My semester abroad at California State University Fullerton
From August 18 to December 22, 2014 I spent one semester of my graphic design studies at California State University Fullerton (CSUF) in the USA. Learn more about California State University Fullerton on andyeducation.
The preparations and the choice of university:
Right from the start of my studies, I was interested in a semester abroad. I had only ever heard positive things from people around me who had been abroad for some time. So I was happy that this was basically possible at the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences, where I’m studying.
It was clear to me that I wanted to go to English-speaking countries, so I was quickly shortlisted for England and the USA. Since I wanted to go to London in England or to the west coast in the USA, I didn’t find what I was looking for at the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences. So I turned to MicroEDU, about which I had heard good things from an acquaintance.
At the beginning of January, actually rather late for the organization of a semester abroad from August, I attended an information event organized by MicroEDU at the TU Dortmund, as well as drove to the agency in Münster for a consultation. Thanks in particular to Anja, who was always at my side with words and deeds, whether in a personal conversation, by phone or e-mail.
It quickly became apparent that I wanted to go to Fullerton, but the semester abroad would cost me a small fortune. On the one hand because of the high tuition fees, on the other hand because of the high rents and cost of living in California. Fullerton is 40 minutes drive from Los Angeles and 30 minutes drive from coastal towns such as Huntington, Laguna Beach or Newport Beach in Orange Counties.
Lots of forms had to be filled out and all kinds of things organized. Be it the application for the university, the application for a visa, the international health insurance, the scholarship, the choice of course, or the application for accommodation including household insurance. Clarifying, filling in and submitting all of these organizational matters turned out to be a real mammoth task. Despite the great support from MicroEDU, that was probably the hardest part of the whole semester abroad.
I decided to live in the University Village (UV), a residential complex within walking distance of the CSUF campus. There, three of you live in a shared apartment with a furnished single room, a shared kitchen and living room, as well as the option of having your own bathroom or a shared bathroom that you have to share as a couple. I chose the smallest, regular room with a shared bathroom. This was the cheapest room that cost a whopping $ 999 a month. The rental price included two meals a day in the University Village cafeteria (except on weekends). Another advantage was that you could rent the room in the UV before you arrive and get to know your roommates from Germany via email. My roommates were French and Iranian,
The complex was beautiful, the apartment was large and provided the basic furniture that you need to live. The meals in the cafeteria were also okay (sometimes there was even a chocolate fountain, chicken wings or sushi) and made work a lot easier for us students because we didn’t have to cook. There was also a pool on the premises that could be used until October in California temperatures. In addition, people quickly made friends in the University Village, which made it a lot easier to get used to.
As a graphic design student from Germany, I was a real exception at California State University Fullerton. Most semester abroad students have either studied business administration or engineering. From Germany, I had to agree with the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and the CSUF which courses I would probably take so that they could be credited to me in Germany. However, since the American students always have priority in the course selection, I was not guaranteed a single course in advance. Others, such as business administration students, were sometimes much more lucky. In the so-called “class crashing” during the first week of university in the courses, I had to ask the lecturer myself whether I could take part in his / her course. For this I had both my transcript of records in English and a digital portfolio of my design work from the last few semesters with me. However, I didn’t have to show anyone the latter. In general, the “class crashing” was easier than expected, as the American lecturers were all very nice and open to semester abroad students.
In the end, I had secured four courses, each taught 5 hours per week: Graphic Design, Creative Photography, Typography and Special Studies in Graphic Design.
Overall, the lessons at the university in the USA were much more scholastic than in Germany. There were attendance lists and lots of homework, some of which were checked or collected. In three of the four courses that took place twice a week, the evenings were long for me and the nights were short. I had the impression that with some lecturers it was more the quantity than the quality that mattered, which initially bothered me a lot, but also made me fitter in dealing with the design programs on the PC.
I really liked the fact that I was able to take courses that are not offered for me here at the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences in Germany. For the first time, I took real photos with an analog camera and learned how to develop the photos myself in the darkroom. Fortunately, I didn’t have to buy an analog single-lens reflex camera because my mother still sent me hers in the mail, a very expensive course.
Nevertheless, I found working analogue in the darkroom to be a great experience that I really enjoyed.
I was also able to learn a lot of new things in the area of typography and app design, although the level of performance of my fellow students in the course was sometimes significantly lower than I am used to from my studies in Germany.
Another great project was the design of an app for the LEGO company in collaboration with Danish design students who flew to Fullerton especially to work with us on this project. A group work in which I learned a lot and which will hopefully also work well in my portfolio for the future.
The decision to do a semester abroad was the best I could have made. I made great friends from different nations (from France, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Austria, South Korea, Iran, Indonesia and of course from America and Germany), from whom it was very difficult to say goodbye. Seeing some of them again is already planned.
I have become more open to the world, more independent and more self-confident through my semester abroad. I gained a lot of new impressions of foreign cultures, international design, different ways of working and was able to admire the breathtakingly beautiful nature of California. And in any case gained a lot of experience for life.
Above all, Fullerton offers one thing: a good location for any weekend getaway. If you want to live in a city where you can go out every night and have lots of clubs and bars to choose from, Fullerton is not necessarily the best city. We went to Brian’s Bar and Royal Bar every Wednesday and there was always something going on in University Village anyway. You can find real nightlife in San Diego, which has a great bar and club mile in the Gaslamp Quarter. In addition, there you have the beach closer to you.
As far as mobility is concerned, in Fullerton you have to rely on a car. I had two roommates with their own cars and many friends who had rented a car for a semester. So I was very lucky and was always taken with me so that I didn’t need my own car. I would definitely RENT a car, if I can give you a tip. My roommate had a lot of problems with the used VW she bought and in the end only paid for it. A less pleasant end to our trips through the national parks in the middle of Death Valley was also due to this car. Otherwise, a bike may be recommended, so be sure to be on time in front of the office in the UV on the day of the bike rental.
At the weekend we often went to Los Angeles to celebrate, but the question often arose: who is driving? Since mostly everyone wanted to drink, it is recommended to book a motel for one night. That costs around 100 dollars a night for a room with two double beds, in which you can sleep six people. Also, you should go to the clubs in Hollywood, because that’s where the best parties are. Also recommended: bar hopping in Huntington Beach, as admission is free there and DJs and dance floors are standard on Friday and Saturday evenings. From time to time party buses are organized to Newport Beach or Los Angeles (e.g. on Halloween), which I warmly recommend to you!
In addition, at least a weekend trip to Las Vegas with its pool parties is an absolute must! The Riviera Hotel is ideal for this, which is super cheap and yet central. In any case, look for a promoter who will give you free entry (in America it is very easy and can sometimes also be found on the websites of the clubs themselves or in the Facebook groups). That will save you a lot of money.
Finally: enjoy every minute of the semester abroad to the fullest, take everything you can get with you, even if that means more stress or less sleep for you. You will not regret it. Nobody looks back on their life later and remembers the nights when they slept a lot.