From September through December of 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in an exchange semester at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, Michigan in the United States. Studying in the US had always been a fascinating idea to me. Therefore, I seized the chance to experience two of the three major colleges for Transportation Design. My time in Detroit was an unforgettable experience and I can highly recommend applying for the program.
When I did my first research on the possibility of going for a semester abroad, I did not expect going to CCS would even be possible. Prior to my exchange there was no official cooperation between the two schools. However, thanks to early planning in October 2021 with the support of both International Offices and a fair amount of personal initiative, I finally secured approval to study in the USA.
CCS is one of the major schools for Transportation Design. It has a long history and has many connections to design studios in the US and abroad. Situated in the Midwest of the US, it enrolls more than 1400 students in diverse fields. The college consists of two campuses: the historic eleven-story Taubman Center houses all of the Transportation Design classes and once was General Motors' design studio. The Taubman Center is located a few minutes by bus from the main campus: The Ford Campus. It consists of several buildings for lectures, workshops, housing, and the library which are centered around a green space. The facilities are quite big and I found them to be very well-equipped with latest technology.
So where Did I live? As one would expect from a typical college, I was housed in a student dorm on campus. The concept of sharing a room with a stranger took some getting used to but it turned out to work very well. My "roomie" and me became good friends and thanks to the spacious apartment with some spectacular views of the city, I quickly felt at home there.
CCS offers a lot of classes to choose from. Not only design specific content, but also lectures like American history, English or photography. My experience with the Transportation Design department was partly similar, partly very different from Pforzheim. Just like in Pforzheim, a lot of time and effort went into the main project. One major difference was the way the projects were organized: While studying in Pforzheim is mostly based on personal responsibility and on one’s own initiative, the program at CCS is closely guided by the professors. Every class is specified in detail, and one is provided schedules outlining what is expected each week - reminiscent of homework in high school. These weekly assignments can be very demanding, and they require a lot of effort early in the semester. However, given the rather short projects from mid-September to mid-December, this system helped me stay organized in my approach to the projects. Grading at the college is also different from my home university. Assignments are graded weekly, enabling one to react to any unsatisfactory grades, and improve as the semester progresses.
Personally I felt very welcome at CCS. Everyone was happy to help out with questions and advice and the staff regularly checked back if I was doing alright. The professors as well as my fellow students where very hospitable and interested and getting to know me. From the first day, they generously integrated me into the transportation design department and made sure I could see and experience as much as possible during my time at CCS.
The city of Detroit was highly impressive to me. With stark contrasts between rich and poor, historic skyscrapers and abandoned car factories, and the American and Canadian system (the Canadian City of Windsor is located just across the river), it was an experience like no other. Above all, Detroit is of historical significance for the automotive sector. Known as the “Motor City,” it is home to the first automotive design studio in history, as well as to Henry Ford's first car factory, and of course, the “big three”: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. That means that for car enthusiasts, there is a lot to see in Detroit. As I was there in the fall, I had the opportunity to experience the Concours D'Elegance, the Detroit Motor Show, and other major events like Halloween and Thanksgiving. And if you want to explore more than the city itself, the state of Michigan offers of picturesque natural beauty, especially the foliage during fall.
SOME PERSONAL ADVICE
Of course, studying abroad in the U.S. is not cheap. However, there are numerous programs to financially support the exchange. The sooner you take care of it, the better. In my case I received a scholarship from the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung. Although it requires considerable effort outside the regular classes at your home university, it is worth it to start planning for an exchange semester a year before your departure. Be sure to be mindful of deadlines for financial and visa support. Refrain from purchasing flight tickets until you have received your visa.
Overall, my time in the US was a rewarding experience that allowed me to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of a different culture. I improved my academic skills and made new friends from all over the world. After the semester I used my remaining visa time to travel through the incredibly diverse scenery of the United States. I think the exchange is an excellent opportunity for any student and if you get the chance: Do it.