College Park – University of Maryland

Reasons people went to this university/place

  • I chose UMD mainly because of the writing workshops that were offered there. I always enjoyed the classes which entailed a lot of writing here at the Department of English and I had a strong interest in broadening my repertoire of text genres. As a teacher, I also want to present my students with as many facets of the English language and Anglophone cultures, and I believe that there is more to English than just its transactional use in letters of application, emails, academic papers and their gateway genre, essays. The writing classes I took at UMD were both introductory courses, on creative (poems & short stories) and wireless writing (integrating text and front-end web design) respectively.In terms of the location in a broader sense, I chose the US as my destination because I already had a background in American area studies. I previously spent an exchange semester at a Texan high school, so this wasn’t my first rodeo, so to speak. In the narrow sense, I chose the location College Park, because it is conveniently located between Baltimore and D.C. and in the middle of the East Coast. Distance is something to consider when traveling in the US, and it is definitely cheaper to buy a bus ticket ($20-$30, if you don’t mind the spartan waiting areas of cheap bus companies) to New York, which is a 6-hour drive away, than a plane ticket.

Recommended semester to go there

  • I wouldn’t know about the spring term, since I only spent the fall term there. For those of you who thrive in sunshine and warm weather, the spring term might be preferable. I believe there is a slightly greater density of holidays in the winter semester, with Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving, but then again Christmas is three days after the end of the semester. Spending Christmas (which also happens to be my birthday!) away from my family was harder than I had anticipated and, in fact, many of my friends chose to go home right after the last day of classes to spend theirs with their families. Since you can’t re-enter the US once you leave it after the program is over, you have to choose, whether you want to travel or celebrate Christmas in a familiar setting. Of course you can celebrate with your American friends; I visited my host family from my high school exchange days and had a really good time, homesickness notwithstanding.

Before going there

Accommodation experiences

  • I rented a room in a privately owned house off-campus, which was roughly $350 cheaper than the more affordable dorm rooms on campus (this would probably be the best point to refer you to UMD’s very own off-campus housing database, where all available accommodation in the area are listed). Having said that, lodging off-campus is probably the only thing I would have changed in hindsight. Don’t get me wrong: my 5 housemates were all wonderful, interesting people but between a public health major, a NASA engineer, two engineering and a post-doc student, all of whom were commuting to campus/work and had different schedules, we didn’t spend that much time together. The commuting was what I found really cumbersome for the most part. While UMD has a free, relatively reliable and barrier-free shuttle service, buses may arrive at intervals of up to an hour, depending on where you live. This made planning meet-ups with friends more difficult and, honestly, meant that I spent a lot of time waiting for and on the bus which I could have spent differently. Naturally, walking or riding your bike to campus is an option, just remember that infrastructure in America is car-friendly and car-friendly only. Be that as it may, there was nothing to complain about condition of my room as such. The house had all the amenities you could wish for (running water, electricity, kitchen & fridge, satellite TV, Wi-Fi) and was reasonably priced at $550.

Special items to pack

  • Apart from the obvious change of clothes, there isn’t much that I can recommend. Or rather, there aren’t many items beyond what you would take with you when you go on vacation that you won’t get in either College Park or nearby D.C. Bringing your own adapter is definitely a wise choice, but don’t fret, if you happen to forget it at home. There will be a trip to the local IKEA scheduled as part of the orientation program, and you’ll be able to buy electrical appliances, furniture, etc. there.On the whole, I would actually recommend leaving some extra space in your suitcase, since you will be buying and gathering a lot of souvenirs and little thingamyjigs. And having stuff shipped overseas is obscenely expensive. Also, if you happen to have something that you don’t want to take home with you but don’t know how to best get rid of, there is a thriving second-hand economy in College Park using the Facebook marketplace. For example, a friend of mine who was also there on exchange bought a bike, which she sold at the end of the semester.

How people who went there handled their finances

  • How did I manage my finances? Badly 😛 I admit I usually don’t have the patience and perseverance to visit all the banking institutions, compare prices and conditions so that I may get the best student account possible. When the clerk at the Bank of America told me they couldn’t open a bank account for a student who only stayed for 5-odd months, I didn’t bother with opening a local bank account. My PayPal app didn’t work either, so I paid my rent by withdrawing money at the counter at the Capital One branch on campus (mind the ATMs’ withdrawal limits!) and proceeded to pay a cash advance to my landlady’s account in one go. If I remember right, that required a passport and either a bank or credit card, depending on the clerk. They could never make up their mind about which of my foreign cards their system was compatible with; I don’t think any of them really knew the specifics of withdrawing money from foreign accounts.On the topic of plastic money: Make sure you visit the local branch of your Austrian bank and have them remove the Geolocking from your bank card, or else you won’t be able to withdraw money. Ask your customer service rep about withdrawal limits and card compatibility. I have made the experience that Maestro cards don’t get accepted by most of the ATMs in the US. That was a real nuisance, especially when traveling. Last but not least, whatever you do, DON’T WIRE MONEY FROM YOUR AUSTRIAN BANK ACCOUNT TO AN AMERICAN ONE. There is a flat fee of $30, which they don’t tell you about and deduct from your payment, meaning you might end up having to wire an additional 30$ because your initial payment was short by that amount—oh, did I say $30? I meant $60, because flat fees are fun.

University Information

Rough semester schedule

  • Sorry, but that information is on the UMD website. I can’t do all your research work for you, now can I? 😛 Perhaps I should mention three important checkpoints of the semester. The first is orientation. This is mandatory for all exchange students and you will receive all the information about the orientation program well ahead of time. You need to make sure to arrive in the US in time to attend orientation, not just before the semester starts. The second, is the first week of classes because that’s when you can still drop and add courses as needed. Registration closes after the first week; no exceptions. Finally there’s a First Look Fair sometime during the first month of the term where all the student organizations and clubs promote their activities. It’s always on McKeldin (i.e. the main) Mall and maybe the most important event for getting involved in student life.Exams are also important, but I will get to that.

Holidays during the semester

  • The longest holidays during the fall term was Thanksgiving which lasted 5 days (give or take the odd skipped course… from what I hear *ahem*). It’s in November and me and my friends spent it in Miami, where it was nice and warm. The weather in Maryland had already gotten quite cold, the daylight grey and gloomy, so it was a welcome change of scenery at just the right time.

Number of ECTS the university expected former exchange students to do

  • The University of Maryland requires undergraduate students to have a course load of 12 American credits. Most courses are worth 3 credits and the average course load is 4. While that may not seem like a lot, bear in mind that American classes tend to have a higher workload in general and also throughout the semester, so 4 courses do, in fact, correspond to a manageable course load in Vienna.It is possible to take more classes than is required of you. 5 are a challenge but still within the limits of the humanly possible; those who signed up for 6 have never been heard from again.

Course restrictions and when the university informed students about those

  • I did not encounter any classes that were closed to exchange students per se. There are, however, courses which require participants to have taken a certain class prior. Information on whether a given course is part of a requirement chain is usually included in the entry in the schedule of classes. Words such as “Introduction to”, “Intermediate” and “Advanced” in the course as well as the course number (the higher the number, the more likely it is that there is a prerequisite requirement; double-check anything over the 200s) are also decent indicators of likelihood of restricted access. If a class which you really want to take has a prerequisite requirement, confer with the lecturer and approach the office of the registrar. See if any of the classes you have taken here in Vienna (or elsewhere) correspond to the class that is a prerequisite for the course of your choice.One type of classes that actually is closed to exchange students are courses which are part of the various living and learning programs at UMD. Since these programs have students live in special dorms for a minimum 2 years, the classes which are offered to these learning communities aren’t open to you, who will be staying 1 or 2 semesters. Bummer:/

Did the university actually offer the classes students originally planned to do?

  • I included a few of classes which were eventually not available in my study plan when I first drafted it to be submitted to the international office (in Vienna). That was about a year before the exchange program started and happened on the basis of course listings from previous semesters, since the one for 2016/17 hadn’t been assembled yet. By the time I had been nominated and was given my actual registration appointment by UMD — 4 months before the start of the program — the course listings for the next study year had been finalized.It is perfectly normal for exchange students to change their courses, so you don’t have to worry in November (application deadline), if the study plan you’re trying to convince the selection panel with (January) remains in place entirely. If unreliable class schedules bother you, however, try to get in touch with the lecturers who taught a given course and ask them if their department is planning on offering it again when you need it.

Recommended courses/modules

  • I can wholeheartedly recommend creative writing classes (ENGL271, ENGL272, ENGL273). They offer a fresh perspective on how you can formulate your ideas, feelings and observations, which the professional and academic writing classes here at the Department of English just don’t offer (to my knowledge).I also greatly enjoyed ENGL313 American Literature, which was a survey course. Having felt that the local Literature Survey lectures focused too much on British literature, I chose this class to have an opportunity to critically read American texts, which I personally prefer. In the end, this was actually my favorite course. The professor, Dr. Balachandran Orihuela (Dr. B), chose to emphasize breadth over depth in our coverage of the gamut of AmLit from colonial times to Postmodernism, so we actually read selected chapters and excerpts from at least several dozen texts instead of reading the entirety of a handful of works. That way one didn’t have to trudge their way through a novel they didn’t like.

Exam period

  • There are two: the midterms and finals week. Since I had two workshop classes (where assessment is based on regular homework and projects) I didn’t have to take as many exams as my friends.Midterm week was incredibly intense nonetheless. Weekly homework assignments, a poem, including an analysis, and a project to finish as well as critiques on the works of my peers to prepare in addition to studying for two exams made for a VERY busy weekend and week.

    My finals were a cakewalk though. I had already handed in my final projects and one of the tests was a take-home exam (more of a long essay/short course paper really). I should mention that some of my friends weren’t so lucky though; rather the opposite.

How exams look like

  • As I mentioned, take-home exams are possible, although rather the exception than the rule. Most midterms and finals are achievement tests for the first and second half of the semester respectively. Finals are seldom cumulative. My literature finals were comprised of a “character/author/literary period/theme/etc.—title”-matching-sort-of-activity and an analysis section. We had to write three short and two longer analyses, the latter of which had to comparative.My history finals entailed long essay questions. Some of the natural sciences and engineering students I knew had to answer multiple choice and short-answer questions.

Other information

Recommended restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping centers, ect.

  • Restaurants: Chipotle, Nando’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, RJ Bentley’s, Blaze Pizza, Five Guys, Applebee’s
  • Cafes: not sure if I’d recommend it, but there is a Starbucks inside the student union building
  • Malls: Prince George’s Mall (reachable by metro)
  • Bars: Cornerstone, Looney’s, RJ Bentley’s
  • Misc.: there is a farmers’ market on campus every Wednesday

Recommended secret spots in the city/town

  • Lake Artemisia and the trails that branch off it are really great for walking/cycling/jogging.
  • Unfortunately, I hardly spent any time in DC because I lived far away from the metro. Also, I did not find it that exciting as a city and would rather recommend traveling around the country as much as possible.

Recommended day trips

  • Visiting other cities over the weekend is possible. We managed to cover a decent portion of NY in a day and a half. Both Washington DC and Baltimore are close by, so it would be almost criminal not to have seen them at least once.

Recommended places or events to meet new people/make new friends

  • Clubs and student organizations are your best bet, but by that time you will already have met many of your fellow exchange students at the orientation. There are many events hosted by various organizations on campus, such as Terps After Dark. Also seize the opportunity to sign up for one of the day trips organized by the International Student and Scholar Services. The ISSS also regularly host an international coffee hour, although I never attended it. Finally, there is the Language Partner Program, where American foreign language students and exchange students form pairs and talk about contemporary topics in the various foreign/respectively native languages. The program concludes with an international dinner, where everyone brings some of their national dishes. I had two language partners, since I also regularly met with one student on an informal basis. He and I quickly became friends and often discussed politics different ways of life.

Public transport offered in the city/area of the University

  • I already discussed the campus shuttle at length above (see my answer to “Where did you live during your exchange and how would you describe your experience with that place?”). As I already mentioned, the metro connects College Park to DC; two lines going into different parts of the city.

Other recommendations

  • Meet up with the early arrivals ahead of orientation. The orientation sessions are going to be really crowded with exchange students and it might be more difficult to get to know people. We met at the administration building to get our student I.D.s before orientation started, and the circle of friends I eventually ended up hanging with formed then and there, for the most part. Speaking of arriving early, have your immunization forms and health insurance business dealt with at the health center before the scheduled time: THERE WILL BE HUNDREDS OF EXCHANGE STUDENTS WAITING IN LINE (some even fainted).

Is this University the right place for me?

You should spend your semester/year abroad at this university or place

  • If you value globalization and diversity as lived and living values at heart and are naturally curious.
  • If the courses and extracurricular activities offered at UMD suit your academic, career and life goals.

You should not spend your semester/year abroad at this university or place

  • if you want to stay for more than a semester. I think UMD only hosts exchange students for one term, not the entire academic year.
  • If you don’t want to go through a fairly intense, year-long application and selection process involving much preparation and documents (especially as concerns the US visa). Erasmus+ has a shorter and less complicated application process

(all information provided is based on 1 filled out questionnaire)