At my home university, a semester abroad is firmly integrated into the curriculum, so that I had already dealt intensively with choosing a suitable host university in 2014. The decision was ultimately made to go to California State University Northridge (abbreviated as CSUN by abbreviationfinder), one of our partner universities, in particular because of the wide range of courses and the touristic location near Los Angeles. After I was selected for CSUN by my home university, I started the application in January 2015. Through detailed application instructions provided by MicroEDU and competent and helpful MicroEDU staff, who were always on hand with help and advice by email, by the end of January I had all the necessary documents together, which were forwarded to CSUN after being checked by MicroEDU. Just a week later I had the CSUN’s approval and was able to take care of everything else.
I booked the return flight early through STA Travel because there was a small price reduction through MicroEDU. My visa application also went smoothly and I was able to attend my embassy appointment in April, even if the visa could not be issued earlier than 3 months before the start of my studies. As a mandatory foreign health insurance that I had to submit to the CSUN later, I opted for a HanseMerkur policy that met the requirements of the CSUN. A credit card is recommended as a means of payment on siteto apply with which you can withdraw cash free of charge in the USA (e. g. DKB Visa Card) and another with which you can pay cashless free of charge (e. g. Advanzia Master Card). With a mixture of both, I got along just fine in the USA.
In order to secure accommodation for my semester abroad at an early stage, I opted for CSUN’s on-campus housing. My application in mid-April was early enough to get a place. The only catch: the total rent for the entire semester had to be received well in advance together with the on-campus housing application so that a place could be reserved. The confirmation was only given briefly by email, so you didn’t really have anything in your hand in return for the sum paid. However, when I checked in for the apartment, I was actually in the system and everything went smoothly.
The on-campus apartments were sparsely furnished and not very modern and not particularly comfortable, but perfectly adequate for our purposes. There were 2 bedrooms each with 2 beds, desks and a small walk-in closet, a shared dining / living room with refrigerator, worktop, dining table, sofa and armchair and a bathroom with 2 sinks, separate toilet and also used by all 4 residents of the apartment separate shower. A cooking facility was available in the form of a communal kitchen for the entire hallway. Otherwise, the apartment was completely cleared by the previous guests, there were no hangers, cooking utensils or dishes. All of that had to be bought from scratch. However, there was a laundry room on the ground floor and a post office box per apartment in the outbuilding.
I would have very much wished to live with Americans in order to develop my language skills and to experience more of American culture up close. However, this was not the case, because due to the frequent moving in and out of international students, we were all housed in one of the more than 10 student housing buildings. So it came about that I had to share a room with a Chinese woman who was enrolled in a preparatory language program and therefore spoke and understood little English at first, who had completely different learning, sleeping and eating habits and who was Cleanliness of the apartment did not take too seriously. At first I had a hard time getting used to the quirks of my Asian roommate, but in retrospect, it was a very valuable experience for me, culturally and personally. A Japanese woman and a Brazilian woman lived in the next room. Ultimately, everyone has to decide for themselves how much internationality, privacy restrictions and poor cleanliness they can tolerate.
The coordination and integration of the new international students was well organized: In the first week there were information events about the university, course selection, life in LA etc. , campus tours and a joint excursion to LA and Santa Monica. The two main contact persons for our semester program were very committed and helpful. However, some of us got off to a bumpy start: We had already submitted a list of 10 desired courses in advance and we came here with the expectation of getting 4 of them. However, this was not the case. At the start of the semester you could be happy if you were already enrolled in 3 courses, but there were also quite a few cases in which someone had not received one of the courses they wanted. That’s because American students are given preferential treatment. You can easily enroll for courses online, while every single one of our course requests had to be checked and approved by the respective department. If the courses were already full at the time, we got the short straw. The course crashing that is common in the USA was also mine and my business administration colleagues are only possible to a very limited extent, because crashing is expressly prohibited at the Business College. So we had no choice but to look around for business-related courses in other colleges and hope that our home university will credit these as business courses.
The level of the courses themselves was somewhat lower than in Germany, but the workload was significantly higher. In each of my 4 courses, many different criteria were included in the assessment: smaller individual case study analyzes, partner work, larger group projects, presentations, online tests, midterm exam and final exam. So you are challenged quantitatively rather than qualitatively. I really liked the practical orientation at CSUN. For example, we worked out a complete business plan for our own business idea and developed marketing plans and managed projects for real companies. I would rate the lack of authority and assertiveness of some lecturers somewhat more negatively. Too often it happened that at the insistence of students, submission deadlines were postponed, exams were greatly simplified and the scope of term papers was subsequently significantly reduced in order to enable all students to complete the course with good to very good grades. With our education system in Germany and other European countries, which is geared more towards independence, organizational skills and diligence, we European guest students often achieved top grades with ease and often ended up as the best of the course in front of the native speakers.
So if you value very specific courses, a competitive environment and challenging content, you shouldn’t necessarily expect too much from the CSUN.
In addition to the rent for the semester, my on-campus housing fee also included a certain amount for meals. The two components were inextricably linked. You couldn’t have got one without the other. So I was more or less forced to eat in the canteen on campus because I had paid for it in advance. The so-called Meal Plan comprised 10 meals a week in the canteen on the dormitory grounds and more than $ 400 so-called dining dollars that could and had to be used throughout the entire semester because they would expire at the end of the semester. The food in the canteen was typical American cuisine, including donuts, muffins, pancakes, bacon and the like for breakfast and burgers, American pizza and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. Of course you have to like American cuisine to benefit from the canteen, but there was also a rich buffet at the Asian Food Corner. The uses of the Dining Dollars on campus are mainly limited to Panda Express, Burger King, Subway and a few cafes and small supermarkets on campus.
In the vicinity of the campus you will also find something on a very restaurant-rich street, but American and Mexican cuisine is also more prevalent here. Food costs are comparatively high in the USA, especially for fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, unless you have a car and can make your way to a more distant and therefore less accessible Walmart.
The range of leisure activities at CSUN is quite large. There is the Student Recreation Center (SRC), a large state-of-the-art fitness studio with equipment, a varied program of courses, a large pool and much more. While the usage fee for regular students is already included in the tuition fees, international students pay on top, as is so often the case. With about $ 145 for the whole semester you can take part and then use all the services of the SRC. On the other hand, there are also the many different sports clubs where you can do sports. For a fee of $ 75 I joined the CSUN Tennis Club and was able to train for 2 hours up to 3 times a week, which is really worth it for the price. However, admission to the club was associated with a lot of paperwork and administrative work, which dragged on almost to the middle of the semester.
In addition to sporting activities and the workload for university during the week, you definitely have enough time to explore the surrounding area with friends at the weekend. With little traffic, LA can be reached in just 30 minutes by car, and the surrounding beaches, such as Malibu and Venice, are just as quick. But also trips to more distant destinations such as San Francisco, San Diego and Las Vegas, are worth it for 2-3 days, if you get off early and calculate about half a day’s journey. Long weekends like Labor Day and Thanksgiving are best for this, but many students don’t have college on Fridays anyway. For a visit to the major national parks such as Sequoia, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Death Valley, I recommend the organized tours of the CSUN Outdoor Adventure Office. Here you can experience impressive nature under the direction of student guides for a small price. However, the places are extremely limited, usually only 8-10 participants are taken, so that all trips that you don’t want to miss should be booked early, if possible at the beginning of the semester.
At Outdoor Adventures you tend to travel together with other Americans, because at least the guides are local students, which is also a certain attraction. However, if you organize such excursions yourself, you not only have more work, but also mostly travel with other Germans or other Europeans, as the local students already know all the attractions. While larger trips can only be planned on weekends, it is best to visit theme parks such as Universal Studios, Disneyland or Six Flags during the week to avoid an even bigger rush on the weekend.
The best means of transportation in California is the car, be it a rental car from Hertz and Co. or a self-purchased car, because public transport is either not available for certain routes or there are only a few suboptimal connections.
I wish all future CSUN students a lot of fun and many unforgettable experiences studying and traveling in California!