Caoimhe Lillis Greally - Nutrition - Level 3
California State University: Chico, USA
As a part of my third year here at Queen Margaret University, I was given the opportunity to go on a semester abroad. I was given some options from the US to Australia, but the location, academics and facilities found in Chico State University (CSU Chico), California stood out to me the most. Chico is a city in Norther California, 1.5 hours north of Sacramento and 3 hours north of San Francisco. From the beginning, the staff here at QMU were hands on with ensuring I would acquire adequate credits, have sufficient funds to get me through the semester, a study abroad visa and also to be able to enjoy the experience to its fullest.
The first task involved with organising a semester abroad was choosing my modules, which seems daunting when you are thinking almost 10 months ahead! However with the help of my year coordinator Racquel Revuelta Iniesta, this process was exciting as I got to filter through the different classes available and match the criteria I had to complete. The visa application was smooth as the QMU staff helped me get any documents I required and I also received help from the CSU internationals office. I found communication with their staff extremely helpful and despite the time difference, I wouldn’t go a day without a question unanswered. If you are already an international student like me (I’m Irish), I would recommend booking your US embassy meeting in the country you will be just before moving abroad, as your passport gets sent away to get your visa printed, and you don’t want to get stuck!
I was extremely lucky to have received the Lisa Persdotter Simonyi Fund for my semester abroad. This funding allowed me to pay for my flights to and from the US, which was the first financial obstacle I was faced with. As they say anything that can go wrong will go wrong and on my flights over to Sacramento I was delayed 7+ hours which made me miss all trains to Chico that day. Thankfully with my funding saved for emergencies just like this, I could book myself into a hotel for the night before travelling up to Chico.
I made the decision not to live in student accommodation during my stay, as they were very expensive, leases were usually set for a whole college year and most dorms in America do not have kitchens. I found my house using the Chico Student Housing 2019-2020 Roommate Search page on Facebook. I found a 4 bedroom house, 10 minutes walking distance from the campus and luckily they needed one more roommate. Although I found accommodation, this was a long process and I recommend doing this well in advance! The Lisa Persdotter Simonyi Fund allowed me to put down my security deposit on the house on arrival.
University classes in America are significantly different to what we are used to here in QMU. Firstly university is referred to as “school”, where you get “homework” assignments everyday in “class”. This was completely unusual to me as I would be used to getting a maximum of 5 large assignments to work on in a semester with the addition of exams to get your final grade. However, each homework assignment given in class, either online or to be handed in, was marked and added to your total class percentage. This is where my organisation needed brushing up on, as having 2 classes a day 5 days a week adds up to a lot of due dates.
I found classes to be very practical learning, and as a nutrition student this was helpful for applying my knowledge into real clinical situations. I believe this will help me in my future career as I intend to do a MSc in Dietetics once graduated.
Certain books were essential to classes, however all of my lecturers had a spare copy they would lend out of their office, which cut the cost of buying a new book. Any mandatory workbooks or exam booklets I required for my semester, I was able to use my funding to cover.
I enjoyed my routine in Chico State as I would wake up for my 8 or 9am class and walk in the sun to different areas of the immaculate campus. I then had a break until 12/1 depending on the day before my next class. Classes didn’t deviate from the same schedule so I could plan weeks ahead, which was helpful as I did more travelling.
There were many groups for exchange students in Chico State and we were all given a ‘Buddy’ who we met on our induction day and they helped us with any questions we had. One group I found very interesting was the adventure group, who organised camping, water sport and hiking trips. With the group, I went paddle boarding on the Sacramento river. Like any college student I was able to enjoy the nightlife of the college town I was staying in. There were a few bars in Chico we would often go for student deals. It was very common for there to be parties in Frat, Sorority and sports team houses, which do look exactly like the movies!
During my semester I travelled to San Francisco multiple times, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Big Sur, Monterey, Las Vegas and Utah. Unlike travelling here, it is very common to travel by car for 5+ hours. The longest journey I did was from Chico to Las Vegas which took 10 hours! Although I wasn’t able to rent a car over there I mainly travelled with friends, as majority of students in America have cars. Travelling was the highlight of my time in California. When I wasn’t able to stay with friends I was able to use my funding to help pay for accommodation where I visited. I also was able to afford to fly to Utah for Thanksgiving to visit family I have there, as many students leave for the holiday.
Overall, my semester abroad was an experience I will never forget. I made friends and memories that are only possible to make when you venture out of your comfort zone. I moved to California alone and it is truly the best way to learn about others and yourself. I could not recommend this once in a lifetime opportunity to anyone enough. Going on a semester abroad will also broaden my horizon for future university applications and career goals. I would like to also say a special thank you to Lisa Persdotter Simonyi, without your help I would not have had this opportunity and you have allowed me to experience something so surreal that I will continue to reminisce over for the rest of my life.