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Experience report Grand Valley State University


1 Experience report Grand Valley State University Paul Touillon Mechatronics Trinational

2 1. Introduction My name is Paul Touillon and I am studying trinational mechatronics at the DHBW Lörrach. With this report I would like to first share my experiences as a student at Grand Valley State University, Michigan (GVSU), but also give tips and advice to those who are interested in a semester abroad at this university. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to the head of studies and former students of the GVSU before my semester abroad and thus to collect a lot of important information in order to better prepare myself for the semester. I therefore hope that with this report I will give any interested parties a good overview of the course of a semester and that they will be able to find useful information from my report. 2. Preparing for your stay The very first step is to choose a university. It seems easy, but I personally had difficulties here because the DHBW Lörrach offers so many interesting programs. Here I would recommend that the student think about which country he or she would like to go to. Since most universities offer the same courses, this criterion does not play a decisive role. The culture and the way of life in the country were important to me, as I wanted to get to know a new culture above all else. Other criteria such as costs or language are of course also important and decisive criteria. In fact, in many countries you have to pay university fees for each semester, which can sometimes be very high. In the US, fees can run to several thousand euros per semester, which is unaffordable for many. However, thanks to an agreement between DHBW Lörrach and its partner universities, no fees are charged. However, you have to pay for the accommodation, the flight and the ancillary costs yourself. The language is also an important criterion and if you want to improve your English, for example, I would really recommend choosing an English-speaking country. There are universities in non-English-speaking countries where classes are in English, but as far as I'm concerned, I've made significant progress in English because I only spoke and only spoke English in everyday life and outside of university Listen. As soon as you have decided on a university, you have to register for a language test so that our language level can be assessed. Depending on the university you want to enroll at, a certain language level is required. In many English-speaking countries a B2 level is required, some universities even require higher language levels. The language test assesses linguistic and written skills as well as listening and reading comprehension. The selected topic is related to the student's degree program. You will receive the results a few weeks later, and when you have reached the required language level you can proceed to the registration at the chosen university. If the language test is not passed, you can of course take it again. The application consists of various documents, including certificates from the last semester, a letter of motivation and the certificate that the language test was passed. All necessary documents for each partner university are listed on the DHBW website. It is better to collect these documents early on because they are fairly easy to obtain.

3 The DHBW then takes care of forwarding the application documents to the partner university. The partner university should give an answer within a month, and if this is positive, the visa should be dealt with immediately. The visa is the most important document and I can only recommend contacting the embassy as early as possible to make an appointment, because it is very time-consuming. In fact, appointments are very quickly taken and there can be a wait of several months. You won't go anywhere without a visa, even if you are registered at the partner university. Some international students missed the first few weeks because they had not received their visas, and so they really missed something, because the first few weeks are the most important, which I will come back to in more detail later. At the same time you should try to find accommodation. The GVSU offers different types of accommodation with different facilities. For example, there are single rooms in apartments or houses with 2 or 3 beds. However, these are the accommodations that are most in demand, and unfortunately most of them are already occupied because American students have reserved them a year in advance. Then there are still 4-person houses or apartments with two 2-person rooms each. There are various places of residence on campus, all of which are close enough to the university buildings so that everything can be reached quickly on foot. However, some places are better than others. I would highly recommend the so-called Laker Village here, because the students live there in real houses with a living room, kitchen and bathroom. This is where most of the international students are accommodated and the atmosphere is great. Most of the parties or evening gatherings take place there, and it's the best location for walking to class or catching the bus to the center. I lived there myself. Regarding the application for accommodation, you have to go to the website yourself and fill out an application form. The university is not at your side in this step and does not give you any tips. So it is important to deal with it early on! An important tip for the accommodation (which unfortunately I didn't know when I arrived) is that the house is empty. In the house there is only one table in the kitchen and one sofa in the living room. But otherwise you have to bring everything yourself, for example sheets, pillows, cooking utensils, dishes and plates, lamps, etc. I had to buy everything myself. However, it is also often the case that the Americans who live in the same house bring a lot with them. You don't have to buy that much then. Many even bring a television and the indispensable Playstation with them! Unfortunately, the two Americans I lived with didn't bring anything with them. The next step is enrollment in the various courses. This is done on the GVSU website; for this you need a login and password given by the university. It is important to discuss with your course director in advance which courses correspond to the semester and which may not be chosen. As soon as the course director has approved the selected courses, you can register for these courses at the GVSU. There are many course options at GVSU, and you can quickly lose track of things. Above all, it is important to know which courses you have to take, for the rest you get support from a supervisor from the GVSU. Most students take between 4 and 6 courses, which equates to between 12 and 16 credits. Personally, I've had 4 courses, and I found it sufficient in terms of the amount of work. Of course, how much work they can do also depends on the person. However, I would recommend 4 courses, because with more than 4 courses you have almost no free time, and that's a real shame because you don't have time for anything other than work. I only had 14 hours of classes a week, which doesn't sound like much. However, I had to use my free time all the more to do all the homework. The amount of work there really shouldn't be underestimated, and if you don't work regularly, you can no longer follow the lessons very quickly. I'll tell you more about this later in the report.

4 Finally, when the GVSU has received all the documents and the courses have been selected, send us the so-called DS. This document proves that you will study at the GVSU for one semester, and it is just as important as the visa. Students are not allowed to enter the USA without a DS. It is very important to check the entire document, whether everything is correct and, above all, whether the surname and first name are spelled correctly. For example, my last name was misspelled for me. For this, GVSU had to create a new document and send it back to me, which took a few weeks. As far as flights are concerned, it depends on the student whether they prefer to book early and book for outward and return flights. The prices vary a lot and there is no best time to book the tickets in my opinion. I had already bought the tickets before I even got my visa. So I was relieved that I no longer had to worry about my flight. However, despite being a trusted airline, my outbound flight was canceled 5 hours before departure and I had to quickly book a new flight. As I said, anything can happen on flights and there is no absolutely safe way. 3. Stay in the host country My outward journey took a long time: since I started from Berlin, I first had to fly to Paris and take my international flight there. When I got to Detroit, I then had to wait several hours until I got through customs and the immigration officers who review our documents and ask questions such as what we are going to study here, whether we can handle the judiciary had to do, etc. Then I was able to take my last flight from Detroit to Grand Rapids, the city where GVSU is located. An American student picked us up there, drove us to the campus and showed us our accommodation. The arrival on campus for the international students had to take place between August 21 and August 23. Then the introductory week began, where all international students got to know each other. For this purpose, many activities and games were organized so that you can get in touch with the others immediately. One day was planned for a trip to Lake Michigan and a barbecue on the beach (see Figure 1.). This introductory week is very important, and as I mentioned earlier, this week should not be missed or you will miss the campus sightseeing tour, which is very useful if you want to better know where the buildings are and how everything is on the campus Campus works. The week after that the semester started! And this week we had homework and reports to write. So it is important to get into the work rhythm right away. Photo 1: Grand Haven Beach. Most of the courses had a weekly test of what we had learned up to that point. These exams were rated at 25 points and made up 20% of the final grade. In each course there were also at least 2 group work, which at the end made up 25% of the final grade. They are small coefficients, but they can improve the final grade, because this work was mostly easier than the final exams. So it was easier to get a good to very good grade. Overall, there was an exam in the middle of the semester and a final exam. Both exams were quite laborious: you had to sign up

Prepare for it 5 weeks in advance. As in Germany, tasks to prepare for the exams are distributed. The group work was very interesting for me, because I was able to work with Americans and get an insight into their way of working, and compare it with that in Germany or France. They are really completely different ways of working! There were two vacation periods during the semester, one at the beginning of the semester (Labor Day) and one at Thanksgiving, that is, at the end of the semester. One should take advantage of this opportunity to travel. A lot is organized by the international group and many students organize trips in small groups. I can only recommend traveling with others because that's the best way to get to know people! And of course you also learn a lot about their country and their culture. You can also go on a trip on the weekend if the schedule allows it. I was fortunate enough not to have classes on Friday and not to have classes again until late Monday afternoon. It was ideal for making small trips. And if you want to travel from Grand Rapids, there are several modes of transport available: You can take the bus to any city within the United States. They are the so-called mega buses, and they are the cheapest way to travel. Then there is the plane: Grand Rapids has a small but non-international airport. From there, you can be in New York in an hour, Detroit in half an hour, or Chicago in less than an hour. However, the prices are quite high, and if you haven't booked early, it can quickly cost several hundred euros. The last option is to rent a car, which can be quite cheap if you use all the seats. And with it you can really go anywhere and take the time, which is not possible with the bus and plane. However, the tenant must be 25 years old, otherwise you have to pay more because of the insurance. Now I would like to tell you a bit about everyday life on campus and what life is like as a student there. If you like to do sports, then GVSU is exactly the right thing for you! Tennis, basketball, soccer, football, baseball, golf, rowing ... The university simply offers all kinds of sports that one can offer. There is a club for every sport, and if you want to play a certain sport you have to register with the club first. Most clubs are free of charge, sometimes they ask for a deposit for the material that is borrowed. Sports clubs are a great way to meet new people and meet Americans. But if you only want to do fitness now and then, there is a huge sports hall where you can train basketball, volleyball and of course with weights and lots of equipment. There are many small supermarkets on campus where you can find everyday products. However, for things like vegetables, fruit etc. you have to go to Meijer, which is a very large supermarket. You can really find everything there, not just food, but also everything you need for the house. It is 5-10 minutes by bus to Meijer. In some houses where a roommate had a car, all 4 roommates went shopping together, which was easier because you didn't have to drag the purchases. Oh yes, as far as the car is concerned, you can be pretty happy if one of the roommates has a car! Nowhere in the US can you go without using your car. Everything is far apart, and even if you want to walk, most of the streets are not suitable for pedestrians. Since most of our students didn't have a car, we always used Uber. It's banned in Germany, but it's going really well in the US and you can find Uber everywhere. There are of course a lot of cafes like Starbucks on campus, where all students get a coffee to go early in the morning and all day long. Then there were also a lot of fast foods like Subway, Panda Express, Einstein Bagels, Papa Johns, but there is also a canteen where you could get real dishes, such as vegetables, meat, salad, etc. At the beginning you find it a little difficult , almost every day

6 To eat food, but after a certain time you get used to it and in the end you only eat burgers, fries, pizza and the like! All students have the opportunity to work on campus for some cash. You can work in the canteen, in the supermarket, as a gardener or in security. International students even have the option of giving language classes, which is a great opportunity to meet new students. For any job, you get paid around $ 10 an hour. You can add money to the student card or take so-called meal plans and use them to pay for food and groceries. If you want to study in peace or look for information, then the new library is the perfect place! It was built a year before I arrived and is very modern with lots of glass walls (see picture 2). There are 5 floors in total and the way it works is that the last floor is the quietest and the first is the loudest. If you want to work intensively, then the upper floors are most suitable. You can work on your computer anywhere in the library, as Mac computers are available throughout the building. This is where you usually meet when you have to do group work. The biggest change for me was the type of teaching. During the lesson, the picture 2: the new library professor taught his subject and the students could ask questions, but we never did exercises during the lesson. In itself, the effort was not so great, but a lot of self-work was expected. In each subject you had to write reports, carry out group projects or solve tasks.Since English is a foreign language to me, it took me more and more time to write my reports because I had to find the right words and spelling. In class, however, I had no difficulty understanding the professors, and since my subjects had a lot to do with technology, the vocabulary was very similar to that in Germany. The Americans were also very understanding with me, knowing that I was a foreigner. When I needed help, they were always ready to help me and explain things to me again until I understood. 4. Practical tips I have already given a few tips above, but I think that a list of all tips is more useful: - Make an appointment at the embassy in good time and check several times that you have all the necessary documents with you on the day of the appointment ! - Book accommodation as early as possible. This gives you more chances of getting the accommodation you wanted. - Be sure that you are registered for the courses. - Make the most of your time in the US to travel and have fun!

7 5. Conclusion I had the best time of my life in the USA! I really liked the culture and, above all, the everyday life as a student there, and I can really only recommend this valuable experience to every student. The people of Michigan are so nice and gracious that at the end of the semester you don't feel like going back home at all. In the four months I got to know a lot of people from all over the world, and I am still in contact with many of them. We have even made close friends with some of them and are already planning to go on a new trip together. There are still so many experiences that I would like to share. But I hope that with this report I have convinced the interested parties to opt for this semester abroad and if some have questions, I would be happy to answer them and provide further details. And as all students at GVSU say, I say: Laker for a lifetime! 6. Pictures Picture 3: Football Game at GVSU Picture 4: Niagara Falls, Canada Picture 5: New York Picture 6: New-Orleans, Louisiana