We have a number of emails about college in Europe that are automatically sent after people sign up for our newsletter. I woke up on Thursday to news of the travel ban and also an email from an email recipient who was offended to have received it in light of everything going on.
I had been avoiding writing about the Coronavirus. Your inbox, like mine, is probably full of emails with opinions from different people. I believe that we all have our own circumstances and variables that lead us to respond in various ways. One is not necessarily better than the other so long as we are taking precautions and following recommendations to flatten the curve.
I can, though, take a minute to tell you about what we are experiencing on this side of the pond (or shall I say this side of the Aegean Sea) . We’re still in Athens until the end of the month. when we make our move to Lisbon. Greece and Portugal are now defined as Level 3 countries by the CDC, something I don’t fully understand given that there are less cases in each country than in the UK and less than some US states.
Everyday, I walked to they gym past many busy cafes and shops. A few days ago, the government announced measures which included the temporary closure of cinemas, theaters nightclubs, schools, and gyms. I’m no longer going to the gym but will head out in search of hand weight and a pilates mat in effort to combat the incredible Greek calories I’m consuming. There’s plenty of toilet paper at the stores, and food is fully stocked as well. Now, I don’t have a baseline for what Athens usually feels like in March, but it seems to me that people are taking precautions, but life is going on without a lot of panic. This is the approach I’m attempting to take too.
As is the case for many US universities, there are European universities that are temporarily closing their academic buildings and moving to online classes. Some of this is happening on a country level, while others are case by case. Our facebook member group has been busy with conversation about this. Between this group and other related facebook groups I’m in, I would say that it’s a pretty equal distribution of families bringing their kids back to the US while classes are online and families who feel like their kids are as safe or safer staying put than coming home. Again, there are so many variables at play that I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution. It’s hard to know what to do whether your kid is in the Czech Republic with their home in the US or if your kid is in Massachusetts, with their home in California.
Sam’s midterms for next week have been cancelled and his classes will be online for at least one week after that. We decided to bring him here to join us in Greece. He’s always wanted to visit the country and since we work from home and Ellie is in online school this year, we practice a good amount of social distancing as it is. I can’t imagine that he will want to stay with us for more than a couple of weeks. HIs life is in the Hague and he was ready to return after about that long when he came home for Christmas. We bought a one way ticket and will play his return by ear, as we get more information.
There are so many things to worry about around this pandemic, the majority of which we have no way of predicting or controlling. It’s hard not to get sucked into a media wormhole. It’s hard not to play out the different horrible scenarios that could occur. For myself, I’ve realized that I have to take active steps to stop myself from both of those things as there is nothing useful that comes from either. I’m trying to stay aware , take precautions, follow recommendations, and plan for the future. I tell myself that just like the H1N1 pandemic, at some point this will be behind us and the health situation in the world will be stabilized. Again, this is my approach and it’s not my place to say that it’s any better than anyone else’s way of handling it.
Though we all have our different ways of coping I do think it’s important that everyone recognizes that this is a worldwide pandemic, not a “foreign virus”. That way of thinking will lead to a fear of the greater world and an emotional separation from those who are different than us which can be a precursor to xenophobia. It’s also important that we still plan for the future, including higher education. This has affected families who planned on visiting schools this spring (be it in the US or abroad), but Ellie and I are still plan to visit universities in the Netherlands and Finland in the fall.
With so many high schools and extracurriculars cancelled, you and your kids probably have some extra time. Why not spend some of it exploring whether college in Europe is something you want to pursue? We have a webinar for parents and a different one for students. We also have self guided courses that help students find specific programs that meet their needs or learn about the admissions process, specific countries, specific types of programs.
I would like to do my part to encourage you to look towards the future (it really can be comforting) with a special Best Fit List or Fast Track discount. The main difference between these two services is that the Fast Track service does not require membership. For both services, I personally choose 3-5 programs that meet your student’s interests, goals, budget and qualifications. The Fast Track service also includes a video with further information about admissions strategies, suggestions for next steps, and other considerations based on the students specific preferences. This time of year, it is particularly useful for sophomores and juniors. Use coupon code “coping” to redeem this 30% discount through March 31st.
***Note: We posted this yesterday, before WHO announced the pandemic status and Trump announced the European travel ban (which does not apply to citizens though). Though these are difficult times, we still need to plan for the future-including college. I was hesitant to write about the virus, as I’m sure your inboxes-like mine-are being flooded. I will be sending something in the next week, though, about how our students in Europe are faring through this.***
Life as an international student in Europe isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There are definitely extra challenges they face living in a new country. I’m experiencing some of this myself as we are in our first few months in Europe. I’m really kicking myself for not memorizing the metric system. Even as I’m learning the formulas, calculating is an extra step. I know how far a mile is, but have to think about what it means if something is presented in kilometers or meters. There is also a new language to learn, new public transportation system to navigate, and the challenge of figuring out where and how to take care of day to day needs-from organic milk to contact lenses!
These challenges make me really respect what our students are going through. They are navigating all of these issues (maybe not the quest for organic milk….) with less life experience to draw from AND while going to school full time. The challenges that they are successfully navigating actually end up being beneficial, as they lead to tremendous growth and self confidence-not to mention soft skills that employers are looking for. For more information visit us at https://maciej-kozlowski.pl /
I’m also experiencing some of the same perks that international students benefit from, the first of which is affordability. I talk a lot about the dramatic difference between tuition in the US and Europe. The average tuition for international students in Europe is right around $7000 per year. The savings are even greater when you consider that most bachelor’s degrees take just 3 years to complete. As a frame of reference, my son Sam attends a university with tuition that is higher than average in Europe (about $12,500 per year). Yet we will save more than $200,000 compared to US private universities and even about $39,000 less than attending our flagship state university.
Since we are moving from North Carolina, where cost of living is more affordable than in much of the US, we didn’t expect to be blown away by the savings. We were wrong! While our housing costs are comparable, there are other savings that are astounding! Though we will be covered by the public health system, we need to get private health insurance-at least temporarily-in order to get our residence card. Many people use both the public and private health system. Want to know why? It’s incredibly affordable! We’re paying about $200 per month (2400 per year) for private insurance for all three of us. Of course we will have co-pays, but they are under $15 for most services. Our coverage includes the option for in-home doctors visits, specialists, prescriptions, physical therapy, MRIs, and just about anything else you can think of-with no deductible!
Until recently, we always had health insurance through Tom’s employers. Since our portion of health insurance costs was always deducted from his check, it was easy to not fully wrap our brain around how much we were paying. In fact, most families with employer based insurance pay $6000 per year for their portion of the plan and have an average deductible of $8232! If you aren’t lucky enough to have employer-based insurance, you’re looking at an average of $14,016 per year plus deductibles, co-pays, and uncovered costs. My friend just told me that they just got a $150 bill for her daughter’s throat culture and treatment for pink eye-despite the fact that they have insurance.
Transportation is another area we are saving huge amounts of money. As is the case in most of North Carolina, we lived in a place that did not have adequate public transportation. This meant two car payments along with insurance, gas, and maintenance on the vehicles. We plan to stay carless and rely primarily on walking and public transportation in Portugal. Adults in Portugal pay 40 euros for a monthly unlimited public transportation pass, but families pay no more than 80 euros total. Imagine the savings for a large family! Even with occasional local uber rides or car rentals for nearby weekend trips, we will pay dramatically less each month for transportation. Our internet and cell phone is also a small fraction of what we paid before.
Now, affordability is great, but I’m equally appreciating some of the secondary benefits I often talk about. The connections international students make with other students from around the world are truly incredible. These students have something significant in common-be it around goals, interests and/or values-that led them to pursue higher education outside of their home country. Further, they are all having similar experiences unique to living out of their home country. These lead to incredible friendships that develop quickly and last for years to come.
After announcing our plans to move to Lisbon, I heard from other BTS families who were in the process of doing the same. One family is moving just a few months after us, has a daughter Ellie’s age who will be attending the same school, and happened to be in Lisbon scoping things out at the same time we were there last month! Now, I am somewhat of an introvert in my personal life. While I love having connections and true friendships with people, I find the small talk that is initially required to determine if there is a connection exhausting. When we met this family for lunch last month we skipped right past the small talk stage! Just like international students in Europe, we have some core values in common which are leading to our moves abroad and are also share in significant life experiences associated with moving as a family. This led to a quick connection and made me feel like I’ve known them for much longer than I have.
International students in Europe learn so much about the world through their interactions with other students. They learn about the local culture, but also learn about the first hand experiences of students from all around the world. This occurs through classroom discussions and friendships. Hearing the perspectives of someone who has experienced things that students have only read about in the news or classes makes world events more tangible and relevant. The curiosity and knowledge that results from these interactions leads to an even greater cultivation of the values associated with global citizenship.
I’m finding myself more curious about world events too. Our realtor was born in Angola and left when she was very young, due to the war. I experienced one of the best meals of my life at a Goan restaurant in Lisbon. I knew little to nothing about these countries and other former Portuguese colonies, but having these interactions made me want to learn more. Not only did it increase my interest about the events in these countries but also about how those events affected their citizens.
Experiencing these benefits far outweighs any headaches caused by the obstacles! That said, we have also had assistance. We hired someone who has helped us establish our tax residency, apply for a special tax status, open a bank account, and complete the process needed for our residence card. We likely would have been able to figure all of that out ourselves, though it would have taken much more time trying to translate websites, determine what documents we need to bring, and even how to get a number to secure out space in line at the tax office! The tricks, tips, and expertise she has provided has made her services well worth the expense and have saved us incredible amounts of time and money.
The same can be applied to exploring the English-taught options Europe. Yes, you can do your own online research. I can tell you from first hand knowledge that there are a lot of inaccuracies in many portals-particularly as it pertains to admissions requirements for US students. There is also a lot of bias, as many sites only include information about schools that pay for the listing. You may also come across advice from well meaning people with information that doesn’t apply. Maybe their kids went to universities in the UK (which are different than those in continental Europe) or perhaps the information they provide you with is outdated, or based on information about schools without English speaking programs. Weeding through the biases, lack of complete information, and inaccuracies can be incredibly frustrating!
This is exactly why I started Beyond the States five years ago! The website, which was successfully promoted by themarketingheaven.com, has reached large number of young people across The United States, eager to study in Europe. We realize that there is no one size fits all solution, so we have a range of services that include options for memberships that provide you with the information (and community) to research the options, stand-alone courses to navigate different aspects of the process, and done-for you services in which the research is done for you, providing you with a list of programs that fit your interests, qualifications, goals, and budget! We also have a community of other families to connect you with, many of whom have gone through this process and have kids in Europe already. Their information and support is invaluable! Check it out now and received 50% off your first month of membership. There is no long term commitment required and you can cancel your membership easily at any time within the membership portal.
As you may remember, we made plans to move to Malaysia in spring 2020. We applied for a visa, and Ellie and I spent an incredible six weeks looking at schools, apartments, and just exploring. We were all super excited for a life filled with curry mee and a completely different way of life. Just a couple of weeks after I announced our plans, we had a plot twist in our lives. Tom got a job offer-one he was really excited about-for a company that is 100% remote. However, he would need to live in place that had some overlap in the work day with US time zones. With a 12-hour time difference, Malaysia was off the table if he wanted this job.
Luckily, we weren’t completely back to square one as I had researched several countries before we decided on Malaysia. Deciding on a new plan paralleled the process I advise students to go through when choosing which European schools to apply to. I always recommend students to first start with the quantifiable criteria, which starts with area of study and admissions requirements. It doesn’t matter if you want to live in France if you want to study Philosophy because there aren’t any English-taught programs in that area of study. It doesn’t matter if you want to study in Denmark if you don’t have any AP scores or an IB degree, since those requirements are country-wide. For our search, first and foremost we needed to identify a country that had visa structures that we qualified for (since we weren’t going with a work or student visa). We also needed a place that had no greater than a 5 to 6 hour time difference from EST. It doesn’t matter if I want to live in Croatia if they don’t have the visa structure we need, or anywhere in Asia due to the time difference. These concrete criteria helped us narrow the field tremendously. The next criteria we had was around cost. Just like the university search, this gets a bit more complicated. When students are looking at universities in Europe, tuition along with living expenses needs to be considered. I often use the example comparing Norway and Estonia. Though Norway offers free tuition, the overall cost of tuition and cost of living is less expensive in Estonia because Norway is such an expensive country. In our search, we had to consider not only cost of living, but also tax rates (one reason we initially chose Malaysia is that they don’t tax global income). We would love to live in Spain, for instance, but the tax rates there are high which affects the overall cost of living. Then we get to the most subjective criteria, which is quality of life. This is different for everyone, but for us some considerations were weather, food, public transportation, ease of visiting schools for Beyond the States, and high school education for Ellie.
All these factors helped us decide on Lisbon. Portugal has a tax structure that provides a 10-year tax break to those who become tax residents and meet a set of other criteria. It’s also one of the more affordable countries in Europe. My brother lives in Lisbon, so we will get to spend regular time with him, his wife, my nephew, and niece. Food and weather boxes are checked (big time) and we found a great international high school that will allow Ellie to continue with her curriculum. I do hate that we will be paying more for high school tuition than we pay for Sam’s university tuition, but I keep reminding myself that it’s just for two years! Speaking of Sam, it will be much easier to see him since Amsterdam is just a 3-hour flight from Lisbon. And get this-after just 5 years of living there we can apply for Portuguese citizenship! We must pass a language test first (thought there are rumors that this requirement is being removed), so we will be taking classes and studying hard. After we become citizens, we can live anywhere in the EU! Finally, this move means that school visits for Beyond the States are going to be a lot more frequent! We are taking advantage of Ellie’s virtual school year with a couple of months of travel before settling in Lisbon. We leave on January 12th and will spend a month in Valencia, Spain, with plans to visit a few schools in Madrid. After a couple of weeks in Lisbon to handle logistics in February, we will then spend March in Athens -with more school visits-and settle down in Lisbon April 1st. I’ve had my eye of a few schools in Finland that I plan to visit in May as well. It’s been interesting going through a process that parallels that of the students I work with. Like some of the students I talk with, we started this process with one thought/plan in mind that required modification. What we thought of as a Plan B turns out to be at least as good as a choice as the original plan, just in different ways. Flexibility is something that I sometimes struggle with, but it’s been an exciting process. The other thing I have found fascinating is how many BTS members, former members, future members/newsletter subscribers I have encountered through this process. I’m in a Facebook group for Americans who have or are planning to move to Portugal and already have been contacted by four other people who are in the same group and know me through Beyond the States! I guess it’s not surprising, given that valuing global experiences is something we all have in common. Anyhow, I look forward to bringing you even more frequent information about schools! I’ll send out updates about the schools I have appointments with ahead of time, so you can let me know if there are any specific questions you would like answered.
I haven’t always known about going to college in Europe. Before my oldest started high school, I was worried about the cost of college. Though we regularly put money away for college, our savings would not even scratch the surface of private or out of state tuition. I also had concerns about the rat race the college admissions process had become and was worried that my son would not be a good player of that game!
In 2015, I stumbled on the existence of English-taught, full degree programs held at European universities and decided to explore this possibility. Prior to this, I assumed that going to college in Europe required fluency in a foreign language. I certainly had no idea that, in non-Anglophone countries in Europe, there are over 350 schools offering more than 1,700 full degree programs conducted entirely in English—no foreign language skills needed. Everything from the courses to the readings to the assignments are in English.
The savings alone made me realize that many other families would also be interested in learning more. I spent a year researching, visiting schools in Europe, meeting with administrators and talking to American students who were already studying in Europe to start Beyond the States. Since then, we have helped families learn about and navigate the European options and my own son will attend college in the Netherlands this coming fall.
Are you interested in learning why so many families are excited about these options?
I was vaguely aware that colleges were getting more and more expensive, though I didn’t know how incredibly quickly the cost was increasing until I decided to check out the trends at universities near my home. I compared current tuition with what the rates were when I went to college. In 1992, tuition at Duke University was $14,700 per year. Now, just twenty-five years later, it is $49,676. And in just five years (which will affect parents of kids currently in eighth grade and younger), it’s expected to be a staggering $75,602 per year!
Even state schools have seen a drastic rate increase. In-state tuition and fees at UNC-Chapel Hill were slightly more than $1,000 in 1992 and are now almost $9,000 per year. From 1980-2010 there was an 1,120% increase in tuition—an increase higher than in any other good or service, including healthcare. Further, only 19% of students at American public universities graduate within four years, and even state flagship universities only have a four-year graduation rate of 36%. Each extra year it takes to graduate contributes to massive amounts of student loan debt.
Compare that to going to college in Europe, more than 300 schools (not including the UK) that offer more than 1,700 English-taught bachelor’s degree programs. On average, international students would pay $7,000 per year to attend one of these schools. There are more than six hundred programs with tuition less than $5,000 per year and more than sixty options that are tuition-free—even for international students. The savings are further increased when you factor in that most bachelor’s programs take three to three-and-a-half years to complete. In many cases, going to college in Europe costs less for a full bachelor’s degree, including cost of travel, than ONE year of US out-of-state or private school tuition.
Even after accounting for housing and travel costs, the savings of going to college in Europe are immense! My son, Sam, will attend Leiden University, in the Netherlands. At $12,550 a year, it is on the higher side of the tuition range in Europe. The program at Leiden takes three years to complete, which will be a total of $37,650 in tuition costs.
If Sam were to go to school in the United States, Vermont’s Middlebury College would likely be a good fit for his academic interests. Yet tuition for ONE year is $54,450, which is almost $17,000 MORE than the full three-year program at Leiden. Even after factoring in living costs, travel home, and student visa, Sam going to college in Europe will save us more than $200,000!
I recently read that many college admissions counselors spend less than eight minutes on each application. With so many qualified applicants, admissions counselors must often look for reasons NOT to admit an applicant. Such reasons can range from not enough AP classes, class ranking that isn’t high enough, mediocre SAT/ACT scores, not enough extracurricular activities—or not enough with leadership roles—or summers that lack enough enrichment. It’s a fine line, though, because too many extracurricular activities may indicate the applicant lacks focus, yet many extracurricular activities in a similar area might look like the applicant doesn’t have a diversity of interests. The list of reasons not to admit an applicant goes on and on and is often contradictory.
The goal is to be the best, yet it’s impossible to excel in every area. This sets up both students and parents to feel inadequate and vulnerable to rejection no matter what they do. US schools claim that this admissions process provides a holistic assessment of the applicants, but in fact the process is highly subjective. This competition is not just at the Ivy League schools either—many lesser-known schools, like College of the Ozarks in Missouri, Jarvis Christian College in Texas, and Rust College in Mississippi, accept less than 16% of their applicants. The stress involved with this process is linked to the increase in anxiety among American teenagers and is said to be creating a national mental health crisis.
Let’s contrast this with the European admissions process. The first thing to recognize is that, in Europe, the schools don’t use admissions rates as an indicator of educational quality or prestige. The reputation of the school is not generally linked to how selective it is. At most schools, the admissions process is less competitive, even at highly-ranked, reputable ones. Each school has its own set of admissions requirements. If you meet those requirements and there is room in the program, you are admitted. The admissions criteria might be a certain ACT/SAT score, a set GPA, a defined number of AP courses, or as little as a high school diploma. A number of very reputable European universities have programs without enrollment caps, so students who meet these criteria are accepted. Period. It doesn’t matter if they have a higher GPA than the one required, or more AP courses. They aren’t being compared to the other applicants; they are being assessed to see if they have the qualifications needed to succeed in the program. Students then have the first year as a student to prove that they can succeed.
The procedures are transparent even in the schools that have more competitive admissions. There are a few schools that make admissions decisions based 100% on SAT scores. Mediocre grades? Doesn’t matter. No sports? That’s fine. While I don’t agree that the SAT score is necessarily the best indicator of future success, I do appreciate the total transparency. This process allows students to make mistakes, to explore their interests—even those that aren’t quantifiable—to spend time with family, get after-school jobs, and end the day with a good night’s sleep.
Learning for learning’s sake is a noble proposition, but few students go to college for reasons that don’t relate to employability in some way or another. Students know that a degree is required to access many career opportunities. Why then, are our universities are not preparing students for the workforce? There is Life After College, by Jeffrey Selingo, notes that nearly half of college graduates in their twenties are underemployed, meaning the jobs they can get don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Few schools in the United States require internships or help students find them, and only 1 in 3 graduates had an internship in college, even though internships are a fast track to a job.According to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, employers hired around 50% of the interns who worked for them as full-time employees after graduation; in some fields, it is closer to 75%.
Internships help students learn how to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world situations. Students learn relevant skills, see what others in that field are responsible for, and gain exposure to occupations that they might not have known about. They can try out an industry, role, or organization, while also building contacts and gaining relevant experience for their resumes.
Many of the bachelor’s degree programs in Europe usually have at least one semester set aside for an internship. Having a semester to do internships removes many of the obstacles that students in the United States report, such as deciding between a paying summer job or a non-paid internship or trying to juggle internship duties and classwork. This dedicated semester also means that the internships can be completed in countries outside of the one they are studying in, increasing international opportunities and exposure.
The internship opportunities in Europe are particularly interesting and includes many international companies. A number of universities have partnerships with these companies, and they will often work together to place students in appropriate internships. Some of the major internship providers are:
These internships are not limited to students studying business. Google, for example, offers internships related to software engineering, legal work, and customer service in many of their European locations.
There are also a number of organizations unique to Europe in which students can intern, such as:
The Center for Counter-terrorism
The International Criminal Courts in The Hague
The World Health Organization in Geneva
The UN Regional Center in Brussels
European Energy in Copenhagen
NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center
The European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center
4) Soft Skills
Along with the real-world experiences that an internship provides, prospective employers also look for an applicant’s development of soft skills. Soft skills are personal attributes, as opposed to job-specific skills and knowledge. Students who are going to college in Europe have studied outside of their home country and are immersed in different cultures. They are able to cultivate their awareness and appreciation for cultural differences. The emphasis on group work in European schools gives students the opportunity to work with people with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. These graduates are often flexible, adaptable, and experienced in navigating unfamiliar circumstances, all of which lead to success in the workplace. In fact, a recent study by the Institute of International Education found that studying abroad for longer periods of time has a high impact on job offers, as well as job advancement.
5) Global Citizenship and International Exposure
“Global citizenship” is a bit of a buzzword, but it’s something that is important to many individuals and families. A global citizen is one whose identity encompasses more than just their country of origin. Global citizenship means being aware of, respecting, valuing, and identifying with the world community, not just one’s home country. Global citizens are just as devastated by atrocities occurring around the world as they are about those that occur in their home country, since they identify as a citizen of the world.
Interacting on a personal level with people from different countries enables a greater perspective on world events. Unlike homogeneous classrooms in the United States, the English-taught programs in Europe are developed to attract students from around the world. Classroom discussions include the perspective and experiences from these students, which allow students to have a better understanding of the world and how current issues affect their citizens.
International students have peers from around the world. The cultural differences between a student from Atlanta, Georgia and one from Tbilisi, Georgia are dramatic. These contrasts-as well as the similarities-are recognized, openly discussed, and valued. Though there are differences in background, there are meaningful common experiences and values among international students. They are all experiencing living outside of their home country, which is a significant and life-changing experience. Further, most of these students do have the values associated with global citizenship, which connects them on a very deep level.
In addition to experiencing the world by studying in a different country, students studying in Europe have many other opportunities for international experiences. The EU’s Erasmus+ program, for instance, is an umbrella organization for the many programs that encourage mobility among young people. The student mobility program is one that all degree-seeking students attending European universities can participate in—even international students! Students can spend up to twelve months studying in other European countries (and sometimes outside of Europe as well). The attendance can be studying at another university or doing an internship in another country, or a combination of the two. There is no additional cost to these programs and students can even apply to receive a stipend of 150-500 euros per month while participating.
Many schools have their own bilateral agreements with other schools, which allow students to study in another country outside of the EU for no additional costs. Some schools have active international student organizations that plan day and weekend trips around Europe, further enhancing a student’s understanding of other people and cultures.
I was recently speaking to a group of students for a student panel presentation. One of the students is in her second year of study at a university in Prague. She said that when she went initially went to study in Europe, it felt like a big deal. Now though, “the world feels accessible”. This is something I think about a lot! She has had successful experiences navigating her life outside of her home country which has led to this belief. She has figured out how to get around Prague, she has traveled around Europe with friends, she is going to Asia to study for a semester. The exposure to living outside of her home country has not only cultivated her interest in the world, but she has proven to herself that she has the skills to do so.
Yes, I’m relieved that we are going to save incredible amounts of money with Sam going to college in Europe. Yes, I love that the application process was simple and that we got Sam’s acceptance in just three weeks. Even if the price was comparable to the US, or the admissions process was not so transparent, these options would be worth exploring for these fewer tangible benefits. I want my kids to feel invested in the problems around the world. I want them to experience and value diversity. I want them to know how to work with others-even when there are differences. I want them to know that they can manage unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. I want them to know that the world is within their reach. I’m confident that going to college in Europe will lead to these traits (while also saving us tons of money…).
I have so much to report from my week in The Netherlands-it’s hard to know where to start! In addition to information about two schools that blew my socks off, I also want to give you some concrete examples of academic and student life. I’ll be sending emails with all of this information in the coming weeks, but let’s start with academic life.
I talk conceptually about the differences between academic life in the US and in Europe quite a bit. It can be difficult to wrap our brains around though. I thought it might be helpful to tell you a bit about what academic life looks like for my son, Sam, and other students in the International Studies program at Leiden University.
Let me begin my explaining a system in place at all schools throughout Europe. ECTS is the European system for calculating credits. The US system calculates credit hours based on how many hours you are physically in class (or supposed to be in class…). If you have a course worth 3 credits, that means that you are in class for 3 hours a week. Full time US students generally take between 12-15 credit hours per semester, meaning that they are in class for 12-15 hours per week. The European system calculates the total amount of time needed on the course-in and out of the classroom. A class that has a 3-hour lecture might have more out of class requirements than another, and this takes that into account. Each of Sam’s courses this semester is worth 5 credits (requiring 5 hours of weekly work in and out of the classroom), and full-time students take 30 credit hours a semester.
Leiden’s International Studies program is conducted in two buildings in The Hague. Both buildings are near the train station and right off the tram line that leads to any of the student residences. Sam usually walks to class, which takes about 15 minutes, though his friends and I are trying to talk him into biking (more on my evening with Sam and his friends in an upcoming post).
International Studies students don’t choose their language and region specialty until their second semester, so they all have the same courses the first semester. This means that the weekly lectures for each course are large, with all 500 of the first-year students.
Each course has a weekly lecture and also has a biweekly tutorial section. Almost all of the tutors are Ph.D.’s and many are lecturers for other courses as well. This is very different from the seminars I had in college that were led by graduate students. Tutorials have 12 students max and during the first semester students have all their tutorial classes with the same group of students. This allows a certain comfort level as they get used to the tutorial structure (which requires active participation) and gives them an academic community to access for assistance. Sam’s group is very international with students from Iceland, Slovakia, Germany, France, Dominican Republic, and the Netherlands. Tutorial counts for 30% of the grade in all of Sam’s courses. The tutorial grade is made up of attendance/participation as well as assignments which may include debates, presentations, or in class, group work.
There is one course that does not follow the above structure, which is Academic Reading and Writing. I can’t tell you how glad I am that this is a required course, as I feel like this area was really neglected in Sam’s high school curriculum! This class has about 25 students and meets weekly. Students learn strategies to read critically, structure academic papers, research, formulate a strong thesis, and even more specific writing techniques like cohesion within and between paragraphs and the like. This writing assignments are done using a text and concept from the Global History class. Sam’s group is working with Tonio Andrade’s book “The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History”. There are three graded assignments for this course that lead up to a final essay which is worth 50% of the grade.
In addition to Academic Reading and Writing, all first year International Studies students take Sociolinguistics, Global History, Introduction to Cultural Studies, Introduction to International Studies, and Principles of Economics. Economics is one of Sam’s favorite courses, primarily because the lecturer is very engaging.
International Studies is another one of his favorites and after reading the syllabus I totally understand why. I could sit and ponder the ideas presented in the syllabus alone for quite some time, so I can only imagine what the readings and lectures are like. I cited part of the syllabus in a previous post, because I love that one of the course objective is “to foster global positioning sensitivity based on an awareness that there is no single objective position from which to observe the world.” Don’t you just want to sit and think on that for a minute? Another little gem from the syllabus explains that the course “seeks to initiate a critical exploration of the making of ‘us’ and ‘them’ through an introduction to the methods and perspectives of a range of disciplines and the potential strengths of their (interdisciplinary) combination, thereby fostering a genuinely global, historically-informed awareness of what we share, what divides us, and the processes out of which the contemporary global order of nation-states emerged.”
Sam is struggling with Global History, which is surprising because it was one of his strengths in high school. It’s taught in a way that is interesting, but incredibly different than how he learned the topic in the past. Instead of exploring events, it’s more about exploring patterns of events in history. The syllabus states that “the aim is to examine connections between societies, cultures and regions, as well as their divergence. Based on a combination of a thematic structure and a focus on a particular region, the plenary lectures each week will aim to shed light on connections and comparison, as well as on similarities and divergence.” I think this way of looking at history is a great way to increase critical thinking skills.
Sam had midterms the week before I arrived and is pretty sure that he failed his Global History midterm. I fought my initial instinct (which was to freak out) and reminded myself of some important information. Most Dutch schools grade on a 10-point scale. Grade inflation simply isn’t a thing, as it is in the US. I met different students at different schools this week who had never met anyone who received a 10 and only a few knew students who had received a 9-ever! Most students shoot for about a 7, and an 8 is viewed as very good. A score of 5.5 is the minimum required to pass the course.
First year students at Dutch universities have something called Binding Study Advice (BSA) to contend with. Basically, though the admissions process is less rigorous, they must prove that they have what it takes to succeed during their first year of studies. At Leiden, students must finish the year with 45 ECTS. If they fail more than 3 classes, they will not be able to return the second year. This makes the stakes quite high, so you may be wondering why I didn’t follow my instinct and freak out about Sam’s midterm…
First of all, the midterm is 30% of the grade. He still has the final and tutorial to pull up the grade up to a 5.5+ total. Students are also offered the opportunity to re-sit for any course they don’t pass. This would mean going back in mid-late January (before classes start) and taking an exam that would be worth 70% of his grade (midterm+final together). If, God forbid, he still failed he could retake the course next year as he would be able to return as long as he doesn’t fail 3 courses.
Most programs publish the percentage of students who get positive study advice during the first year and continue on to the second year. The international studies program is at 85%. Do I think Sam needs better time management and study skills? Yes, definitely. Do I think he needs to reign in the amount of going out? Yes. But do I think that he will be with the other 85% of students who receive at least 45 ECTS? Yes.
Whew! Typing that all out was very cathartic and I’m feeling even better than I did with my self talk around this…I’m sitting in the airport lounge during a layover in London while I’m finishing typing this and sent an email to Sam a few minutes ago. He was not receptive to discussing changes he would make in person (I got a lot of “I know, Mom”- old habits die hard, I guess), so I thought I would send it in writing. There are resources that students can use at universities, but they have to be proactive about seeking them out. Sam knows where he could go for assistance with study skills and such, but asking for help is not one of his strengths. My email outlined changes I would like to see-from making an appointment with his study advisor for pointers about studying for Global History, to getting on a sleep schedule, to figuring out regular times and places to study that are conducive to focus and retention. I threw in a suggestion about daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, because I couldn’t help myself.
So why am I telling you about all of this? First of all, I always strive to be transparent about both the benefits and challenges related to studying in Europe. It will likely be challenging academically. Students who are accustomed to straight A’s will have a rude awakening. Students who have a hard time asking for help (looking at you, Sam) need to get over it and make themselves do it. Though it might be uncomfortable but nothing bad will come of asking for help. Worst case scenario is that it’s not helpful. Parents need to remind themselves that this is a different structure than we are accustomed to. The first year goal is about passing, and that in itself should be celebrated.
Sam is so happy with his life in The Hague and at Leiden that I don’t doubt he will do what he needs to get those 45 ECTS. He knows that if he doesn’t, he won’t be able to live this life that he’s creating for himself. Further, he knows that even if he does get positive binding study advice, he will be paying me back for any class he fails. Hoping that extra incentive helps him make the changes now, before first semester finals.
College in Europe can be hard. Parenting a college student can be hard. But I really love both!
Ellie and I have been in Malaysia for the last four weeks and are finishing up our time in Bali. It’s actually been a scouting trip since we (along with Tom) will be moving to Malaysia in the spring. I’m often asked why we are moving and why Malaysia. The short answer is that Tom and I have always dreamed of living abroad. Ellie is 100% on board with this plan, but Sam wanted to finished high school in the US, so we waited for him to get off to college and then sold our house this past spring and started the process!
Malaysia has an incredible 10 year visa, low cost of living, great health care, no taxes on global income, and Kuala Lumpur is an exciting, modern, food filled city. It’s also a great jumping off place to explore other parts of Asia with short and cheap flights to amazing places. The long answer goes back to Tom’s brain hemorrhage in 2017, our experiences around that (both with healthcare and the insights that come from a near death experience), job insecurity he has experienced when he returned to work (despite his full recovery), my learning about various ways to experience location independenceafter being interviewed for the EPOP podcast, and a deep desire to experience more of the world on a longer term basis.
The reaction from friends, some family, and even strangers has been really interesting. Some people are genuinely curious and I’m always happy to answer their questions. Many people aren’t familiar with Malaysia (I wasn’t until fairly recently), but know of Singapore, due to the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians”. To them, I’m able to explain that Kuala Lumpur is like Singapore, but more affordable! Other people make assumptions and seem to want us to defend our decision. My mother questioned what we would do about healthcare-though Malaysia is medical tourism hot spot with affordable and high quality care. Some question why we wouldn’t choose another better known place, without consideration to the fact that you can’t live long term on a tourist visa. They (including my mom) questioned safety, though Malaysia is ranked the 15th safest country in the world-far ahead of the US ranking of 128th place. Others (ok, my mom again-but others too…) questioned the educational impact this will have on Ellie, without realizing the learning opportunities that living abroad naturally provides and that there are options for international high schools.
This all relates to the myth of American exceptionalism. We’ve addressed this concept previously, but it bears repeating. Why do we assume our health care is the best? Why do we assume our universities are the only good ones in the world? Why do we assume that our way of life is only one worth emulating? Why do we even have to think in terms of “best”? A good university, doctor, way of life for one person may not be for another. Things can be different without one having to be defined as better than the other.
Ellie is doing 10th grade through a virtual school, since we are moving before the end of the school year. This also gives her the opportunity to travel with me this year. We are in Bali to attend a conference about World Schooling. I first read about this a few years ago and found it fascinating. Basically, these are families who take less conventional approaches to education in order to allow their children to learn from the world. Though Ellie’s education is more traditional (accredited online school and likely international school for the rest of high school), I thought this would be a great way for her to meet other teens and for us both to learn from families who make a conscious point to learn from the world.
Already I’ve seen the natural learning and curiosity that occurs through these experiences. You can imagine our surprise when we saw a swastika on a building on our way in from the airport! I had no idea that the swastika is actually a Sanskrit symbol used for over 5000 years by many ancient cultures around the world. It is still used on some Hindu and Buddhist temples and organizations in Asia-not as a symbol of hate but as it’s original pre-Hitler meaning of peace, luck, well being, and prosperity. We learned about world religions and can’t even count how many Ganesh statues we have seen! We learned thought provoking information about cultural identity; how many people are just learning that they are Japanese because their families took on a Chinese identity for fear of retaliation after WWII; how Tamil is the common language among Indians in Malaysia; how the British colonization still has effects though independence was granted in 1957; and how ethnic Malays/Malaysian Malays (not sure if one term is more PC than the other) are all held to sharia law, while all others in the country have a secular justice system. We had first hand experience with haze in Malaysia, caused by the intentionally set forest fires in Indonesia. Ellie was able to use this information for a paper she had to write in Earth Science about deforestation. I can tell you that NONE of these things would have been of interest to Ellie (and -full disclose- some would not have interested me either…) if we weren’t here having these first hand experiences.
So why am I telling you all this?
I recently read a sentence that really stuck with me from Sam’s Introduction to International Studies syllabus. It noted that one of the course objectives was to “foster global positioning sensitivity based on an awareness that there is no single objective position from which to observe the world.” This really gives me goosebumps! Wouldn’t it be great if we all had this? The very same day, I read an article that quoted a woman who was at a political rally in North Carolina. She said, “This is like college — it’s like a pep rally of like-minded people and we feel safe here,”
I don’t want my kids to solely be around like-minded people. I want them to learn from the experiences of others. I want them to feel a little uncomfortable as their views and perspectives are challenged by their experiences and the views of others. This type of education occurs when studying in Europe. Their classmates and friends are from all around the world so they will meet and learn-in the classroom and socially- from students who have had vastly different life experiences than them hughesairco.com. They will also learn about the history and culture of the country they are studying in, just through day to day life and the natural learning experiences that take place.
I recognize that our choice to move abroad isn’t possible or desirable for many people. There may be jobs, family responsibilities, and many other reasons to stay in the states. You may prefer to experience the world through travel and enjoy a supportive community in the US. I totally get that! This is an example of differences that aren’t better or worse than the other. That said, almost every person I have met through Beyond the States has wished that they had these opportunities to get a degree abroad when they were in college. Our kids don’t have a mortgage yet. They aren’t responsible for taking care of us. They don’t have a career to leave behind. This is the prime time for them to take advantage of the opportunities to learn and grow in tremendous life changing ways, by getting their degree in Europe.
Beyond the States helps families access and navigate the information about the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in Europe. This free webinar is a great starting point and provides answers to many of the questions you may have.
Did you know that there are thousands of graduate school programs in Europe that cost a lot less than US grad school tuition? In 2015, I stumbled on the existence of English-taught full degree programs held at European universities. My kids were teenagers and I had a number of concerns about higher education in the US-from ever increasing cost to opaque admissions process to varying quality- so I decided to explore whether to keep this possibility on our radar. Prior to this, I assumed that an international student would have to know a foreign language to study in Europe. I certainly had no idea that, in non-Anglophone countries in Europe, there are over 700 accredited universities offering almost 8,000 full bachelor’s and master’s degree programs conducted entirely in English—no foreign language skills needed. Everything from the courses to the readings to the assignments are in English, plus English is widely spoken as a second language in many countries.
The cost savings alone made me realize that many other families would also be interested in learning more. I spent a year researching, visiting schools in Europe, meeting with administrators and talking to American students who were already studying in Europe in order to start Beyond the States. Until now, we focused on helping families learn about and navigate the European bachelor’s degree options. As I’ve visited schools, I’ve learned about the incredible master’s degree programs and, by popular demand, we have begun to offer resources around these options as well.
Interested in learning why so many Americans are excited about getting their master’s degree in Europe?
1) Lower Cost
According to FinAid.org, the average cost for master’s degree programs in the US ranges from $30,000 – $120,000 which depends on whether a student is paying in-statue tuition, out of state or private tuition. Given that the average student completes their bachelor’s degree with $33,310 of debt, taking on the expense of graduate school can be financially devastating, especially if, as most do, master’s students also carry debt from their bachelor’s degree.
English-taught master’s degree programs in Europe are much more affordable. Their average tuition for the more than 5,000 English-taught programs is at $9,000 per year. That average includes the higher priced programs, like MBAs, so it is significant to note that there are over 1,800 options under $3,500 per year and more than 700 that are tuition free-even for international students.
There’s a false perception that the cost of living in Europe is much greater than in the US, and that cost of living, along with increased travel expenses, erase the savings provided by lower tuition. Let’s look at a couple of comparisons around this. My son, Sam, is in the International Studies bachelor’s program at Leiden University. Students in this program choose a region and related language and then study politics, economics, international relations, culture and such as it pertains to that area. For the sake of this example, we will look at related master’s degrees in Europe and compare them to the costs of attendance in our state of North Carolina.
UNC Chapel Hill offers a master’s degree in Global Studies. In state tuition is $10,552 per year while out of state students pay $28,278 in tuition a year. Duke University offers a Political Science master’s degree program for $60,727 per year. Both of these programs take two years to complete. The cost of living in Durham and Chapel Hill is similar, estimated by the schools to cost about $2,000 per month, so $18,000 for an academic year thus, the total cost of attendance for in state at UNC Chapel Hill is $59,104, out of state is 94,556, and private is $242,908.
Five years ago, those numbers would have seemed normal to me….Now though, they do not. I know that there are other options. Groningen University, in the Netherlands, is one of many universities that offers one year master’s degree programs, and has a Middle Eastern Studies master’s program. The tuition is $14,241 and cost of living estimates are $14,437. The total cost of attendance is $28,679. Even budgeting for two flights home during the year, it’s still half of what we would pay overall for in state, a third of what we would pay for out of state, and just over a tenth of what we would pay for private US universities.
There are also countries with a much lower cost of living to explore. Charles University, in Prague, Czech Republic, offers a two year International Relations program for $6,835 per year. The estimated cost of living for the year is even lower than tuition at $5,481. The entire two year degree, then, is $24,633. Note that both of these schools are highly reputable, globally ranked universities.
Even factoring in the cost of living and 2 flights home per year, we would save anywhere between $28,000-$214,275 using these examples!
2) Employability After Master’s Degree Programs in Europe
I’m often asked if the degree will be “good” here in the US. First of all, all the programs we list are fully accredited and the degrees are internationally recognized. Usually, this question pertains to employment though. Good news on that front! A recent study by the Institute of International Education found that studying abroad for longer periods of time has a high impact on job offers, as well as job advancement.
The experience of living outside of one’s home country help students gain the soft skills that employers are looking for-and find lacking in US graduates. Students who have studied outside of their home country are immersed in a different culture and cultivate awareness of and appreciation for cultural differences. The emphasis on group work in European schools gives students the opportunity to work with people from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. These graduates are often flexible, adaptable, and experienced in navigating unfamiliar circumstances, all of which are the soft skills that lead to success in the workplace.
Multinational companies recognize the skills what these students bring and partner with many of the European universities to recruit students and/or offer opportunities for hands on experience during studies. These companies include Google, BP, JP Morgan, Accenture, Deloitte, Cisco and many more. There are a number of countries that offer English-taught programs as a way to address their labor shortage. Denmark, for instance, focuses their English taught programs on the employment needs of their country so international students have many opportunities for employment after graduating.
3) Life Changing International Experiences
International experiences are in no way confined to living in the country of your university. The English-taught programs in Europe are developed to attract students from around the world. Thus, friendships are made with others from around the world. Cultural differences are recognized, openly discussed, and valued. Though there are differences in background, there are meaningful common experiences and values among international students. They are all experiencing living outside of their home country, which is a significant and life-changing experience. Further, most of these students do have the values associated with global citizenship, which connects them on a very deep level.
In addition to experiencing the world by studying in a different country, students studying in Europe have many other opportunities for international exposure. The EU’s Erasmus+ program, for instance, is an umbrella organization for the many programs that encourage mobility among young people. The student mobility program is one that all degree-seeking students attending European universities can participate in—even international students! In addition to offering opportunities for study and internships in different countries, Erasmus + also funds Erasmus Mundus programs. These really interesting and often integrated programs are developed and implemented by a consortium of higher education institutions in at least two different countries. Students study in at least two countries and receive a joint degree from the universities of the consortium 619roofing.com. There are more than 100 of these programs that are conducted entirely in English. There are options for just about every field of study that you can think of: Agriculture, Arts, Design, Humanities, Social Sciences, Health Sciences, Computer Science and Technology, Business, and more. These programs are relevant to today’s issues and often involve professionals from related companies which helps students understand how to apply the knowledge – not to mention network! Though the tuition for these programs is generally 9,000 Euros per year, students can apply for scholarships which fund everything from tuition to food and housing to travel costs.
Of course, there are abundant travel opportunities that are more exotic than Cancun or Florida. Europe is compact, making it easy to spend the weekends exploring by train or through inexpensive flights. This may include visiting the hometowns of your new friends, or trips organized by the university or international organizations. I recently met with a group of students who were spending a weekend in Montenegro, organized by their schools international student organization. The cost for travel, lodging, food, etc. was just 200 Euros!
These options aren’t for everyone. They are for students who don’t confine themselves to the status quo, who are interested in other cultures, who love to travel, and want to explore the world, who are open-minded, and eager to have new and different academic and life experiences. For these students, these options would be worth exploring – even if the potential savings were not so dramatic.