The question about my necessary accommodation which was a major part of those general matters, turned out to be a real melting pot: lots of international students inhabited this place making me feel real cosmopolitan. The decision about this dormitory had to be already made at home upon critically evaluating a wide range of possible locations to stay for this period of time.
In fact, I had been assigned to a room, which consisted of one living room including a tiny kitchenette and a sleeping room with an adjacent bathroom. Not kidding, but these few square meters had to be shared by 2 people. This moment was the first time being confronted with the American concept of living with a roommate. However, there was no logical reason for an excuse, since I had to agree on this philosophy in Germany beforehand.
In case you get problems regarding living with your roommate there is always the realistic possibility of changing accommodation. At that time, I got the chance to move into another dormitory (McTyeire International House) which was located on campus and was divided into several international sections. I highly recommend this academic location, since living closely together with students from a Russian, French, Spanish and German hall definitely turns out to become a real inspiration.
Apart from happily relishing the outstanding inspiring environment of the university with countless brick buildings reminding me of the Victorian century, my attention was also drawn to the vast number of students already arriving, predominantly even accompanied by their parents. It seemed to me like a kind of official homecoming for those students feeling secure again within this educational and spiritual surrounding for the next academic semester.
Now it was time to fulfill the first administrative requirements after having settled down in my dormitory. During the first days, I was obliged to get some major cards and certificates enabling a hands-on life on and off campus. There are some selected identification cards which I still keep as beloved leftovers from my great time at Vanderbilt. The following choice of ID’s reveals a first glimpse of mandatory ‘bureaucracy’ at an American University.
The main ID that was necessary for the life on/off campus enabling basic access to all faculties, facilities, canteen or library to mention just a few. Above there is the back page of the central ID including mandatory descriptions and explanations of the Social Security Admin.
The Social Security ID is basically required for every citizen in the US and/or temporary residents such as exchange students. This ID is called the ‘Validation Card’.
The next issue on my ‘self-guided-agenda’ was to have a closer look at the canteen, where my mind ought to be refreshed daily with food for thought. At this point of my tour, I could already perceive that I wouldn’t get the chance to indulge in fairly ‘haute couture’ meals throughout my academic year, although the cost of living on campus was considered pretty high. Never mind, I merely had to keep a very critical eye on the calories in order to avoid wrong eating procedures and stay healthy, too. In fact, I gladly succeeded in not gaining too much weight but maintaining my previous BMI (Body Measure Index). Fast food restaurants were out of scope.
Regine, the other student, who already worked for the Akademisches Auslandsamt in Regensburg, made me aware of the fact, that the local Sarratt movie center was offering an enormous amount of all kinds of different and highly interesting movies from all over the world. This was definitely the creative place where I went quite often during my stay. It was absolutely worthwhile to go there, in particular because the tickets were undoubtedly affordable and basically all films I got to see there, were fairly distinguished.
This movie centre turned out to be the regular meeting point for all international students.
Another topical highlight was music: concerts on and off campus played a predominant part of my life abroad. I felt very proud having been able to enjoy the performances of: Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, U2, Simply Red, James Taylor, Keith Jarrett, David Costello, Dave Brubeck, J.L. Hooker, and even some Cajun music. Somebody who is personally inclined to musicians will definitely acquire a taste for this cultural issue sooner or later upon arriving at his/her academic base.
I shouldn’t forget to mention that Vanderbilt offered the unique possibility of participating in the local radio program on campus. Particularly German students had been sought after; therefore, I took the opportunity and joined in. It was great fun and a neat way of accumulating extra experience regarding presentation technique.
One peculiarity I had come across was the clever marketing strategy of being overwhelmed with coupons: the principle of taking advantage of all kinds of savings whatsoever was printed into my mind from the very first days since my arrival in the States. Certainly, you will be flooded with such small items nearly every day (e.g. ‘241’, ‘Free Refill’ etc.). Happy hour events vividly incorporated this policy, too.
In fact, there was another bewildering event I experienced during my class of Urban Economics: looking outside the windows I could hardly believe what I spotted: marines from the Navy parading across the Library Lawn after Thanksgiving Day.
One interesting issue that I also need to talk about was the existence of a security service on campus: knowing about this organization made you feel rather safe and secure once you got back at night from the outside world. Especially female students wisely utilized this special service.
Have you ever been a member of a fraternity or a sorority? If not, you might be fairly surprised when you are strolling around the campus and watch several small houses where lots of students stay during their academic life. It was amazing, but bewildering at the same time to pass the buildings with Greek letters on top of the entrance. According to popular belief countless parties and festivities had been going on as well at those distinct places.
On the other hand, it soon became quite clear to me, that the classical C.V. (Curriculum vitae) in the U.S. explicitly contained such kind of information obviously being considered vital.
The fact that students with an exquisite inclination towards physical strength and sports in general would have an advantage concerning the overall graduation process perfectly fits in this context. The combination of both mental and physical fitness definitely played a crucial role in and outside the classroom. Being a member of a football team could have possibly compensated for other deficiencies in the normal class routine.
Organizing lots of interesting special events and excursions was mainly the task of the ‘Office of Student Organizations and Events’ (OSOE). Our linking pin throughout the academic year was a very nice and gentle person called Rosie Ashamalla, who managed to immediately bridge the cultural gaps via her outgoing and spontaneous personality and offering lots of interesting events such as for instance: 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 personalities from the Reagan Administration.
Besides, she was eager to organize attractive excursions like an Indian summer journey to the Smokey Mountains or have us playing in an international soccer team, to mention only a few highlights. However, participating in the life of a host family was definitely the ‘Dot on the I’, at least from my perspective. This was by far the best way to mutually enrich two cultures.
Additionally, there was the opportunity of being interviewed on campus, which turned out to be something special and eternal as well. It was not officially announced but it happened to be very exciting anyway. Since I already stayed in McTyeire dormitory, this was the location where everything got started. Amongst all international students a bunch of them showed great interest for this piece of remembrance. Glad to belong to them, I was ready for preparation: I had been told to go through a list of potential FAQ’s that might be asked during this interview; thus I had plenty of time to get the most out of it.
Last but not least, you could take advantage of getting jobs during your academic stay.
For this purpose you might have contacted the office of recruitment affairs on campus, where all kinds of different jobs could have been analyzed beforehand. It didn’t seem to me strange or unnecessary to take care of such a diversification in between the weeks of studying and cramming for exams. In fact, there would have been the brilliant opportunity of gaining even more experience abroad. In my case, I made up my mind to assist at the Law library on campus in updating its German law books. Particularly students from Germany were highly welcome to carry out that requirement.
It goes without saying that you could have searched for even more attractive jobs; however, the ideal temporary employment was not my primary goal. Nevertheless, doing one’s share and showing sound interest is regarded positively anyway.
Eventually, I would like to summarize this exciting student life overseas by mentioning the most essential issues to be kept in mind:
It won’t take too long to think, feel and even dream in English.
Get accustomed with the situation of living with a roommate.
Get involved in the local Office of Student Organizations and Events.
Dive into the broad range of cultural activities (concerts, movies, theaters).
Celebrate local/national holidays and anniversaries as well as festivities.
Try to get temporary jobs on/off campus.
If you can move into an international dormitory that is divided into different language sections, just go for it.
Be interested in joining a host family or find similar ways of mutually enriching each other