Mathias Goeb from Munich, Germany, found the perfect community college to launch his film studies.
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
As a film major, the film industry in the U.S. is not only bigger but more integrated into the culture. It is much more likely to find art-oriented people than in the little town I lived in in Germany. That is not to say that other countries in Europe or even Berlin aren’t art-oriented enough — that is not true and I can imagine going back to these countries with my new knowledge in film if I successfully transfer to [one of] my dream universities (USC, NYU, Ivy League, UCLA, etc.).
The reason I ultimately decided to go to the U.S. is that I love to travel and think it is important to travel around the world as much as possible to widen your horizons and life experiences. As an art student, I also love to be in an environment where I can be with other domestic and international students who follow the same goal. At Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) you’re surrounded by so many different cultures and countries (French, Swedish, Dutch), and everyone has their own story to tell about why they decided to go to Santa Barbara.
How did you choose your intensive English program, and what attracted you to your particular school?
My decision lay between two different community colleges — SBCC and Pasadena City College. I eventually decided on SBCC due to the wonderful and stunning campus and nature that we’re surrounded by. Next to the college, we have Leadbetter Beach, a football field, multiple hiking spots, and then State Street (the main street going through downtown Santa Barbara that is currently a promenade) that is perfect for Friday-Saturday night. These places offer so many possibilities and events. I like the architecture, the sunsets and sunrises, and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) being just 10 minutes away, etc.
For trips, Santa Barbara is also incredibly central and you could travel to San Francisco or Los Angeles during holidays. Some of my other friends went to Las Vegas, New York, and Yosemite National Park. I highly recommend Yosemite and other national parks are stunning too.
For a semester or even two years, I can’t imagine a better place than Santa Barbara. It doesn’t surprise me that for many international students, the time here has been the best of their lives.
What do you like best about studying here?
As mentioned before, the location is top-notch, but I have to also praise the faculty members here on campus. The teachers and the courses are wonderful. Many of them contain numerous specialties such as going to the astronomy or bio lab. If you want to succeed grade-wise, you can — if you put the effort into it. That also applies to the involvement on campus in the form of honors societies and the Associated Student Government as an example. It is such a safe and open environment, everyone is welcomed and included.
What do you miss most about home?
There are many things I miss, and I can’t personally imagine living in the U.S. for too long. One of the things you have to get used to is the food and the prices. Santa Barbara is one of the most expensive places in the U.S. and especially if you’re moving out of your parent’s place for the first time this could be a tough time for you. However, I also believe that this challenge and change will shape you as a person and you will grow from these experiences. I certainly have after just a year and I feel like a completely different person.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
That it is easy but simultaneously educational depending on the professor you take. It does lead your hand but you also learn from the classes. One of the biggest criticisms I have with the education system in Germany, particularly in Bavaria, is that it is a matter of memorization if you can succeed or not. That is, of course, a generalization and not entirely true, but since there’s significant pressure on grades and surprise exams, it makes it stressful and not exciting to study in Germany for me.
What Germany suffers from is individualism. I had a hard time figuring out what I was interested in during my first few years, and the German school system doesn’t particularly give you time to figure them out. It is important to note that this is only my experience and many others don’t feel that way. It is also important to mention that the state you study in also impacts your experience overall.
SBCC lets me breathe for a moment and figure out what kind of classes I’m interested in. There are downsides to it, but particularly for international students, I think being able to pick the classes you want to take is an incredibly exciting opportunity.
... your biggest disappointment?
I haven’t experienced any big disappointments so far, and with most of the other international students I talked with the same case applies. The disappointments I have experienced among my friends were often about either homesickness or not being able to make American friends. Many international students stay in their language groups, and I can just recommend starting conversations with Americans as much as possible and joining clubs. Getting active is key to being successful in making American friends. If you don’t put yourself out there and just remain in your comfort zone you won’t get the full experience, in my opinion.
How have you handled:
.... language differences?
This is the moment I want to praise the German education system. It led to me and many other German students being able to speak English fluently. There is some American slang that you have to learn, but you will learn it quickly. It is also a fantastic opportunity to improve your English in general. The people here have a very easy-to-understand accent, and I don’t think there was ever a moment I was truly lost in translation.
I’m lucky that my parents are financing my education but I try not to spend money on any unnecessary objects or go out eating as much as I used to, and I got a job on campus. You can get paid in numerous ways on campus, and if you want to work outside of SBCC you have to take a particular class to be eligible to do so. With the Associated Student Government and the honors societies, you can make money and win scholarships. Many international students I talked with didn’t know about these opportunities, but they can win money with Phi Theta Kappa or the Honors Program. They have scholarships that apply to international students.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
Coming from Germany, the education system here is completely different. The most important aspect for me is taking a class with a good professor. You can find out about professors on the website ratemyprofessor.com. The classes will be more educational or more difficult depending on the professor. In general, it is a lot easier here than in my home country and that is even understated. It still depends on the class you take but in community college, the school helps students succeed.
What are your activities?
I play football at UCSB on the “soccer field” every Friday, and I go climbing every second day at a climbing gym on State Street. I also enjoy playing volleyball on the beach with friends and go for a swim every week. You can also take sports classes at SBCC or go to the SBCC gym.
There are clubs you can join or create if the club you are interested in doesn’t exist. I established the literature club with my friends, I am the treasurer of the film club, and I help the Rising Scholars club. I’m also involved in student associations such as the Associated Student Government and Phi Theta Kappa, an honors society for international students, where I am in leadership roles and participate in several events. I also created two chess competitions.
I traveled to the Bay Area (San Francisco) and Los Angeles during my stay so far, but I plan to save money to travel to New York this or next year. I am actually not part of the Coral Group, a local housing provider that serves many international students. I was living with an American family for nearly my entire stay here. However, organizations like the Coral Group have their own events with all the international students and often collaborate with other organizations such as the study abroad program I will work at.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
This is difficult to answer because it is easier and more difficult depending on the person. It doesn’t really depend on the country whether you’ll succeed in making friends or not. I can just recommend getting involved as much as possible. International students with the help of the Coral Group can make friends pretty easily. I had a relatively easy time but I’m aware that it depends on the person. I recommend demonstrating a positive attitude since that normally gravitates people towards you and always be open to new experiences.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
I want to reach high, really high, and get into the best university in this country for my major in film. As a film major I’ll be able to have fantastic opportunities such as getting an internship at the Santa Barbara Film Festival or transferring to [one of] the universities I desire to transfer to. My ultimate goal is to become a director/screenwriter for film and work for the industry.
I think every person in any country needs time to relax or be able to enter a world that isn’t possible outside of the realm of what a film can bring to the people. Various degrees of emotions and art can truly move a person in a way nothing else can. That is what I want to achieve and that is why I want to be so heavily involved with SBCC. Not only to show that I’m willing to do anything to achieve my goal but also to get life experience and be able to create art. Without life experience, art will be meaningless.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying English in the USA?
Every student goes here to school for various reasons. I want to achieve success and I believe with involvement I'll be able to achieve that. Things like participating in the Associated Student Government or an honors society could help me tremendously in my career and I can’t overstate that enough. The life experience I get from working and creating events is indescribable and a rare opportunity that I haven’t quite seen in Germany in this shape or form it is done here.
But my biggest advice is to have fun and do as many things as possible. Participate and create events. Be with friends at the beach and go for a swim. Or go traveling with friends to other cities that surround Santa Barbara. You’ll be a different and a more grown-up person, I can promise you that.
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