University of Wisconsin Parkside: Study abroad report 2012
“How is it going?” One of the greetings you here almost every day instead of „Hello“.
The United States with its land area of 311 Mill. km² is huge compared to Germany with its 0.36 Mill. km². I studied in Wisconsin, also known as the badger state. The capital is Madison and the state symbols are wood violet (flower) and the robin (bird). With its land area of 140,673 km² Wisconsin is almost half the size of Germany which is only 357.000 km².
The University of Wisconsin – Parkside lies between Kenosha and Racine and is surrounded by forests. The closest big cities are Milwaukee in the north and Chicago in the south, with Chicago belonging to the state of Illinois.
Why I participated in an exchange program is an easy question to answer. I wanted to open up my horizons. This means understanding other cultures and my own culture in relation. Nowadays companies are becoming increasingly multicultural. Thus any experiences with other cultures as well as speaking more than one language will help you with job opportunities. The Ostfalia law faculty offers different exchange programs to join. I decided to go to the University of Wisconsin – Parkside because first, I wanted to go to a native English speaking country and second, the classes of the foreign university matched the classes of my current study level the most. The paperwork at the beginning was exhausting but I do not regret choosing to attend University of Wisconsin – Parkside. I would go back again any time. Studying at the University of Wisconsin Parkside was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Before applying for a university make sure that your classes are transferable to your classes of your study program. The international office provides a transcript. This script contains the classes you will take at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside and the classes of the Ostfalia University you wish to credit against them. For every class you need the permission from the respective Professor at Ostfalia. They usually want from you the course descriptions from the English classes and those you want to credit against, which you will find under the website page http://www.uwp.edu/academics/index.cfm. It’s always best to talk to the German professors and get their permission before making any decision about selecting classes.
The next step will be to get all documents together in order to apply for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. The documents you have to hand in the international office Ostfalia are
- the ECS-coordination form, Tor-form,
- a copy of your ID,
- an actual bank statement,
- DAAD-language certificate,
- application form for the foreign university
The ECS-coordination form is the form to make sure you can transfer your credits to Ostfalia. The Tor-form, is the English version of your certificate of classes you have done so far. Fill out the application form online, print it out and give it together with the other forms to the international office at Ostfalia. You can find a useful checklist for your application under page https://www.uwp.edu/learn/internationalstudentservices/
After applying online you will be asked to pay the application fee of $44. You will do this online too. Next you will have to check for the visa documents, which you can find under the embassy website. In addition you have to make an appointment at the US embassy. The following documents you need to take with you:
- DS-160 (fill out online with the SEVIS number from the foreign university)
- Foto-ID (special requirements need)
- University letter (that you will leave the country after completing your studies)
- I-20 (sent out by the foreign university),
- A stamped envelope
- Valid passport
- SEVIS form (pay SEVIS fee online) $200
- Paid visa fee €112
You will find a checklist for your visa application under the website. Keep in mind that you need to be accepted from the foreign university first before making an appointment at the US embassy, the Processing of visa application will take you approximately 1 to 2 days.
The next step contains an appointment at the US embassy. You can choose to go either to Frankfurt, Berlin or Munich. Make your appointment online under the US embassy website. They asked me if I have a criminal record and what my reason was to go to the United States. The hardest part is the waiting time, which is approximately 3 hours.
Once you get the acceptance letter from the university, you can apply for housing on campus. You have three different options.
- University Apartments
- Ranger Hall
- Pike River Suites
You will apply for one of them online under https://www.uwp.edu/learn/internationalstudentservices/
The cheapest solution is the university apartments (~$1800/semester). You will live with approximately eight people in an apartment with 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. The good thing about the apartments is that you have the option to cook instead of eating at the cafeteria. The laundry room, gym and mailbox office are in a different building but is still close by. The second option is Ranger Hall (~$2100/semester). It is like living in a youth hostel. They have floors with a common shower area. They have wired internet but no Wi-Fi. The third option is the suites (~$2400/semester), which is the most expensive option but also the most convenient one. It is one big building where you can find a gym, a computer lab, laundry room, study rooms and kitchen in the first floor. The rooms are located in 4 floors. Your mailbox is also in the first floor. All in all, it’s like a little hotel. While applying for housing you also sign up for a meal plan. I would recommend choosing the cheapest solution. Some people use up their meal plan fast while others have problems spending it all before the semester ends. Choosing the cheapest option means you can refill your account any time.
Before applying for Parkside you need to have a financial plan. They want you to prove that you are financially in a good shape. This could be income statements of your parents or your own account. Anything is acceptable. Parallel to your application process for UWP you should apply for “ AuslandsBAföG”. Usually everyone gets it even if you are not eligible for the German domestic BAföG. This will be around €700/per month. Another option is to apply for the “ Auslandsaufenthaltsstipendium” at your faculty Ostfalia. They pay €670 per month. If you are eligible to get “Auslandsbaföghöchstsatz” you will get paid in addition to the difference between “ Stipendium” and “Bafög”. You do not have to pay back the “Ostfalia Stipendium”, but you have to pay back living expenses for “AuslandsBaföG”. Regarding paying in the United States you probably noticed that it is a credit card state, which means you are allowed to pay the smallest amount in every little shop or restaurant with your credit card. Because you need to pay transactions fees for every purchase you make, there is a good solution on campus. The UWP Campus has its own bank, called Educators Credit Union, where you can easily open an account. Then you can transfer your money to that account. As a result if you pay with this credit card you do not have to pay any transaction fees. Over the long run you will save money.
What to take
The first thing I realized was, I forgot an outlet adaptor for my computer. If you do, do not worry, you can easily buy one on Amazon. But remember it takes a while for delivery. So if you plan to use your computer the first day, you should consider bringing an outlet adaptor. Also, it might be a good idea to bring a few gifts for the university and friends who will guide you during your stay. I brought some German chocolate and some figures from my home area “harz mountains”. Do not forget your laptop, of course. This might be your best friend during the main semester. It is not necessary to bring pens and paper. This you will find in the book store on campus or can also be bought cheap at WalMart. I recommend bringing shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste and other common toiletries with you. This will save you space in your luggage for your flight back to Germany. Very important in my point of view is to bring bed sheets. In the US they do not use fully bed covers in which you can put your blanket.
You can book your flight ticket under down-under.de with a student discount. For my flight back to Germany I used studentuniverse.com. For your arrival the University of Wisconsin Parkside offers a pickup service with the UWP friendship committee. These are volunteers who help new students with their first steps at UW- Parkside. You will take the coach bus from the airport to Racine or Kenosha and from there a volunteer will pick you up. If you cannot move into the dorms of the University right away, they let you stay with them. They also offer you a ride to grocery stores. Since Parkside lies out of the city area it is very helpful, especially since you do not know anybody at first.
Once you arrive in Kenosha you will move into the accommodation you picked before. I decided to live in the Pike River Suites in the global village. This is a specific floor for international students. My roommate for example was from South Korea. You will also find people from other countries such as China, Indonesia, America and Russia in this floor. I like the Suites because if you want to have company you just need to go out of your room in the main area. If you want to have it quiet you can stay in your room or in the quiet study area in the main Hall downstairs. On my first day the International Office welcomed me in a social get together where all international students and friendship families met each other. As I mentioned earlier, the University lies out of the city area, which means you need a car to get around. The “get together” is important. There you will make contacts and find friends. The people there are very helpful and friendly. And all they want from you is friendship and to listen to your experiences. All in all living on campus is convenient because the University provides everything you need. Again, it is a very convenient way of living.
If you did not pick your classes yet, you need to do it as soon as you arrive. I would recommend picking classes when you are still in Germany. That will give you time to get used to the new country without stressing out at the last minute about which classes to take. Once you have decided on your classes you need permission numbers in order to get in the class. Write an email to the student advisor, Trudy Biehn, about the classes you would like to take. She will send you the permission numbers of the UWP’s professors with which you can enroll online for classes. The following steps you need to do first:
- Activation of your student account
- Access SOLAR
- Access D2L
First you need to activate your student account online under https://www.uwp.edu/learn/internationalstudentservices/. The password and username you will receive from the University of Wisconsin advisors. After successfully activating your student account you will have access to the SOLAR system and D2L. The SOLAR system is for making payments, such as housing and meal plan payments. A meal plan guarantees a discount, which I highly recommend regarding the prices in cafeteria of the UWP. SOLAR is important for enrolling for classes, for which you need the permission numbers of the foreign professors for. D2L you will use for your classes, since you are successfully enrolled. Teachers will post class material under D2L. You will also find assignments and quizzes you have to solve during your semester under D2L.
Every class usually requires a certain book you need to have. You can either buy or rent it at the bookstore on campus. I recommend comparing the bookstore prices with prices on Amazon. Expect to pay approximately $500-$600 book expenses for one semester. Most teachers give you in addition a script that you can print out at the library or in the pike river suites. Pens and paper you can also buy at the bookstore or at WallMart. I do not recommend bringing folders from Germany, because the gaps between the holes have different sizes. They use letter-sized measurements instead of A4 like we do in Germany.
Living off campus
I had the opportunity to live off campus also, because I was taking summer classes as well. You can find apartments for example at Tallent Hall (Part of the UWP campus). These will cost around $700-$800 per month for a one bedroom apartment. It depends on the contract date and the rooms. The cheaper solution is the Wood Creek apartments. These are approximately 1.5 km away from campus. This apartments cost around $550-$640 per month also depending on the contract due date and the number of rooms. I used to live in the Wood Creek Apartments, an off campus apartment complex. It is cheap compared to living on campus. You can go all the way easily by bus, bike or by foot. If you decide to live off campus please be aware that you will sign a legal contract which means you find either a next tenant or you have to pay a penalty fee of one month rent, if you decide to break off the contract before it’s due.
Free time activities
Parkside has a lot of free time activity opportunities. There are for example clubs you can join, like PIC (Parkside International Club) or PAO (Parkside Asian Organization). I was part of PIC where we had events like Worldfest week. Usually at UW- Parkside there is something going on every day. The spring semester includes a spring break. This means one week of no classes. The Parkside clubs offer trips to different states during spring break. I decided to join the Habitat for Humanity (HFH) club. They went to Texas. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that helps build homes for people who cannot afford paid workers. The Parkside HFH club went to Texas for one week in order to help a family build their home. It was an interesting experience volunteering. We worked every day, but it did not feel like work. It felt more like a vacation while giving back to the community. At the end of the week we accomplished building a whole frame including the roof of a new house. Pretty exciting feeling I can tell you.
During my study abroad trip I learned more about the University system in the United States. I improved my English skills as well as my social skills. I learned how to juggle classes with volunteering activities and free time. I overcame my fear by taking the English TOEFL exam and I went to job interviews. In stressful situations I found out my strength and weaknesses. And on top of it all, I had the best food experience ever.
Text und Fotos: Sarah Greiner