act and behave in specific situations such as in school or in everyday life. In addition, I wanted to gain a deeper insight of how it is and what it feels like to live in California where you have the lovely and incredible sandy beaches around you and where you can surf at any time. Through this perception, I thought that I can better understand and see why they behave the way they do at certain times. Thus the decision was made very swiftly to do my semester abroad in the United States, particularly in the State of California.

Another important aspect is the economy. As seen in the study data in table I below, it is clear that the United States of America is the country with the world´s largest economy. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful for my studies to get a real and first impression of their economy.

Besides, it becomes more and more important in a global world to be fluent in English, both oral and written at level, which allows us to contribute to discussions in everyday situations and work life. This issue is not only relevant for the Euro zone, but also if you want to work or conclude contracts with business partners in Europe or all over the world. The English language is increasingly influencing German, especially in terms of the working environment. English is already seen as a main language in internationally operating German companies. Based on those reasons, which gave me the greatest motivation to go to California in order to improve my English, I decided to select the CSUSM. In addition, I always had in mind to work and live abroad or to work for a big company where English is common and required.

All together I picked the CSUSM for my semester abroad because I thought it will be the perfect place to broaden my horizon and will enable me to grow personally as well as professionally.

4    Courses: Which classes did I attend and what was the content and their relevance for my studies
To meet the requirements of the visa you have to take at least twelve Units, in my case it was equivalent to three courses, each of them weighting four Units. The course selection has also turned out to be a bit difficult. It was hard to get information about courses in the United States because the CSUSM offers a large variation of courses for business administration. For this reason I contacted the mediation organization IEC, who helped me in getting a clear overview over the volume of the courses offered.  In order to lose as little time as possible in our study, I tried to select appropriate courses fit the program at my University in Germany. Therefore, I decided to enroll for the following courses: Financial Markets and Institutions, Management in Different Cultures and at least Consumer Behavior.

4.1    Financial Markets and Institution
For business students, the study of financial markets and institutions is one of the most important subjects. In my opinion it is a great opportunity to understand how the American Bank and finance system works. It is especially important for future financial decision makers. You can easily recognize the importance of the subject by surveying the financial services that you encounter in your daily life: checking accounts, credit cards, auto & home loans, life, auto, home insurance policies, pension plans, and shares in mutual funds.  All these services are supplied and facilitated by a variety of financial institutions.

This course gave me an understanding of today's financial markets, instruments, and institutions. During the course I also developed a comprehension of the interesting relationships between and among various financial institutions, instruments, and markets.  Besides, I was able to recognize the essential relationship between risk and expected returns for many financial instruments, which are available to market participants.

Midterm I, Midterm II and the Final exam were multiple-choice questions each of them were over 5-7 chapters. In contrary to our finance exams or lectures, we learned more about how to interpret the formulas instead of applying them. Overall, the course was more theoretical than practical. Except of the trading game, there you had to calculate the gain and loss and keep your portfolio up to date in form of a record in an excel sheet. The paper and the assignment were more of an essay, and problem-style questions. Our professor gave us the problems and we should solve them with our knowledge that we had gained during the classes. Table II represents the grade components for the class.

Grade Components:

Three exams: Midterm I 25%, Midterm II 23%, Final Exam 27%
Assignments 10%, Paper 10%, Trading Game 5%
Total 100%

4.2    Management in Different Cultures

The principal objective of this course was to understand how culture impacts and complicates business internationally. Secondly, you should be able to identify the competences necessary to succeed in an international business or domestically diverse context and learn about your own competences. At last, we learned how to manage differences more effectively.

While additionally integrating an excellent knowledge of two widely accepted cultural frameworks, such as the Hofstede and Hall frameworks in order to enable you to analyze and understand others who are significantly different from you. Besides, we had some class discussions to get familiar and understand how culture affects management practices in order to be more successful when engaging in cross-ethnic and cross-cultural contexts. To be able to put the acquired knowledge and skills into practice at once we had the challenge to write five international papers. Where you had to know and apply your strengths and weaknesses in the competencies that influence success in bridging gaps that represent significant differences between people.

The evaluation of the entire grade is represented as follows:
1st multiple-choice exam 20 pts., US Culture assignment 30 pts.,
Group Integration paper 30 pts.,
Difficult Person paper 10 pts., Divergent View paper 10 pts., Video paper 10 pts.
Total points 110 pts.

4.3    Consumer Behavior
The course integrates psychological, sociological, and further perspectives on the study of consumption. It examines research and theory from the social sciences that is relevant to understand consumer behavior, and consequently useful for developing and evaluating marketing strategies that influence consumer behavior.

The first exam was primarily short-answer questions. Exam 2 and 3 was a combination of multiple-choice questions (approximately 15-25 for approximately 35-60 points) and short-answer questions (approximately 13-20 for approximately 40-65 points). The following illustration shows the distribution of points to the respective exams, the applied project and class participation.

Grade components:
Three exams Exam #1 100 pts.,Exam #2 250 pts.,Exam #3 250 pts.,
Applied project on persuasion and influence Written assignment 200  pts.,
Presentation 150 pts., Class participation 50 pts.
Total 1000 pts.

The applied project was in close collaboration with one other student. The objective was to understand the factors that shape a consumer’s profile and influence a consumer’s behavior. Besides, you should understand how to practice marketing in ways that help and enrich one’s community and apply consumer behavior concepts in the context of “real-world” examples. Furthermore, we should be able to communicate ideas orally and in writing by evaluating marketing practices of businesses.

Overall, I can say that I liked the teachers at the University of San Marcos better than the ones at my home University. The Teachers were really interested in their students and very supportive across-the board. From my opinion, it was the good relationship between students and teachers that made me enjoy studying at the University of San Marcos so much.

5    Experiences with Students and Professors
The classes started a few days after my arrival so I had time to acclimatize myself, get to know my roommates and explore the campus and region. Besides, we had one orientation week where I met the other students, who made also a semester abroad whether in an exchange program or as a freemover. Miss Tapia from the international office helped me to make sure my classes fit temporally in the schedule and resolved some misunderstandings.

In contrast to my University in Germany we were class usually 25 – 30 students in each and student participation in class discussions were encouraged and expected.  Moreover, the professors also informed us that we might also participate by sharing our thoughts through emails to the instructor. Participation grades were assigned based on the frequency and quality of one’s contributions. Simply coming to class was not enough.  However, in my experience the professors were very helpful and did a great job especially in clarifying questions. In my opinion and in comparison to Germany the contact to the professors were closer and I didn´t have oder had ?the feeling that I was disturbing them with my questions. The teachers also addressed us with the first name and were interested in our background knowledge, which generated a nice study atmosphere. I was the only German student in each class but I felt comfortable and incorporated right from the beginning. The teachers were sensitive to the fact that you are not a native speaker but I had definitely no ´international bonus´. In my opinion you have to work as hard as the others, probably even more to reach a good grade.

Concerning the student contact it was quite difficult to become acquainted with other students especially with local students. I was so glad that I met some international students during my orientation week that I spent my whole semester with. The local students were pretty nice and helpful but it was always the same - just small talk – I missed their interest in my person and deep conversations. Nevertheless, I felt welcome in my new environment and it was very important to me in order to overcome my initial fear to speak English in public.

In addition, my advice to everybody definitely is to avoid hanging out too much with students or friends from Germany. First of all, that was the best way for me to improve my English, but also to be more open minded to meet new people and to make experiences.

Anyways, I would like to give you some suggestions how not to behave during classes. The professors and the dean of the faculty told us “how important it is to develop good habits while in college that will help you to be a better professional after college”:

  • Arriving late or leaving early without a valid excuse and without notifying the instructor.
  • Getting up and leaving the classroom during class and then re-entering a few moments later.
  • Reading other material during class.
  • Doing work for other classes during class.
  • Text messaging during class (both in terms of sending texts and also in terms of checking texts).
  • Using a laptop during class.
  • Sleeping in class.
  • Disruptive behavior while in class (e.g., talking to classmates).
  • Requesting change in course policies.
  • Requesting extra credit opportunities.

6    First Impression: Country, Region, Culture and University
Illustration II gives a first idea of San Marcos, it is about 37 miles (60 km) north of downtown San Diego and 100 miles (160 km) south of downtown Los Angeles and Mexico is just 30 minutes of driving from San Diego.  The campus is close to Southern California beaches, mountains, and deserts, where you can swim, surf, hike, bicycle, golf, and ski.

My first impression was extremely positive. It was completely different than expected and what I heard from the locals in Germany before I arrived in San Diego. If you ask German people about Americans or just America they associate them with:

  • Fat
  • unhealthy food / bad food culture 
  • superficial
  • loud
  • busy people

To be honest I thought the same and I was taught there of a better one. The time in San Diego and San Marcos proved that most of these impressions were wrong and some were true.

Most of San Diego´s citizens do a lot of sport activities and invest the most of their free time to keep their body in its desirable shape. It seems sometimes as if they were a little bit obsessed with body image and wanted to show their perfect bodies. Nevertheless, the people are great and friendly but sometimes a little bit superficial. I was often in conversations on the street with people, who are interested in my way of traveling or the German culture. In regard to the food culture I can say there is a big diversity of food from Mexican food over Italian food to Chinese food. Even if it´s not always healthy it is much cheaper to eat out than to cook at home. This forces many Americans to eat in fast food restaurants instead of cooking at home. Healthy food was extremely expensive.

Furthermore, San Diego is the second-largest city in California and is located on the west coast of the United States, right at the ocean. The city center of San Diego is placed in Downtown where you can find big shopping malls and also nice parks and of course the beach. America is known for being the country where everyone has and needs a car to come from one point to another and in the case of San Diego it is definitely true. Public Transport was pretty bad and it took too long to get from one point to another.

Against my expectations, the Campus wasn´t close to the city center of San Marcos even the public transport and infrastructure was bad. Compared to the University of Applied Science Ludwigshafen, the University of San Marcos and its Campus has the size of a little village. It consists of different departments, dormitories, student offices, gyms and several food courts, which offer various meals, starting from American breakfast over southern style food to sushi.

Even though the Americans are known for being fast food lovers the people I met in San Diego and San Marcos where sportive and they were also interested in what´s going on in the world and not only in their country. That was totally different to what I expected.

7    Conclusion my of semester abroad: Benefit for Studies and Career Path
It was my first time in America and it was the best time in my life so far and I would recommend this experience to everyone. Doing a semester abroad either in San Marcos or somewhere else is definitely worth it, personally as well as professionally.

It´s not just the fact that you can improve your language skills, you also get to know another country and culture. Living in a country experiencing its people and culture gave me a better perception of many things than watching a documentary on TV or being on a holiday. You might get to know more about the country, but studying and having an everyday life in this country is the only way to really experience it.
Besides, these aspects of spending a semester abroad gave me also the advantage of personal growth by the need of managing the daily life in a foreign country, far away from my friends and family. This experience includes situations that will challenge you but after managing these challenges you will feel stronger and more confident.

The benefits I derived from the time in San Marcos and San Diego for my professional life, were significant. First of all there are my improved English skills, which are now oral and writing fluent. Secondly, through the semester abroad and by taking classes, such as managing in different cultures. I also reached a good cultural understanding for business situations and in general. Another class like consumer behavior, let me learn a lot about my personality, my strengths and weaknesses and how to field or overcome them. Finally, I think all classes had a great impact on my personal development and therefore affected the professional one as well by clarifying what where to work on in order to succeed and achieve my goals in the future.

Even the trip home is approaching inexorably. This is usually associated with mixed feelings: The melancholy to leave your new home and return to the old one and see the family, and many familiar faces. What remains are memories of a great time, the study documents, photo albums, and another flag on the personal world map of visited cities. The gained experiences that you can collect in one life, take no more and these six eventful months were certainly one of the finest.  – was verstehst du daran nicht mein lieber ?