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How to Benefit From an Exchange Program – Student Life Abroad: Vital Non – Academic Aspects
The question of my required accommodation, which was a major part of those general matters, became a real melting pot: there are so many international students living here that it made me feel truly cosmopolitan. The decision about this hostel had to be made at home already after critically evaluating the wide range of possible places to stay for this period.
In fact, I was assigned to a room, which consisted of a living room with a small kitchen and a bedroom with an adjoining bathroom. No kidding, but this was a few square meters to be shared by 2 people. This was the first time I was exposed to the American concept of living with a roommate. However, there was no logical reason to make excuses, as I had already had to agree with this philosophy in Germany.
If you are having problems living with your roommate, there is always the realistic possibility of changing residences. At that time, I had the opportunity to move into another dormitory (McTyre International House) which was on campus and divided into several international departments. I highly recommend this educational location, because being together with students in the Russian, French, Spanish and German halls is definitely a real inspiration.
Apart from happily enjoying the great inspiring atmosphere of the university with numerous brick buildings that reminded me of the Victorian century, my attention was drawn to the large number of students who had already arrived, mainly accompanied by their parents. It felt to me like a kind of official homecoming for the students who felt safe again in this academic and spiritual environment for the next academic session.
Now after settling in my hostel it was time to complete the first administrative requirements. In the early days, I was bound to get some key cards and certificates that enabled me to live life in and outside the campus. There are a few select credentials that I still hold dear from my great time at Vanderbilt. The following selection of IDs represents a first glimpse of the compulsory ‘bureaucracy’ of the American university.
Key ID is essential for campus life enabling basic access to all faculties, facilities, canteens or libraries to name just a few. Above is the back page of the Central ID with mandatory descriptions and explanations from the Social Security Administration.
A Social Security ID is required for essentially every citizen and/or temporary resident of the US such as exchange students. This ID is called ‘Validation Card’.
The next item on my ‘self-guided-agenda’ is a close observation of the canteen, where my mind must be refreshed daily with a diet of thoughts. At this point in my tour, I already realized that I would not have the opportunity to have ‘haute couture’ meals during my academic year, even though the cost of living on campus was considered too high. No problem, I just had to keep a very serious eye on calories to avoid unhealthy eating patterns and stay healthy. In fact, I happily did not gain much weight but managed to maintain my previous BMI (Body Mass Index). Fast food restaurants were out of scope.
Regen, another student, who already worked for the Akademisches Auslandsum in Regensburg, made me aware of the fact that the local Sarat Movie Center offers all kinds of different and very interesting films from around the world. It was definitely a creative place that I frequented during my stay. It was totally worth going there, especially because the tickets were unquestionably affordable and basically all the movies I got to see there were very different.
This film center became a regular meeting place for all international students.
Another distinctive feature is music: concerts on and off campus played a major part of my life abroad. I was very proud to enjoy performances by Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, U2, Simply Red, James Taylor, Keith Jarrett, David Costello, Dave Brubeck, JL Hooker and some Cajun music. A person who is personally inclined towards musicians will definitely find interest in this cultural subject when he/she reaches his/her educational base.
I should not forget to mention that Vanderbilt offered a unique opportunity to participate in a local radio program on campus. German students were especially sought after; So, I jumped at the chance and joined. It was a great way to gain additional experience in presentation techniques.
One feature I noticed was the clever marketing strategy of being overwhelmed by coupons: the principle of taking advantage of all kinds of savings was imprinted on my mind from the first days I arrived in the States. Surely, you will be inundated with such little things almost every day (eg ‘241’, ‘free refill’ etc.). Happy Hour events also clearly include this policy.
In fact, another amazing event I experienced during my Urban Economics class was when I looked out the window and couldn’t believe what I saw: Navy SEALs paraded on the library lawn after Thanksgiving.
An interesting point that I also need to talk about the presence of security service in the campus: Knowing about this organization made you feel safe and secure when you came back from the outside world at night. Especially the women students made smart use of this special service.
Have you ever been a member of a fraternity or sorority? If not, you will be surprised when you walk around the campus and see many small houses where many students live their academic life. It was amazing, but at the same time it was amazing to pass buildings with Greek letters at the top of the entrance. According to the prevailing belief, numerous parties and celebrations were going on at those different places.
On the other hand, it soon became clear to me that this kind of information is clearly considered important in the classical CV (curriculum vitae) in the US.
The fact that students with general physical prowess and an excellent inclination towards sports will have an advantage in relation to the overall graduation process fits perfectly in this context. A combination of both mental and physical fitness definitely played an important role in and out of the classroom. Being a member of the football team can compensate for other deficiencies in the normal classroom routine.
The Office of Student Organizations and Events (OSOE) is primarily responsible for organizing many interesting special events and trips. Our linking pin throughout the academic year was a very nice and gentle person named Rosie Ashamalla, who quickly bridged the cultural gap with her outgoing and spontaneous personality and presented many interesting events such as: International Week at Vanderbilt University, Parents Weekend, 4th of July, Thanksgiving Or an international weekend of Latin American politics with Madeleine Albright and some other heavyweight figures from the Reagan administration.
In addition, she was eager to organize exciting trips like an Indian summer trip to the Smoky Mountains or making us play on an international soccer team, just to name a few highlights. However, being involved in the life of a host family was definitely a ‘dot on the eye’ for me. It was the best way ever to enrich the two cultures.
Additionally, there was an opportunity to interview on campus, which was also something special and permanent. It wasn’t officially announced but it still turned out to be very exciting. Since I was already staying at the McTyeire hostel, this was where it all started. Among all international students some of them showed great interest for this reminder. Happy to be associated with them, I was ready to prepare: I was asked to go through a list of possible FAQs to be asked during this interview; Thus I had plenty of time.
Last but not the least, you can take advantage of getting jobs during your academic stay.
For this purpose you may contact the recruitment affairs office on campus, where all kinds of different jobs can be analyzed beforehand. I didn’t find it strange or unnecessary to care for such diversity in the midst of study weeks and exam chaos. In fact, it would have been a great opportunity to gain even more experience abroad. In my case, I decided to help update the German law books of the law library on campus. Students from Germany are especially welcome to meet that requirement.
It goes without saying that you could have found more attractive jobs; However, ideal temporary employment was not my primary goal. Still, doing one’s part and showing proper interest is considered positive.
Finally, I would like to summarize this exciting student life abroad by mentioning the most essential points to remember:
It won’t take long to think, feel and dream in English.
Get used to living with a roommate.
Get involved with the local office of student organizations and programs.
Attend a wide range of cultural activities (concerts, movies, theater).
Celebrate local/national holidays and anniversaries as well as festivals.
Try to get temporary jobs in/off campus.
If you can move into an international hostel divided into different language sections, go for it.
Be interested in joining a host family or find common ways to enrich each other
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