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. 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. 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.
Most of us are familiar with what goes on the first few weeks at American universities, but who has any idea what happens at European universities? Sam has been in The Hague for almost two weeks now and though I knew-on paper-what his schedule would be, I didn’t fully understand what this would look like.
As I had mentioned previously, Sam flew to Amsterdam by himself and was met at the airport by the welcome team. This is an optional free service in which current students greet new international students at the airport, guide them to the train, help them buy train tickets, and find the correct train. After finding his way to the housing office, the next welcome team took Sam to his room and showed him around the city.
The first week of orientation is called HOP Week (Hague Orientation Program), and is for Leiden students who are studying in programs held in The Hague (as opposed to the main campus in Leiden). Sam will have orientation that is specific to his program next week which will cover academic information as well as an introduction to the student associations within the program, resources, and the like. HOP week included information fairs and assistance with things like ID cards and such but this was primarily a social introduction, with tours of the city, a beach party, pub crawls, and cook outs.
The drinking age in Europe is 18, so the presence of alcohol was even addressed in the HOP week online information. The parent FAQ section stated “Besides soft drinks and water, we serve beer and wine during the week. However, we do not serve any alcohol to participants under the age of 18.” The drinking age is sometimes a cause for concern for American parents, but it is actually a relief to me. Students in college, be it in the US or Europe, will have the opportunity to drink no matter what the drinking age. Since students in Europe aren’t breaking any rules/laws by drinking, there can be initiatives in place to teach responsible drinking instead of abstinence. When I spoke to the ESN president for a podcast episode, he talked about things they do at parties like passing out water bottles at parties that have information labels about how much alcohol people of different sizes can handle and encouraging students to alternate drinks that contain alcohol with water.
Drinking also isn’t taken to the same extreme it is on US campuses. Yes, there has been more partying by Sam than I would like, but there have been nights that he goes out and has a couple of beers without drinking excessively, and nights he goes out and doesn’t drink at all. When excess has occurred, it hasn’t been at the level that results in passing out, getting sick, or blacking out. Sure, we are only a couple of weeks in, but these weeks before class start are traditionally the heaviest party times. His experience confirms what I have been told by other American students in Europe-that the drinking culture among college students in Europe is drastically different than in the US.
Housing is quite different as well. Sam’s room is much bigger than I expected. It comes with a bed, bedding, side table, a lounge chair, desk, wardrobe, lamps, kitchen table, and kitchenette (cabinets, stove top, small fridge). He shares an entry way and bathroom with a student from Prague who is entering his first year in the International Studies program as well. We pay 590 euros a month for his housing. The is right near a train stop and is only about a 15 minutes walk from the city center (where his classes will be held). Sam was showing me the room on Face Time and I noted that it was so big that I could stay with him when I visit in October, instead of renting an Airbnb. Sam didn’t think that was very funny….
I was a little worried about what Sam would do the first few days, since he arrived on a Thursday and orientation didn’t begin until Monday. However the RA’s set up a WhatsApp group for everyone in the building to join, so Sam had already communicated with people before he got there-and even had plans made for the first night. By the end of the weekend-even before orientation began-he had a large group of friends. These are students from Ireland, England, the US, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Portugal, Serbia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Albania, Morocco, Tunisia, Finland, Norway, India, Thailand, and China. And these were just the nationalities he could name off the top of his head!
This reminded me of a neighbor I had. Her son started at UNC Chapel Hill last year and requested a roommate change because his assigned roommate was from a different country. He felt uncomfortable living with someone whose first language was not English and had cultural differences. This is a kid who grew up in a fairly progressive community, but didn’t have experiences that would lead him to appreciate and value cultural differences the best home cleaning service in Tequesta. I tried to talk to my neighbor about what positive experience her son could have, if she encouraged him not to switch rooms, but it fell on deaf ears…
I love that Sam has the opportunity to connect with such a diverse group of kids and I love that fitting in doesn’t mean that everyone has to be same. They can learn from their different backgrounds while also sharing some very significant life experiences. They all chose to live outside of their home country, which speaks to their openness and curiosity abut the world. They are navigating similar unfamiliar ground together, associated with the nuances of acclimating to a new culture and systems. This is one of those benefits that starts out as secondary, but becomes just as high impact-to Sam and us-as the benefits related to tuition and admissions!
Josh is a former US Marine from Florida who now studies International Relations at the University of Warsaw in Poland. His first international exposure came during his years of overseas duty. His posting to the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group really increased his interest in higher education and stoked a desire for continued international experiences. He also met his now-wife while serving at the US Embassy in Warsaw. Josh’s studies are financed through the GI Bill which, until recently, I didn’t realize could be used to fund college in Europe (more info here)!
Why Are Veterans So Well Suited for College or Grad School in Europe?
They have gained international exposure through their service.
They tend to be older and more mature than typical students in the US.
Their benefits really are confined to state schools in which they live or have residency, since $23,672 won’t go very far for towards out of state or private school tuition.
Their experience in the military has taught the skills needed to deal with bureaucratic processes that are often involved in studying abroad.
What Are the Benefits Under the GI Bill?
Benefits under the Post 9/11 GI bill vary based on the amount of time served after 9/11/01. Those who had active duty for 3 months get 40% of benefits up to those who served for 3 years who get 100% of benefits.
100% of benefits include:
Full tuition for in state and up to $23,672 for out of state or private or international (veterans can get in state tuition where they live or have official residence).
$1,000 per year for books.
$1,650 monthly living allowance
What are the Options in Europe?
There are 735 universities in continental Europe that offer English-taught bachelor’s and/or master’s degree programs. More than 220 of these schools accept the GI Bill. The only countries that don’t have any schools that accept the GI Bill are Monaco and Slovenia. All the others countries have options! In fact, more than half of the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in our database accept the GI Bill!
Of these 4,300+ English taught bachelor’s and master’s degree programs that accept the GI Bill, only 177 have tuition that is greater than the max benefts. Most of these more expensive programs are either MBA programs, Fine/Performing Arts programs in Sweden, or programs held at American schools with a European campus (surprise…).
Here are just a few examples of universities that offer programs of interests and are fully covered by the GI Bill (assuming the student has 100% benefits) :
What better place to study cyber security than Estonia?
On my first visit there, I was surprised to learn about all their technological advances, their focus on internet connectivity (including free WiFi throughout Tallinn), e-society (CNBC Story), electronic voting, and unique cyber-security programs. This from a country that was under Soviet rule until just 1991! Tal Tech offers both a bachelor’s and master’s degree program in Cyber Security.
The curriculum is designed to provide higher education in the extremely hot field of Cyber Security, integrating software development and IT systems administration. Graduates of this curriculum will be able to independently design, operate and manage secure IT systems. Cyber security personnel are in high demand right now. The unemployment rate in the field is 0% and there are estimates that there will be 3.5 million unfilled positions in 2021.
The university offers a total of 20 English-taught bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, primarily in the fields of business, engineering, technology and computer science. Tuition ranges from 2,300-6,000 euros per year.
The city of Groningen has a tremendous amount to offer students. It is the youngest city in the Netherlands, with half of the population under the age of 35. Further 25% of the residents are students. The decentralized campus means that the various university buildings are located throughout the city, which makes the city and university feel very connected-like the town is serving as one big campus. Though it’s a city with a population of more than 200,000, it retains a community feel. Groningen is also a world cycling city and residents say that the city center is busy but quiet, since there are so few cars. Truly an incredible student city!
The University of Groningen is one of the oldest in Europe, founded in 1614. They have a strong international student body, at 20%, representing 120 different countries. I don’t think I could even name 120 countries!
The university offer 34 bachelor’s and 116 master’s program, all 100% English taught. Not only are there programs representing most study disciplines, but most of them are multidisciplinary in nature. For instance, the Internal Law program includes courses in politics science, economics and international relations. The Life Science and Technology program covers biology, pharmacy, physics, chemistry, and engineering. There is really something for almost everyone here! Tuition ranging from 8,900 to 15,500 EUR per year, all well under the GI Bill spending limit.
Bocconi just about has it all-triple crown accreditation, a centralized campus in the incredible city of Milan, a truly international approach to education-and, of course, Italian food! They ensure that class size is conducive to interactions and the classroom layout is intentionally designed to create an interactive environment.
Many schools SAY say that emphasize internationalism, but Bocconi really backs it up. Every professor that has been hired over the last 15 years has had international experiences themselves-they are either non-Italian or an Italian who received their Ph.D in another country. Bocconi sees the value of providing international exposure throughout the study period big city maids. Bachelor’s students are required to learn two additional languages during their studies and students are strongly encouraged to study abroad (in some cases it is mandatory).
Given that this is a business school, almost all of the programs are related to economics and management. That said, in addition to pure business programs like Finance and International Management, there are also programs that integrate business with other areas of study. Examples include:
Economics and Management for Arts, Culture, and Communication
Green Management, Energy and Corporate Social Responsibility
Economics and Data Science
Data Science and Business Analysis
Economics and Management of Government and International Organizations
Bocconi offers 27 English-taught bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. All except for 8 of the programs are less than the tuition covered by the GI Bill.
How Can Beyond the States Help?
Beyond the States provides information, resources, and a community of like-minded people to help students explore, apply to, and prepare for higher education in Europe.
I don’t know about you, but when I went to college, we tied all sorts of stuff to the roof of our car and my parents helped me move in to the dorms. My Facebook feed has been filled with friends doing the same over the past week or so. This is not really the custom in Europe though. As most readers know, our son, Sam, is attending Leiden University in The Hague, The Netherlands, studying International Relations. Here’s a link to a podcast where Sam talks about his visit to Leiden for Experience Day.
I dropped Sam off at the airport on Wednesday. As we checked his bags, I felt compelled to tell the ticketing agent that he had an additional bag to check and that TSA Pre was missing from his boarding pass. Sam was standing right there and perfectly capable of handling this himself, but I just couldn’t help myself. I knew he could take care of it, but I just wanted to help, while I still had the opportunity. That said, I do know that these little things send a certain message and can hinder independence.
There are some really crucial tasks that need to be completed during the first couple of weeks. Sam needs to open a bank account (something that is more complicated than it sounds), register at city hall, find out how rent is paid in the coming months, and a host of other logistics. Knowing myself, it would be really difficult for me not to take over the organization of these tasks if I were there. This is one reason I decided to not head to the Netherlands with him now, and am instead waiting until October, visit this website.
I’m often guilty of managing things myself just because it’s easier, or because I want to help or protect my kids. I’ve had to fight these instincts the past few years in an effort to prepare Sam for attending college abroad. Though he has only been gone a few days, this has already paid off. When Sam returned from Morocco last summer, one of his bags didn’t make it. With oversight, he handled that on his own from filling out the forms, to following up with the airline, to arranging the delivery of the bags. Guess what? When one of his bags didn’t make it last week he knew exactly what to do which eliminated a lot of stress (other than the fact that he was dying for a shower and the missing bag had his towels…). When we traveled to the Hague his junior year, I had him navigate his way to meet me after one of my meetings with a university. Since he had a way to contact me if needed, it was a lesson in guided independence. Guess what? When he unexpectedly had to find his way from the train station to the housing office on his own, he was able to do so without worry.
Correspondence from the universities goes straight to the students, parents are not included on these exchanges. So Sam has been in charge of gathering, scanning, and submitting necessary documents, arranging for the welcome service, calling about student residence permit issues, and keeping track of all the various orientation dates. I’ve kept a list of the tasks that need to be completed, so that I could follow up as needed (aka-nag). Sam has surprisingly stayed on top of it. I think he appreciates that the school treats him as the adult in the situation and he responds accordingly. I will admit that I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from grabbing the phone a few times. Though he didn’t communicate information the exactly as I would have, it was taken care of.
All of these experiences make him (and me!) confident that he will be able to handle the tasks at hand in the coming weeks-and years. I have a list going again with the crucial things that I will follow up about and have had to consciously make myself not ask (nag) about things that don’t matter in the long run. If he wants to procrastinate buying the items for his kitchen, it really shouldn’t matter to me (yes, I’ve had to repeat that to myself many times). I think all this is just to say that, as parents, we sometimes take charge of things for our own needs- whether it’s the need to nurture or help, the need to get things done correctly the first time, or the need to protect. We forget that we have raised these great kids who are capable, who can learn from mistakes, and who can utilize many resources for assistance. I’m often asked what parents can do to help prepare their kids for college in Europe. Without a doubt, providing opportunities for guided independence is my number one suggestion!
Side note-only a few days in and Sam has had some incredible experiences. It’s prevented me from being sad that he’s gone and more focused on how excited I am for him. I’ll share more about his experiences and pictures of his dorm room (hopefully this will compel him to clean up…) next week.