Planning and application
Since the beginning of my bachelor’s degree, I had planned to integrate a semester abroad into my course of study. When choosing the university, the good professional reputation of the university and the central location in California were particularly important to me, which is why I ultimately decided on the University of California Santa Barbara.
A good year before my departure, I started the specific planning. After passing the TOEFL language test (October 2016), I applied to UCSB with the help of MicroEDU (December 2016). More precisely, you then apply to the UCSB Extension, the UCSB department for international students. With a few exceptions (e.g. no reduced or free admission to concerts, no academic degree from UCSB possible), you have the same status as a regular student. In return, the tuition fees are a lot lower, and in addition to the regular courses at UCSB, you also have access to the so-called extension courses at UCSB Continuing and Professional Education.
For the application, a confirmation from the bank is required that the tuition fees and living expenses can be paid. The result of the language test and a current transcript of records must also be enclosed. At the end of February 2017 I received the confirmation of admission so that I could apply for my visa and book my flight (appointment at the American embassy in Munich in May 2017).
Before I left, I looked for suitable courses at UCSB that can be credited to me after my return. It was particularly difficult to compare the courses offered by both universities. After reading a lot of module descriptions and extensive consultation with the examination office, I was able to find at least four modules that can be credited to me. In this search, I would advise future generations of students to look into it as early as possible, and not to give up immediately, even if the examination office says no, and to ask again elsewhere. It is often helpful to know who has the final say in the credit decision-making process. In some cases, perseverance and extensive argumentation will help you achieve your goal. Read more student reviews on Jibin123.
Due to the asynchronous semester dates of the UCSB, I was no longer able to take some of the exams of the previous semester regularly before my departure, so I had to arrange oral substitute exams. I first had to convince one or the other professor that there was no alternative to an oral exam in my case.
I arrived three weeks before the official start of the fall semester because I still had to look for accommodation. In principle, it is also possible to search for an apartment in advance using platforms such as Craigslist or the UCSB housing groups on Facebook. However, since I wanted to see my apartment before moving in, I spent the first two weeks in an AirBnB accommodation nearby and looked for different apartment offers from there.
Most of the students live in the Isla Vista (IV) district, which is directly connected to the huge UCSB campus. In IV it can be very noisy during the day, but especially in the evening and at night due to partying students. Especially on “Del Playa Drive”, the street directly on the beach, residents report that they always sleep with earplugs at night. Many privately rented apartments are also in a slightly shabby condition, although rents of between USD 700 and USD 1000 per month for a shared room are still being charged.
Most of the apartments were already rented at the beginning of September. The supply of apartments is always particularly scarce, especially before the Fall Quarter. After a bit of searching, however, I got a place in one of the university apartments. The apartment complex San Joaquin (or Sierra Madre) was no longer directly in the student district IV, but IV and the campus could be reached in a few minutes by bike. The special thing was that the apartments were furnished and still brand new, and that the rental price (700 USD monthly for a double room) included all additional costs such as electricity, water, internet, TV and even the fees for the pool and the in-house gym. There were also so-called study rooms so that you didn’t have to go to the UCSB library to study in peace.
I shared my apartment with five other American students. All of them were so-called transfer students and also new to Santa Barbara. Since they were all from different parts of California, I only spoke English at home. In retrospect, I would even say that I owe the progress in my English language skills especially to my American roommates, as we often talked about idioms, but also about cultural habits. I also believe that later (e.g. in professional life) there will often no longer be the opportunity to inquire about certain things, such as the differences in table manners.
Living together with other international students would have had the advantage that they would also have been interested in trips and excursions. Most of my American roommates had of course already visited the tourist attractions and were not very interested in larger joint excursions. It was therefore difficult, especially at the beginning, to find other students for a joint excursion. After a few weeks, however, that was no longer a problem, as I found like-minded people through the lectures.
In the Fall Quarter I attended a total of three lectures: two regular engineering courses and an English course from the Extension Program. As agreed with the examination office before my departure, all three courses can be credited to me after my return to Germany.
The American university system provides for significantly fewer lecture hours than the German one, but expects much more intensive and time-consuming preparation and follow-up at home. Weekly homework and laboratory reports (up to 20 pages) are also the rule.
Overall, it wasn’t difficult for me to follow the lectures. The list of participants for one of my preferred courses was unfortunately already full, as the associated laboratory had no more than 20 places. For students of the ECE department, however, a course with non-subject content is offered (ECE 199, “Independent Studies” ), in which they can choose any subject from the technical range of the UCSB. After patient consultation with the professor, I was able to agree that I would only attend the lecture of the course on control engineering (without a laboratory) and write the exams. A note could later be added to the certificate stating that I had attended the control engineering course.
Due to the lack of a laboratory, this course was by far the hardest of these two quarters. In contrast to me, the American students had the additional advantage of having been prepared for this course by introductory courses in previous quarters.
I see the regular use of simulation tools (e.g. MatLab or Simulink) as particularly profitable, which are constantly used in the weekly study work and are indispensable for later professional work. Although I received an introduction to these tools in my first Bachelor semester, they have never been needed in my studies since then.
From my language course ( “Communication for international Students”) I was rather disappointed. It was presented to us as an offer to learn about American language and university culture. Instead, it turned out to be an extremely labor-intensive course that had little to do with culture but was limited to writing essays and preparing lectures. The language level of the course content (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc.) was – I think – quite low, and I would not choose this course again. The feedback from my friends on other UCSB Extension language courses was also very poor. Looking back, I didn’t learn much in my English course and because of the extreme workload I had to constantly be careful not to neglect my other subjects. One of the few advantages was
Since only one further technical course could be credited to me anyway, I only attended one engineering course in addition to two extension courses in the winter quarter. Different applications of signal processing were explained and simulated. The professor even accepted me into his seminar, in which representatives from local companies explained their research and areas of responsibility and advertised internships.
In addition, I attended two courses in the Extension Program, but no language courses as in the Fall Quarter. The workload on these courses was not as overwhelming as on the language courses, but the level was quite good and I can say that I learned a lot in both.
For subsequent students, I can only recommend choosing the extension courses, because that’s the fastest way to get to know new people. The level is very different, but the workload usually lags behind that of the regular UCSB lectures. In some courses of study (e.g. management or business administration ), with a little luck, you can even get credit for these courses at home. The extension courses are usually much cheaper (approx. 150-165 USD per unit) than the normal courses (here 250 USD per unit).
California is known to offer a variety of national parks and attractions. Unfortunately, I missed making a “bucket list” of the places I really wanted to see before I arrived. However, there was not much time for excursions during the first quarter due to the high workload of student work. That’s why I only went to Yosemite National Park and San Diego for a weekend.
During the three-week winter break, I rented an RV with three friends and we visited other national parks, including Joshua Tree National Park, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and Death Valley National Park. Route 66, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley and a New Year celebration in Las Vegas were also there.
In contrast to the fall semester, in the winter quarter I had more time for trips such as to San Francisco, Los Angeles or the Coachella Valley. On my way back to Germany, I also spent a few days in Washington DC, New Jersey and New York.
I was also often on the beach with friends to surf. Not only the weather, but also the beach, which is only 300 meters from the dormitory, make the UCSB an ideal surf spot for students. The equipment could be borrowed from a student association, the Excursion Club, for a one-time membership fee (30 USD per quarter, 60 USD per year).
Last but not least, it should also be mentioned that Isla Vista is a district that is almost exclusively inhabited by students. For this reason, there are always many opportunities for joint activities, sports and of course the incredible parties. The extent of the parties and the way they celebrate will remain unforgettable for me!
In the past seven months, I’ve learned a lot more than I thought. In the lectures I got to know new subject areas of my degree course, learned how to use important tools and for the first time implemented the otherwise theoretical material in practice using simulations.
The mixture of studies and the many different leisure activities will remain unforgettable for me. I found the best way to get to know American student life while learning a lot about the culture, the attitudes of the people and the country. American culture is not as alien to me as many Asian cultures, but I have often encountered minor differences that I would never have suspected before. Examples are the exaggeratedly polite way of dealing with things, the opinion on guns and alcohol, national pride, or the fact that in many (formal) situations you use your first name to introduce yourself. The more confident I became in dealing with the English language, the easier it was to recognize and deal with these differences.
I also noticed that the way I express myself, both verbally and in writing, has changed significantly during this time. My pronunciation has also become more natural, according to a number of American friends, and my English vocabulary has probably never been as extensive as it is now.
Ultimately, through this long-term lifelong dream, I also gained a whole lot of life experience – whether through getting to know big city life, finding my way in a completely foreign environment, a car breakdown in the desert or through the threat of massive forest fires.
I can promise everyone who has the opportunity to do a semester abroad that this combination of study and travel will be an unforgettable experience that is definitely worth it. Above all, it is important to think about it as early as possible and not to shy away from unknown things.
If I can help you with answers to certain questions (for example about financial planning or the UCSB environment), you are welcome to contact me by email ([email protected]). For better financial planning, I can also pass on a largely complete breakdown of my study and living costs if necessary.
On the following pages you will find a list of dos and don’ts as well as a collection of the most helpful offers that I have used for my planning.
Dos for studying at UCSB
- Buy a bike
You’re just moving quickly. The UCSB also has a sophisticated network of cycle paths.
- Attend a UCSB extension course
Especially helpful for getting to know new people.
- Join the excursion club
See further references.
- Make a bucket list before you arrive
Saves time on site – regardless of whether you stay in one or more quarters.
- Attend parties in IV
Pure student life. Regardless of whether you are a party animal or not – you have to have been to a party once.
Don’ts for studying at UCSB
- Visiting large cities without prior research
American cities usually do not have a city center where you can find all tourist attractions in a small area, such as in the old town of a German city. For a meaningful sightseeing trip, some research and planning is necessary in advance.
- Relying on public transportation outside of Santa Barbara
Public transport (bus) in IV and Santa Barbara is similar to that in Germany. The public transport network is also very good in San Francisco. In cities like San Diego, the rest of the Bay Area, and especially LA, the only way to get from A to B is by car.
The timetable for long-distance trains is often very poor.
- Rely on the cellular network
In contrast to Germany, where there is cell phone reception almost everywhere, in California there is no cell phone network in remote regions, especially in rural areas, national parks and deserts. One should take this into account for emergency situations.
- Underestimate the cost of living in California
Food and cosmetics are a lot more expensive than in Germany. Prices are very different from supermarket chain to chain. The prices for electronics and fashion are often much lower than in Germany.
Other helpful offers from third parties
- STA Travel: Travel agency for students and young adults. Cheap flights with student discounts, hotel and rental cars for young people, brokerage of cheap rental offers for camper vans, complete trips, etc. www.statravel.de
- LycaMobile: mobile network provider. Originally intended for guest workers. LycaMobile offers affordable cell phone tariffs and flat rate packages. The special feature: connections to Germany (landline and optionally also mobile) and around 60 other countries are included free of charge. Can be canceled monthly. The call quality, network coverage and service were great. The SIM card can optionally also be ordered from Amazon.de in Germany. www.lycamobile.us
- Wells Fargo / Chase: banking institutions with free checking accounts. Both banks are represented nationwide, have branches in Isla Vista and ATMs on campus. I was a satisfied customer at Wells Fargo.
- TransferWise: Online service for cheap transfers from a German to an American current account at the current exchange rate. TransferWise bypasses the expensive costs of standard wire transfers (bankwire). Price: approx. 0.5% of the transfer amount. There are other services, some of which are completely free, but I have no experience with them. www.transferwise.com
- DKB checking account: Free German checking account with free credit card. New customers receive premium status for one year, so that fees for paying by credit card in non-EU countries are reimbursed. www.dkb.de
- Craigslist sales platform similar to Ebay classifieds. Highly recommended for buying cheap used cars. Lots of good articles, but still beware of scams! https://santabarbara.craigslist.org/
- UCSB / SoCal Rideshare: Facebook group for ridesharing (supply and demand) to / from Santa Barbara and Southern California (SoCal). https://www.facebook.com/groups/515389968568988
- University of California-Santa Barbara Rideshare group! Facebook group for carpooling (supply and demand) from / to UCSB https://www.facebook.com/groups/248070671987319
- Free & For Sale (UCSB) Facebook group for buying and selling items by students (mostly used, different states). Very helpful when moving in and out. This is the most frequently used sales platform at UCSB. https://www.facebook.com/groups/390102894509695
- UCSB Housing Facebook group for finding accommodation. Also for arranging temporary overnight stays, e.g. temporarily for the first two weeks while looking for an apartment. https://www.facebook.com/groups/364409110289576
- Santa Barbara Trade, Sell & Buy Facebook group for buying and selling items in the Santa Barbara Area. https://www.facebook.com/groups/292599594247713
- The Excursion Club: Student community. Membership gives you access to huge equipment for sports and leisure activities (e.g. tents, backpack rucksacks, camping stoves, surfboards, neoprene suits, kayaks, and much more). In addition, several trips and excursions are offered weekly. Due to its proximity to the beach, it is also highly recommended for surfers. Membership for $ 30 per quarter or $ 60 per year. www.excursionclubucsb.org