Alicia Tedesco, 22, Media Design
Black Forest, Germany
Like many others, I could say that I’ve always dreamed about a semester abroad. I could say that I’ve always dreamed about being an exchange student: to explore and connect with new places and people. I could say that, and it would be true.
Being an exchange student is not a first for me, however. I went to France for three months when I was 14. A year later, I left for the United States to attend a high school in Michigan for half a year. And now, at 22 years old, I’m at NJIT as an exchange student once again.
NJIT is one of many partner institutions of my home university. It is also the only partner university in the US that offered a tuition-free spot for exchange students with a media design major. Its close proximity to NYC and various courses in the field of journalism helped me make up my mind to apply and spend my 6th semester at NJIT.
Because of COVID-19, of course, I didn’t know if I would be accepted, and even if I was, being able to fly to the U.S. was still up in the air. My parents were worried about me catching the virus, but they supported me in every other way. To be honest, the thing I was more concerned about was Newark’s crime rate.
Coming here has been a great experience so far. I do miss home, but I didn’t fly all the way from Germany across the ocean to get homesick. I came to study, get to know new people and have face-to-face classes again. And I did. I went to parties, too, became part of the crowd, felt my body move to the music, and oh boy, have I missed that! I’ve gone to New York City, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, had dinner at Ignazio’s Pizza Restaurant and spent an evening in a little bay with a view of the gleaming New York skyline. There was English all around me, with some occasional Spanish, French, Turkish, Dutch, and German. I love every single part of my experience here, and I cannot wait to keep making new memories!
At NJIT, there are currently nine exchange students who are either staying for just the fall semester or the entire year. Three of them are from Germany, two from Spain, another two from France as well as one each from Turkey and the Netherlands. Three of them decided to share their stories about coming to NJIT.
Javier Navarro Muñoz, 24, Industrial Design
Muñoz made the decision to study abroad even before he started attending university. His family always supported him in his endeavors. “I was lucky enough to be able to pursue this exchange program without practically any limits,” he said. One of the only concerns he encountered was COVID-19. “I went through it in October and November 2020 and I definitely don’t want to go through it again,” he mentioned. That’s also the main reason he got vaccinated as soon as he could.
He decided to do a semester abroad despite the pandemic because he finally felt like his studies were going smoothly. “I finally was liking what I was studying”, he said. His experience in the U.S. and at NJIT has been pleasant. “I’m still immersing myself in it,” he acknowledged, “but I’m very excited to see what NJIT has in store for me.” The east coast of the U.S. fascinates him.
Muñoz has found a few significant differences between the lifestyle here and how things are done back home. One such variance is that the method of learning information and testing students’ knowledge. “In Spain, academics rely on students’ memories too much and evaluate all the [students’] work in just one exam. Here, we work more on a daily basis; tests normally don’t make up the majority of the grade, and open-book tests don’t seem to be a taboo concept,” he explained. Muñoz is excited to get to know the U.S. better and learn about design in a more practical and pedagogical way. “I want to learn about the different cultures that constitute the university and get involved in almost anything that I can get my hands on.”
Studying abroad in the U.S. specifically was one of Elskamp’s goals since high school. At that time, he took some elective courses to dive into some business classes, leading him towards a semester at NJIT. His family helped him along the way to fulfil his dream; COVID-19 is not a prominent concern, as he is vaccinated.
He loves New York City, and NJIT is bigger and better than he expected, with the Makerspace as one of his favorite parts. “I like the parties. I like the people. I hate the food – the food at GDS is terrible,” he said. He misses the fruits “not tasting like chemical,” and he misses his dog.
According to his experience, there is substantial variation in culture. The social-economic system, along with politics, is very different. “I began to appreciate more what we have in Europe,” he admitted. At the same time, he appreciates the U.S. and its opportunities. “Fitness is the coolest thing in the entire universe!” Elskamp explained. “In our country, if you do fitness, that’s just up to you. And here they’re like, ‘Come do fitness! You’ll get credits and a personal trainer and everything is free!’”
Another detail he noticed during his first few weeks in the U.S. is the way people interact. “In my country, nobody really does small talk”, he mentioned. Asking someone how they are doing is considered a serious question in his country, whereas in the U.S., people greet each other with that without expecting an honest answer. According to Elskamp, “[Having] deeper conversations with someone is sometimes harder in the U.S.”
Nevertheless, he is excited about his semester abroad; he is convinced that “meeting new people, new cultures and new experiences makes you a better person.” He wants to go see some of his favorite artists, travel the West Coast, meet some girls and go to New York City many more times.
Like the other exchange students, Arat knew he wanted to study abroad in high school, but it took him three years to come to NJIT for his senior project; he added, “I’m the only exchange student from my university.” He wasn’t scared of the virus because he is vaccinated. “I had to be because the city I live in, Istanbul, has 15 million residents,” he explained. “New York has 8 million. It’s super crowded!”
While meeting new people, Arat often gets questioned about what surprised him the most about the U.S. Without hesitation, he responds with, “Cars! This world is built on cars.” It took him almost two hours to get to Walmart without a car, and it was shocking to learn that a drivers license is considered a main source of identification. He also mentioned, “the second [most] surprising thing is that everybody is so nice.” He expected people to be more impolite.
Nevertheless, Arat appreciates the diversity in the U.S. “Walking around NY drives me crazy! No two people are alike. It’s something to fall in love with,” he said. Compared to what he’s used to, Newark is extremely spacious. “I enjoy walking to downtown Newark and spending time around the parks.” He even signed up at a climbing gym and goes there without worrying about walking home late at night. “Last time I was coming home, I stopped by a club and chatted with the bodyguard. He was nice and invited me to the club,” he recalled. “There are so many things to do here, and so many places to go.” For example, he got bubble tea for the first time ever when he was in New York City. Going there has reminded him how much he misses his home city. “The mosques and the churches. The hallow silhouette of Istanbul. The sunset upon the Bosphorus. Seagulls flying around church towers. I miss that the most,” he said. However, he is still exceptionally eager to continue exploring and meeting new people here.