At the beginning of 2013 I decided to do an exchange semester in America. After passing the TOEFL test, I applied to the University of California Santa Barbara through MicroEDU. All I needed to register was a TOEFL of 80 points. The university accepts international students on a first come first serve basis. In mid-April I got the confirmation and booked my flight in mid-May. Here I recommend booking a return flight (with the option of rebooking), as this is cheaper than just booking a one-way flight. I would also recommend that you get your student visa at least a month before you leave. At the end of August my adventure “semester abroad” began at the University of California Santa Barbara. Although the Fall Quarter at UCSB won’t start until mid-September, I decided to travel to America a little earlier. On the one hand, I wanted to travel to other places in California and, on the other hand, I had to allow enough time to look for an apartment.
The university is located on the edge of Isla Vista in a lagoon, which is about a 15-minute drive from Santa Barbara. The size of the campus cannot be described by the size of the St. Gallen campus, as the university has around 21,000 students. On foot you can (estimated) take up to 15 minutes to cross the site. Therefore, it is also advisable to buy a bike or a skateboard. Without a bike I would never have been able to get to my lectures on time, as these were spread out in different buildings on campus. Cheap transportation can always be found on Craigslist.
There are many different catering options on campus (Panda Express, Subway, etc.). Books and other school materials can also be bought directly on campus in the bookstore. There are more than enough quiet places to learn. Since the library is very large, you can find a place there at any time of the day (the library is open 24 hours for students). Unfortunately, it is also very loud there, and the Internet is overloaded relatively quickly. I myself therefore preferred the music library, which is located right next to the main building of the university. This library is very small, but since it is not so well known, there is always a place to be found. No one speaks at all in these rooms, and the internet works perfectly. Read more student reviews on Toppharmacyschools.
Since the university is located in Isla Vista, I would recommend housing in Isla Vista. If you decide to drive to the university every morning, you could live in Santa Barbara. In my opinion, you miss a lot of the ‘real’ student life in Isla Vista. It was clear to me from the start that I wanted to live in an apartment in Isla Vista. The search for an apartment then turned out to be more difficult than expected. I searched exclusively on Craigslist. However, many Americans who advertised apartments mostly only responded to phone messages. Calls and emails are therefore not recommended. In addition, you should look at the apartment as soon as possible, as Americans rent out the apartments relatively quickly (within two to four days). But you have to be aware that the apartments in Isla Vista do not meet Swiss standards at all. The rooms are mostly shared with other students (single rooms are actually only passed on undercover), and the apartments are generally not really furnished and clean. Especially because of the last point mentioned, I would recommend visiting the apartments in person and not choosing a room from Switzerland that you only saw photos of. Although the search for an apartment sometimes seems hopeless, everyone will find it by the beginning of the quarter. Just don’t lose your patience. The rooms are mostly shared with other students (single rooms are actually only passed on undercover), and the apartments are generally not really furnished and clean. Especially because of the last point mentioned, I would recommend visiting the apartments in person and not choosing a room from Switzerland that you only saw photos of. Although the search for an apartment sometimes seems hopeless, everyone will find it by the beginning of the quarter. Just don’t lose your patience. The rooms are mostly shared with other students (single rooms are actually only passed on undercover), and the apartments are generally not really furnished and clean. Especially because of the last point mentioned, I would recommend visiting the apartments in person and not choosing a room from Switzerland that you only saw photos of. Although the search for an apartment sometimes seems hopeless, everyone will find it by the beginning of the quarter. Just don’t lose your patience.
As mentioned, the quarter started in mid-September. One week before the start of the quarter, the students are informed about everyday university life on an orientation day. All exchange student affairs are dealt with in a separate office, the Extension Office, during the entire quarter. I recommend that every exchange student just drop by in person if they have any questions. The staff in the office are very friendly and always try to help where possible. The course enrollment, on the other hand, was less pleasant. Although you have to submit a list of preferences a few weeks before the start of the quarter, the extension students cannot register for the regular courses at the university. The list is more or less superfluous and only serves as a guide. To get courses you had to ‘crash’ the desired classes for two weeks. That means that after each lecture you had to go to the professor with a form and ask him for a place in the course. Unfortunately, the professors took at least two weeks to make a decision. Many also checked the presence of the ‘crashing’ students and then assigned the places on the basis of this. The ‘class crashing’ was pretty exhausting, especially for me, because I mainly wanted classes from the economics area. Unfortunately, this course is quite crowded and it is relatively difficult to get the courses. In addition, I needed at least three courses on four credits. So I had to attend more than the desired 3 courses for two weeks, as it was not guaranteed that I get the courses I want. In addition, the professors only gave places to students who have attended every class since the beginning of the quarter. In the end, however, I got the relevant courses in Financial Management, Microeconomics Theory and Economic Development. Still, the first two weeks were pretty exhausting and nerve-wracking.
The Financial Management course can be credited as finance at the University of St. Gallen. In the first two weeks it seems like this course is very easy to pass, but after two weeks the level increases rapidly. You should either attend every lecture or read the recommended chapters in the book at least every week. For my part, I would also recommend the practice lessons, as you can see relatively quickly which tasks in the quizzes are important. The course is in English. However, since you are familiar with the types of tasks through the exercises, the exams are very easy to understand. The examination consists of four quizzes under the quarter and a final. I would recommend writing all quizzes and also the finals, so that you have a cross mark at the end. The professor also repeatedly refers to current topics. In general, you can always ask questions during the lecture or, if anything is unclear, you can also attend the office hours offered. The grades are distributed very fairly and you are not confronted with unpredictable tasks at the exams.
As a second course, I attended Microeconomics Theory (intermediate). This course is counted as Micro II in St. Gallen. The same material as in St. Gallen is dealt with in the lecture. Even the textbook is the same. In this course there is compulsory attendance, which is checked using an iClicker (which you have to buy in the bookstore for 45 dollars). The assigned exercises are a lot easier than the problems asked in the exams. I can only recommend that you master all of the exercises, especially since there are no old exams. Since you sit in a lecture with about 600 students, it is certainly more difficult to attend the professor’s office hours (unfortunately I never used this option in this course). It is also advisable to go to the practice lessons, otherwise you won’t have the solutions for the problem sets. In this course, ‘Close your eyes and go’ in St. Gallen, it couldn’t be easier.;)
I actually only took Economic Development because the professor announced at the beginning that she would take all exchange students into her class. It later turned out that she wasn’t using any lecture slides. For us students that meant to be present in every lecture or to copy the notes of fellow students (which are not always good!). Although the lectures sometimes seem a little disorganized, the topics are always very interesting. But you should be familiar with Makro II, as half of the tested material is based on models such as the Solow model and HD model. You have to write and explain a lot on the exams. However, the professor takes into account the language difficulties of the international students. Here, too, you could always contact the professor during her office hours if you had problems understanding. All in all, if you understand the content and models, this course is very interesting.
In summary, I invested about the same number of working hours in the subjects as in St. Gallen. The only small difference is that you have all the workload during the semester, as the exams take place during and immediately after the quarter. In my case, my ‘St. Gallen learning phase ‘simply spread over 3 months.
In those three months I had a total cost of about $ 13,000. The courses at the university cost $ 1,010 each. In addition, there are the costs of the books (very expensive 100-200 dollars per book!), Material costs (sheets, pens, etc.) and the regular registration and tuition fees. You must also expect higher rental costs than in St. Gallen. For a double room you have to plan expenses between 550 and 700 dollars. I would recommend opening an account with the Bank of America (free), which will make monthly rent payments easier. The food is about as expensive as in Switzerland, especially since Santa Barbara is one of the most expensive places in California. For me, there were also the costs of furnishing my room (bed and desk). For students,
Living in Santa Barbara
Since Isla Vista is very small, you can actually reach everything by bike. If you want to go to Santa Barbara, you can take the bus, which is free for students. In my opinion, you don’t need your own car in Santa Barbara.
The subject of cooking tends to be less of a main activity among Americans. The kitchens in the apartments look accordingly. It is therefore advisable to eat at the numerous small food stalls and restaurants in Isla Vista (no more expensive than cooking).
This exchange semester was very important for my personal development. For the first time I realized that while Americans seem so much like us at times, they have a completely different culture. I now appreciate the Swiss reliability. Americans are very unreliable. Often it seems like they are totally excited about a plan, but in the end they don’t mind canceling at the last minute. If you have travel plans, it is better not to rely too heavily on the Americans. The same applies to the handover of the apartment, as long as no money has been exchanged, one should not rely on an oral agreement.
Furthermore, it was very interesting for me to get an insight into a completely different study system. To this day I am undecided whether exams at the end of the semester or exams and quizzes during the semester are better.
Life in Isla Vista was not always relaxing and beautiful, I had a lot to do for the university and actually had no time to see anything of California during the quarter. Therefore, you should definitely plan a few more weeks for traveling before or after the exchange. In summary, the three months at the University of California Santa Barbara were very exciting and instructive months in which I was able to develop professionally and personally.