University: California State University Long Beach
Country: United States
Continent: North America
Field of study: mechatronics
Study type: semester abroad
This report is largely based on the experience in Long Beach, California. I’ve also been almost everywhere in California, Mexico, New York City, Miami Beach and Cuba. My experiences are generally applicable and aim to pass on as many experiences as possible, which should help not to spend money unnecessarily. I ask you to see my experiences and tips as guidelines. Lots is changing in the US as well, so notices may be out of date. Unlike in Germany, where price reductions on products are fixed and must be distributed as fairly as possible, in the USA it depends very much on the seller. What matters most is how you present yourself to him.Attention is paid to politeness, openness and honesty. If you take this to heart, you can get incredibly far in half a year. See mcat-test-centers.com for information about University of Magdeburg Germany.
Have fun while reading!
The only advice I can give you is go one way to the USA and don’t book both flights firmly in advance. When comparing, of course, the early return flight was temptingly cheap. In the end, you are then tied directly to time and place. Usually there are hardly any more expensive variants to book to Europe at short notice. An in-between offers the option of booking a variable time and variable airport with the travel agency for an additional charge. Mostly for a surcharge that should not be underestimated, whereby one is still dependent on the travel agency. It was not worth booking both flights in advance for me. In the six months I got to know so many people and discovered completely new opportunities to develop myself that I had to forego the return flight. Above all, if you want to travel uncomplicated at the end, you should keep yourself as unbound as possible.
In general, the legal situation has a federal structure similar to that in Germany. Each state has its own laws and guidelines. The difference is that significantly more powers have been handed over to the states than we have. It starts in the supermarkets, since every state is allowed to levy its own taxes on products. That is why all prices are always net prices, i.e. before taxation. This will then be added at checkout. By the way, you don’t pay taxes on unprocessed food. Alcohol consumption is strictly sanctioned in California. The prices for the usual varieties are almost three times higher than ours. In addition, there are enough restrictive rules to reduce the consumption of alcohol to a minimum. Pubs and bars are forbidden to serve alcohol after 2 a.m. Sometimes means they leave from 1: 30 o’clock no more in and close at 5 minutes before 2 o’clock. Drinking in public is completely (!) forbidden and will result in heavy fines (minimum $350). Even acting drunk on a public street can be punished. Drinking/Drug Driving can result in an outright eviction for Internationals. The classic “urinating in public” should also be completely prevented, as here too Fee of at least $500 is due. In addition, such an offense can quickly be interpreted as sexual harassment. The Americans don’t understand that as a joke anymore and it can end badly.
The police are feared in LA. Especially among colored minorities. However, I cannot report any bad experiences with police officers. (It’s probably because I’m white.;-) ) If you have problems, you can talk to a police officer and they will help you as best as possible. As long as there is no initial suspicion against you and there is no reason to be suspicious, the police officers are actually really cool and will go along with any crap. But if the officer wants something from you, don’t be squeamish about asking. Most of the time you are hardly given a chance to speak, but only have to answer the questions. I haven’t experienced a case where I felt uncomfortable. You can also tell immediately from your accent that you come from Germany. The good thing is,Don’t worry.
In order to learn English quickly there, you should try to talk to them. No matter where and no matter how, the Californians love small talk. This helped me immensely as I’ve never been an English luminary. My personal breakthrough came when I no longer had to look up every vocabulary to complete the sentence, but simply paraphrased the missing words. Your accent gives you the puppy bonus, so no matter how stupid the paraphrase is. The main thing is that the person you are talking to knows what you want to say. What’s amazing is people’s ability to communicate with you, even though you’re only likely to be able to express less than 20% of your thoughts at first. Over time, you gradually learn the missing vocabulary. I was unlucky to live in an “internation house” off campus, where out of 12 people, 7 were from Germany. Too bad, unfortunately lost! Of course you can still speak English, which we did,Look for a completely international or US national environment, otherwise you will get annoyed later.
Of course, only English is spoken at the university. Since there is a lot of frontal teaching in the engineering area, there is rarely a long conversation with the instructor. Don’t worry about not understanding anything. The panel painting supports what has been said sufficiently. But if you still have questions, then there is no shame in asking. The fellow students are also helpful and friendly. You can learn a lot by listening, and you can especially get incentives for the accent. But nobody can avoid the actual speaking.
God, the President and the World
I personally met the Californians as very cosmopolitan and enlightened people. Of course there are enough idiots, just like we do. You don’t have to have anything to do with them. Nevertheless, I had the feeling that people were interested in new ideas and views. What struck me was that topics that are generally taboo for small talk are established there. You talk openly about your salary, who you vote for or how you relate to God. The most important criterion was to speak openly and honestly with people. Usually you find out very interesting things about the “average Californian”. The only restriction is that you shouldn’t get in touch with a right-wing Republican – that’s where human abysses open up.
If you are interested in politics, then you realize what a different view you have of the other country. The Germans believe that Barack Obama is the President of the Heart and the Americans that Mrs. Merkel is the most popular woman in Europe. Opinions on political issues differ. In general, you can talk to the people there very well about their country, about the good and the bad. Try it!
Discounts, coupons, offers
If you pay full price for a product in the USA, it’s your own fault! Because discounts are always granted or you can take part in promotions. The important thing is that you have to know how to find and use them. In normal everyday life you can fall back on discounts from the supermarkets and practically cover your entire need. Here, too, it is possible to purchase the supermarket’s membership card free of charge at the checkout. If you then make a purchase with this card, you receive direct benefits or can collect points. It was the same with leisure activities. There was always a way to save at least 20%.
The international student card, or ISIC card for short, was very helpful when looking for discounts. On the website you will find a huge selection of perks that are only there for students. In most cases, you then have to register on the company website, enter the card number and you are then saved in the system as authorized. The ISIC card offers long-term offers that are sometimes valid for months and vary little. So you don’t have to worry or rush to take advantage of the offers.
Another way to save money is “Groupon”. This name hides an app for the smartphone, which offers a platform for companies to publish discounts or promotions. As a user, you have to register and enter your credit card number. Payment is made by credit card to Groupon after reading the “Terms of Condition” carefully. When this is done, you will immediately receive a “voucher” in the app. With this voucher you can then purchase the selected product.
As an illustration
You want to go out to eat with four people and find a restaurant just around the corner. The voucher for 4 people (50% off) is available and this promises to eat for $80 and pay for $40. Then you buy the voucher via the app and pay $40 at Groupon. However, the voucher can later be used to reduce the bill by $80 in the restaurant. If, for example, you ate for $85, then the difference, i.e. the $5, must be paid as normal.
Caution: Many restaurants charge a service fee on Groupon. This means that a service surcharge suddenly appears on the bill. To avoid this surprise, inquire in advance. Furthermore, you can always ask politely whether there is a discount for students or what discount campaign is currently running. Service is very important in the USA.
Probably the most popular means of transport in the USA is of course Uber. Although Uber is heavily outbid by Lift at the moment. You can take advantage of this and download both services onto your cell phone. You can also pay by credit card. The general Uber system works via a route base price, on which there is a supply and demand flat rate. Simply means that when there is high demand (just after 2 a.m. when all the clubs close), the price also goes up. That can get really expensive. That’s why it’s always good to have Lift on your phone too.
As an example, when we started looking for rides with 5 people in a remote location for an Uber, the price went straight up to 150%. We ended up taking a lift. Traveling directly to special places (airport grounds) should also be avoided, as a surcharge will apply there. Better to get off one crossing before and walk 5 minutes.
When it comes to mobile Internet, there are two variants. One premium variant is from Vodafone and offers a family package that can be booked with 4-5 people. Then you pay about $25-30 a month. The other variant is a kind of pre-paid card from US Mobile. With US Mobile, I was able to put together my tariff on the Internet at the beginning of the month. I had the options for telephony, SMS and mobile internet (MB number) to choose from. With this modular system, it was super easy to optimally cover the demand. If a service has been used up, there is the option of simply re-booking it. The variant costs about $15 and can be canceled monthly without a contract. This contract was my favorite as it had no term and was inexpensive. Mobile Internet was covered almost everywhere by WLAN spots.
Traffic in California is very harmonious. All road users drive carefully and with foresight. In addition, there is a much wider street than one is used to in Europe and no right-hand drive requirement. Means you can drive in any lane and overtake on the right or left. This makes driving a car almost a pleasure. A major limitation is the speed limit, which is 65mph in California. But you should focus on the surrounding traffic and not be the fastest if possible. Because here, too, tickets cost a lot of money. There is also the rule that you can turn right on a red light. You should always exercise caution, as such situations can sometimes become confusing. Parking is generally a problem in big cities. Whereas in the country you can stand on every corner, there is a parking meter in popular places in the big cities. You have to be prepared to always pay something if you’re lucky and catch an empty bay. (Usually you only pay in quarters, so always have a few dollars with you.)
In order to save data volume when traveling, Google offers the option of using offline maps. I downloaded the maps in the WLAN and then drove in flight mode. This saves a lot of battery and the phone doesn’t get that hot.
As already mentioned in the field report by Lukas M. described, there is a large selection of possible credit cards. One should take two independent cards to the States in case one doesn’t work for some reason. I applied for a debit card at Wells Fargo. The Wells-Fargo in the USA is like the Sparkasse here. There was even an office on campus. I booked the card for half a year. As soon as you make more than ten transactions with the card in a month or have $1000 in your account, it is exempt from fees.
Amazon offers students a free Prime membership for six months. How fitting!
Excursion to Tijuana (Mexico)
Mexico is so close, you should definitely pay a visit to Tijuana. There’s actually hardly anything to consider at the border. When entering the country, you have to go through a lock and show your passport. (Duration approx. 15 minutes) If you want to go back to the USA, you have to be prepared for longer waiting times. Unless, anti-cyclically, you don’t go during peak times. The border is open 24/7. When entering the USA, the luggage is x-rayed and one or two questions are asked about your stay. (duration approx. 30 min)
Orderly chaos reigns in Tijuana itself. The best way to visit is with Mexicans, otherwise you will be ripped off at every turn. It is better to change the pesos in advance in the USA or at a bank. The exchange offices will fool you even if you are standing next to them. The US dollar is accepted as an unofficial means of payment, but is often rounded up in your favor. Taxis are wonderful and ubiquitous, but every taxi driver charges $10 for foreigners, any distance. In general, you have to negotiate very, very hard in Mexico and otherwise leave.
The street food is amazing and cheap to boot. I have never eaten better tacos!! On the relevant sites you can easily rent hotels in advance for little money. In general, Tijuana is safe. One shouldn’t push one’s luck at night, but I felt comfortable in the tourist area. Nevertheless, it can happen that you come across a tandem vehicle made up of a police car and a military jeep, heavily armed, of course.
Valuables should be kept in the hotel safe as far as possible and money should be kept in pockets inside. I can particularly recommend the hotel restaurant “Hotel Caesar”. According to legend, the Caesar salad was invented there. The restaurant is a great place to drink beer and don’t miss the opportunity to order a Caesar salad. This one is specially prepared! However, the prices are on a European standard, which is really worth it. One should not expect too much from the products offered in Mexico. Nevertheless, there are sometimes really good products that tourists should take with them. (Tequilla, Sombreros, PictureinPicture) I bought a hat there that got praised across the continent.
In Hollywood, there’s Universal Studios, where many films are produced. This is absolutely amazing and you should definitely take it with you. You can also get a small discount through the Student Union. The Season Pass is also worthwhile, where you can only enter the park as often as you like at certain times. SixFlags is also highly recommended. Probably the sickest roller coaster park I’ve ever been to. Definitely go during the week! Don’t be surprised, you are usually not allowed to take food into the park. But if you complain about diabetes or dizziness at the entrance control, it was no problem, at least with SixFlags, to take sandwiches into the park. Otherwise you pay $12 for a small menu of fast food.
The notorious spring break at American universities is of course also a highlight of the semester abroad. My fallacy was that this would be about halfway through the stay. Unfortunately it is the case that this is in the last third. With some clever planning, you can get almost 10 days out of the week. The actual spring break starts on Monday and ends on Friday. Depending on what your schedule is like and you “normally” have Friday off, you can start the trip on Thursday afternoon in the previous week. If everything goes well, you don’t have your lecture until late on Monday or you’re “sick”.
Probably the most popular activities are road trips, Mexico, city breaks or camping. No matter what you prefer, plan as early as possible, otherwise a lot will be fully booked. If you are interested in scenery and cities, I recommend the California route. The Yosemite, the BigSur and the Death Valley are wonderfully suited for nature. To see cities, there’s San Francisco as a highlight, Las Vegas or San Diego. But enough “unknown” cities can also inspire. Likewise, the Highway One offers beautiful pictureson. These are all standard destinations where you are never alone, but always meet other tourists. If you like it more secluded just as beautiful, but don’t want to do without San Francisco, you can also see its landscape in countless national parks in northern California and Oregon. It is much rarer to be surrounded by tourists. You can also see the rural west coast. I will definitely drive up to Oregon from San Francisco again. (My tip: Lassen Volcanic National Park / Lake Tahoe)
Ultimately, untamed nature awaits you in Yellow-Stone National Park, which looks small on Google Maps but is actually gigantic. (Flight, LB Aiport to Denver: approx. $80, then 8 hours by car. Good planning required.) To get to one of the coveted campgrounds in the national parks, you must make a reservation in advance on the US National Park website make. Inform yourself early, as usually all places are gone on the first day. Motels/ hotels are expensive at the time.
On the East Coast you can realize your curiosity about cities very well. There are hardly any national parks but many historic cities. I can’t really say too much about that because I wasn’t there that long. Cancoon in Mexico is also a very popular destination for American students. There, apart from any rules, the student party life takes place.
I rented a camper for spring break with guests from Germany. We drove all over California with it and in 5 days we saw practically everything you should take with you in California. The trip cost us (5 people) about $3000, the most expensive being the camper at $1500 because it was short-term (!). (The route is attached.)
As a little help, the rough plan of where you want to travel to after the semester should be determined before spring break. It is best to have already booked at this point. After the spring break, it feels like there will be more midterms and the finals right away. Usually there is hardly any time left for big plans.
Traveling is the best thing about a semester abroadand I had so much fun. In order to get around the area well, quickly and, above all, inexpensively, there is actually no way around the car. In order to be able to rent a car in the USA, a basic German driver’s license, class B, is required. Although it is recommended to have an international driver’s license issued, this is not really necessary. We used the Alamo company’s offer particularly often. If you use the student offer from the ISIC page, you get a discount of about 20% and a tank of fuel for free. In addition, there is the special U25 rate, which requires no additional fees if the renter is under 25 years old, which can be around $25 per day via American providers. It is particularly inexpensive if the tenant is over 25 years old.
It was always a great thing at Long Beach Airport that the cheaper models were not available and we were upgraded to higher-quality vehicles free of charge. Some banks offer international car insurance in addition to the contract. This is of course worth it.
The fuel prices are sometimes less than half as high as in Germany and the filling station network is traditionally well developed. Important note when refueling: Payment is always made in advance. I recommend paying in cash as there is an additional charge of approximately $0.20 per gallon (3.8l) when paying with a credit card. Furthermore, most card-fishing (intercepting of credit card data) is registered at self-payment machines at petrol stations.
If travel is to distant national destinations, then the airplane is inevitable. After a few flights, it became like driving a bus at high speed for me – completely normal. There is also the possibility to travel cheaply. Many routes are so heavily frequented that there is always a cheap offer to be had in the low-cost segment. With the well-known portals, there is the possibility of optimally adjusting your route and displaying the days with the respective flight costs.
If you can, you only take the essentials in your hand luggage and save considerable (!) costs for a checked-in suitcase and time on arrival and departure. Car rentals are available directly at the airport and can be easily booked in advance as described above. If you check flights to desired destinations once a week, you can ultimately get the best out of them.
Public transportation is well developed in the Los Angeles area. With the student ticket you can drive in Long Beach for free. A ticket ($1.25) must be drawn for trips to LA, which entitles you to travel 1.5 hours by bus and train. For longer excursions, the train is simply not worth it because of the price/performance ratio. (eg Los Angeles -> San Diego : $35 pp – same driving time as by car) TOLL-Roads are very popular in the USA. These are simply privately built roads in private ownership. If you want to use this, you have to pay for the passage. When navigating via cell phone, you can switch on these route suggestions and drive regularly on the highways. Sometimes the Toll-Road is also included when you rent a car, but most of the time you get a post at home afterwards with a request for payment.
Whether it’s worth it really only depends on the current traffic, since it doesn’t make a big difference in terms of the route. This is particularly common when driving down from LA to San Diego.
There are various ways to find accommodation in foreign cities. Most of the time it depends on the circumstances which type you should choose. Motels are a good choice for a short-term search. These are available in almost every larger city and are open 24/7. The big chains in particular always have a room available somehow and with ISIC they often have a 10% discount. Usually the cleanliness of the rooms is acceptable. Super cheap but close together with other people the hostel is the right address. There are shared toilet facilities and dormitories. Exactly the right address to make contacts for joint ventures, but it has to be reserved.
The AirBnb is popular and also inexpensive. You usually rent a room in an existing flat share. The price varies greatly by location and is usually between a hostel and a motel. The advantage that should not be underestimated is the (hopefully) existing kitchen, which allows you to cook. This detail makes the AirBnB the cheapest option, especially in large cities. In addition, you often have roommates with you who give insider tips about the city or do something with you. On the AirBnB website you can look for rooms, read reviews and send inquiries. An inquiry is more like an application that you send out. If the host accepts the request, the amount will be debited and you have reserved. It is important to explicitly ask for rules upon arrival in order to avoid nasty surprises.
If you book hotels through promotions or discounts, these are also available for little money. In cities like Las Vegas or Miami Beach you can’t avoid it either. Here, too, a service fee is sometimes charged, but this is reasonable.
However, the simplest option, if you are satisfied with the simple circumstances, is to stay in the digs of fellow students. Feel free to tell us your plans and get as many tips as possible.I’ve often had the opportunity to stay overnight with friends just because you’ve been thinking aloud about how you want to spend the next weekend. Also, all prices become affordable when you overcrowd the rooms. In hotels/motels there are at least queen-size beds that can easily be occupied by two people. We bought air mattresses and an electric pump from Amazon. So we lived in 2-bed rooms with eight people. You just mustn’t get caught, because then it gets expensive and you have to pay the other people.
Half a year in the USA hasn’t completely changed me, but it hasn’t left me cold at all. The most important thing is that you dared to take off your “German glasses” and to have seen the world through the eyes of others. Anyone who’s been away knows what I’m talking about.
With regard to the education that I was allowed to enjoy, it wasn’t really difficult in terms of the claim, but it gave me an enormous amount of understanding. For me, the combination of theory in Germany and practical experience in the USA was incredibly helpful. There you learn the basics from which you can ultimately teach yourself everything else. The instructor care was good and humane on a nice, pleasant level.
My language skills have improved significantly over the past six months. I’m now fluent in English and can express myself fairly well. A feeling for the language has also developed and the accent has decreased a bit.
In general I thought it was nice to be able to clear up the prejudices about the people in the USA. Since I was there, I know a lot more and have been able to broaden my horizons and form my own opinion.
I especially liked the people in California. They are so friendly, open-minded and polite that it is fun to get involved in a conversation.
When you come back to Germany, you first feel totally uncomfortable and left alone, something is missing. Service, “feeling good”, is seen as the greatest good everywhere. Whether you go shopping and the seller sees it as a personal requirement to support you or you are just standing on the street looking for something, you will be approached and asked if you can help.