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Student Ambassador Experience-Andrea in Utrecht

This week we hear from another one of our student ambassadors!  Andrea is from Andover Massachusetts and is in her first year of the liberal arts program at Utrecht University.
Read on to learn more about her experience.

My decision to attend college in Europe was made in my senior year of high school in Andover, Massachusetts, where I have lived almost all my life. Growing up in this suburbia, I was comfortable with the way things were and generally thought I would continue to live in the same area for my college years as well. However, after being exposed to BTS through a family friend, I began growing curious of what other opportunities could be out there for me.

I ended up applying to universities in the Netherlands and Czechia, and am currently in my second semester at University College Utrecht, one of the few liberal arts colleges in the Netherlands. This liberal arts curriculum allows me to explore my interests and combine them to create a unique degree. The courses are split up in three sections: Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities. There are no GenEd requirements, except that you must try out at least one class in each of the disciplines in your first year. The program is three years instead of the four years I would be taking in the US, but don’t let that fool you, it is shorter but the course load and curriculum is equally difficult if not harder than that at US schools. At the end of my second year, I have to choose a discipline to major in, within which I have to finish “tracks” or a series of courses in a certain subject to graduate. I am leaning towards taking an Interdisciplinary Major by combining the Social Sciences and Humanities.

My classes have been enriching and interesting, as I have been able to learn about historical events and methods of thinking through a completely different perspective. I have been able to recognize some of the biases or misconceptions I may have as a result of growing up in one area for so long. The classes are also relatively small at UCU, so a close connection with the professor is possible in case I ever need help or have specific questions.

The application process for UCU was similar to that of schools in the US, except that I needed to turn in my AP scores. This added a bit of stress to the process, but I also applied to other universities and university colleges in the Netherlands. The universities here have a set of requirements that if you meet, your acceptance is almost guaranteed, which definitely gave me an added sense of security as I was applying.

The decision to move across the Atlantic to pursue a higher education proved to be worth it. Not only will I graduate without student loans, but I also will receive a degree unique from many other of my peers in the US. The friends I have made here have also helped me grow, and learning about their experiences across the globe has greatly enriched my day-to-day life.

 

 

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Is a Degree from Europe “Good” in the US?

I often get questions about whether a degree from Europe will be “good” in the US.. Degree accreditation and recognition can be confusing, so today I’d like to dive into this a bit.

Let’s start with accreditation. Accreditation is basically a stamp of approval by an accrediting agency that deems that university programs have met certain standards set out by whoever the accreditor is. The most important thing is to make sure that the accrediting body is recognized by the country of the university. In most countries, other than the US, accreditation is granted by a governmental body which is usually the Ministry of Education. Since public universities in Europe are heavily funded by taxes, the accreditation process is quite thorough. Since there is only one accrediting agency per country, the criteria used is consistent.

I sometimes hear from people who say that they want to narrow their search to European universities with US accreditation. You will not find a public university in Europe that has American accreditation simply because these are not American institutions. There are some private American universities based in Europe and these universities generally have both American accreditation and accreditation by the country in which they are functioning.

It’s important to note that, just like in every country, there are schools in Europe that don’t have the accreditation necessary to be fully recognized in their country. I sometimes get emails with a link university website asking why we don’t have it listed in our database. We require the full accreditation, even for private universities (except for Greece due to a law they have around private universities), for inclusion in our database. This is just one thing that sets us apart from the other portals you will find online.

In the US, the government doesn’t give accreditation itself but approves various accrediting agencies (as does the Council for Higher Education Accreditation).  These are often, but not always, regionally based like Middle States Commission on Higher Education and WASC Accrediting Commission.  There are also national accrediting agencies as well as specialized accrediting agencies (for degrees like law, nursing, medicine, and such).

One issue with this method is that the criteria used for accreditation is not necessarily consistent across the board, since there are a number of agencies involved. The other is that schools can be accredited by an agency that has not been approved by CHEA or the DOA, effectively making the degree worthless. It can be confusing for students because the school can claim-and honestly-that they are accredited. It’s important to note that these degrees aren’t recognized because they are US institutions that aren’t accredited by approved agencies in the US. This is VERY different than how degrees are viewed from universities in other countries that fulfilled the accreditation requirements within that country.

Recognition of the diploma is a different concept. The term can mean a few different things and can be used to mean an informal recognition or an official/formal process. If you are returning to the US after graduating, you will need your diploma recognized (either formally or informally) as valid by either an employer, graduate school, or a licensure board. Let’s walk through how having a foreign degree may affect each of these.

If you return to the US for graduate school, you won’t be an international student but you will be applying with a foreign degree. There were more than 1 million international students studying at universities in the US during the 2019-20 school year. This indicates that admissions departments are very familiar with assessing foreign degrees. Most use a credentialing agency to assess the degrees and ensure that they are valid, which is part of the admissions process. To note, you will still need to take the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, etc and meet any prerequisites the university has.

The exception to the ease in which you can apply to graduate school in the US is medical school.  If going to medical school in the US is the goal, the decision to study outside of the country should be carefully evaluated. Many US medical schools require a degree from the US and those that don’t do require at least one year of coursework from an American or Canadian university (usually science classes). It’s not an insurmountable problem, as some of the credits could be gained in the US or Canada during a semester abroad and potentially even summer classes. The specific requirements around the US programs you are interested in should be explored in depth before deciding to study outside of the US.

When applying for a job, you will likely not need to take any official steps for recognition. Many companies are multinational and/or have been employing people from other countries for many years so seeing degrees from other countries is commonplace.  Further, most of the students who pursue universities abroad would be seeking employment with companies that have some aspect of internationalization, simply because their own interests and values related to global citizenship is one thing that led them to study abroad in the first place.

But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the student is applying to a small company in a small town and is concerned that the HR department is unfamiliar with the value of a foreign degree.  The student could either attach a statement about the school to their resume, with information about accreditation and rankings by US sources or go through the degree verification process (more on that in a bit). That said, no company can be familiar with all of the higher education institutes in the US alone. Because quality and accreditation varies so widely, when the “quality” of the degree matters for the job, there are often systems in place to evaluate this whether the degree is from the US or elsewhere.

There is also evidence that the name of the university matters very little in the hiring process, and this becomes even more true with there is relevant experience (including internships) on the applicant’s resume. Certainly the soft skills gained by studying outside of your home country is something that employers are looking for, and these could be highlighted in a cover letter.

Professions that require licensure are a different matter. These include many careers related to health care, education, social work, psychology, law, and architecture. There are some fields of study, like education, that really do need study completed in the country in which you intend to work.  If you want to be a teacher in the US, you need to learn about the curriculum and policies specific to the US. In fact, the majority of the English-taught education type programs in Europe focus on teaching at international schools as opposed to the education system in that country. A university in Finland, for instance, wouldn’t have an education program about the Finnish education system taught in English because teachers in Finland need to be fluent in Finnish.

The most important thing to note about the careers that require licensure is that most-not all, but most- are going to require a master’s degree before licensure.  Many of our members intend to work in Europe after graduating.  However, if you are sure that you want to eventually work in the US in one of these careers, perhaps getting your bachelor’s in Europe and your master’s in the US is a solution.

The other thing to recognize is that most of these careers are still possible with a degree from abroad, though there will be hoops to jump through. In most cases there is a process to go through to get your degree validated and ensure that it included certain learning objectives. I have my LCSW, so I’m somewhat familiar with sites around licensure and decided to look at the specifics around licensure with a foreign degree.  For this particular profession, the Council on Social Work Education will assess information sent from the university about the competencies and expected outcomes related to the program.  Though you have to dig into the site a bit, they list all of the expected outcomes they are looking for. You can use this type of information when choosing a program to look at how their expected outcomes compare to the standards required for US licensure in your field of interest. In other cases, you many need to get your own credential verification by an agency like World Education Services, which costs around $200 (depending on the type of evaluation needed).

There are a lot of opinions out there about recognition and accreditation. I sometimes see them presented as “facts” as comments on the facebook ads. Before sending my son (and soon my daughter) to school in Europe, I thoroughly researched whether this would hold them back in their future.  If you are still doubtful, I encourage you to do your own research. Look at the admissions pages for graduate school programs in the US, look at LinkedIn to see where people with degrees from abroad are working, and check the licensure board websites of fields of interest. I think you will be happy to learn that pursuing the affordable and life changing options in Europe will, in most cases, keep these doors open for you!

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Wrapping My Head Around Problem Based Learning

I’ve received several emails since my last blog asking about Sam’s program at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Just like the full university name (I’ve been told that Erasmus University is not accurate, without the Rotterdam at the end…), the program name is also a mouthful. Sam is in the Management of International Social Challenges program.  Students in this program learn about international problems that are multidisciplinary in nature. These include issues like “migration, pandemics, terrorism, climate change, economic stability, international crime”, and more. Students learn to look at and analyze these issues through the lens of a variety of disciplines, including sociology, economics, political science, management, international law, and public policy.

 

As I mentioned in my last blog, one of the standout features of this program is it’s use of Problem-Based Learning (PBL).  This is an educational approach used at a few Dutch universities. Maastricht University, for instance, uses it for all their programs while EUR uses it for just a few of their programs. This approach, along with the block schedule, has impacted Sam’s education experience in tremendous ways!

Maastricht in particular has loads of info on PBL, which is where I first learned about it.  There are a lot of phrases describing it that I feel strongly about…. Things like critical thinking, understanding not memorizing subject matter, public speaking, relevancy, active learning, self-direction, collective learning. I understood that the approach has these values/goals that I think are important in education (and in life!) and I understood that these goals are achieved through small group sessions that are structured in a systematic way, but I couldn’t really wrap my head. Luckily, I’ve been about to pick Sam’s brain and look at some of his course material to get a deeper understanding. I thought it might be helpful to go through an actual example to demonstrate how it works.

Sam has two classes during each of the five week blocks. One is an academic skills classes and the other is specific to the social challenges issue. The first two blocks were for the Globalization and Society class, with block one focused on culture and society and block two focused on politics and economics.  He has one lecture each week for Globalization and Society. In addition, he has one discussion group and two PBL groups each week for the course.

Sam’s PBL sessions are made up of ten students, and the group is the same for the entire five week block. While the weekly course discussion sessions allow students to become familiar with others, these intense sessions allow them to really start to get to know each other as work continues outside of the sessions as well.

Each PBL session has a “problem” assigned, though I think of it more as a topic that students that students then identify problems around. For instance, problems for the first block included things like Globalization and Crime, Cultural Identity, Migration, Ancestral Homelands and Global versus Local. There are certain facts, research findings, or questions that students are provided with, but that is all they come into the session with.

PBL sessions use a step by step process to explore that particular topic/problem. First, the tutor assigns a scribe and a chair for the session. The chair leads the session and the scribe takes extensive notes that the students have access to. Other than that, the tutor’s only role is to get the discussion back on track (if needed), assign breaks, and provide participation grades.

The problem I will use for this example is from the second block. The topic for the week was around whether globalization improves of worsens inequality. The basis for each side of the argument was presented and the goal of the session was to look at different countries (which were assigned) and determine whether globalization improved or worsened inequality in that particular country.

The first step in the process involves discussing the assigned topic, making sure everyone understands it, and defining any unfamiliar terms.  In this group, there were no unfamiliar terms and students progressed quickly to the second step.

The second step involves defining the actual problem and identifying the questions that they need to answer in the process. This step is not about answering these questions, just identifying them. Sam’s group came up with questions like:

  • What is inequality?
  • Does inequality increase with the progression of globalization?
  • Does economic growth lead to inequality?
  • Which countries are negatively and positively affected by globalization?
  • Does inequality increase with the progression of globalization?

The next step in the session is brainstorming around the questions they just came up with and the factors that play into the problem. For this session, students first came up with a rough definition of inequality to use. They then looked at different variables regarding each of the countries assigned.  They looked at when poverty began increasing or decreasing in each of the countries, they looked at education changes in each of the countries, and several other factors including equality, GDP and life expectancy. They also discussed relevant factors like the Lorenz Curve and Gini Coefficient.

The next step is problem analysis, which is primarily about structuring the information from the brainstorming session. This leads to the final step of this session, which is formulating learning objectives.  Students in this session realized that further learning was needed around two key questions.

  • How do we measure inequality?
  • What factors lead to inequality?

In between the PBL sessions, students complete the next PBL step which is to work independently on these questions, using the course texts and other identified material and come back to the next session with the information they gathered.   So, in fact, the first half of each PBL session is actually a discussion of the previous topic. Students go around the group and talk about their findings, citing their sources and discussing the findings before moving on to the steps noted above for the next assigned problem.

There is just so much I love about this process. As a former therapist, I spent many sessions teaching teens, parents, and spouses effective communication skills. Part of the PBL process teaches students to debate their differences of opinion in respectful and elicit meaningful discussion. If only every college aged student could learn those skills!

The academic skills classes that students take each block also tie into the skills they’ll use in PBL sessions (many of which are also useful in life as well). In addition to the more basic skills classes they take in the beginning, they also have skills classes in Research Design, Literature Review, SPSS, Interviewing, Argumentative Writing, Presenting, Negotiating, Professional Conduct, and Data Analysis.

Finally, I really love how this engages the student in the learning process. It’s not just about going and reading the assigned text between classes. It’s about active study strategies, critical thinking, applying theory to relevant real world issues, and doing your part as a member of a group. Learning to learn is such an important piece of being a student.  I think this structure provides students with the skills and resources needed to effective learners as students and-just as importantly-how to apply those skills to their lives beyond.

 

 

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Why Study in the Netherlands? Sam’s Adjustment to Life in Rotterdam

Why study in The Netherlands? It’s hard to believe that Sam is already midway through his first semester at Erasmus University Rotterdam! As any of you know, he started the summer off by breaking his wrist and had to have surgery. We kept nagging the hospital and insurance company for our part of the bill, which I think they found confusing. When we finally received it, we discovered that his student health insurance covered 100% of the charges. What a great surprise!

Sam spent some of the summer here in Portugal with us, and part of it hiking the Camino de Santiago with friends before moving from the Hague to Rotterdam in August. His student housing in the Hague was almost like a studio apartment-with a kitchenette in his room and only a bathroom that he shared with one other student. He still has a spacious single room in Rotterdam but shares a kitchen and bathroom with one other student. This has turned out to be a great arrangement! Sam’s suite mate cooks-as in balanced meals! They worked out a deal where they split the costs of groceries, the roommate cooks, and Sam cleans afterwards.There is so much I love about this, including that Sam has a green vegetable every day and that cleaning is now part of his daily routine.

New responsibilities have been a theme for Sam the last couple of months. For one, this was his first time having to get his passport renewed all by himself. He’s made three trips to the embassy thus far, with one detail missing each time. The last time it was that the background of the photo was eggshell, so it didn’t meet the white background requirement. It’s certainly teaching lessons about attention to detail. He’s hoping that fourth time is the charm….

There have been a few small school related hiccups that are different than his experience at Leiden last year. It’s hard to know if the differences are due to the amount of assistance provided by the school generally or what is a result of Covid related issues. For instance, at Leiden, we were able to meet the proof of means requirement with a signed bank statement showing the money was liquid. EUR requires students to provide proof of means by transferring them the money. This money is supposed to be refunded once everything passes through immigration. Leiden was very hands in their assistance with the immigration process and this was handled at orientation. Covid prevented the regular orientation at EUR this year so it’s unclear whether there would have been that same level of assistance around this or not. There were a series of glitches that caused delays with the immigration process for Sam (related to the fact that he had a previous student residence through Leiden) so getting the refund took a bit longer and several follow up emails from Sam.

Of course, Covid has affected the mode of instruction at universities around the world. Sam’s program at EUR was scheduled to be conducted using a hybrid model for first year students this fall, with in person small groups and online lectures. The Covid numbers in the Netherlands have increased at a fast rate so all his classes are online and have been from day one. European universities generally don’t communicate with parents, so it’s unclear as to whether an email was sent to students announcing this change before the semester began. Sam has gotten good over the last year or so about checking his email, so I don’t think it was communicated. It wouldn’t have changed anything around this plan but would have been nice to know ahead of time.

Despite the administrative issues and the online learning, Sam is thriving at EUR! One thing that really works for him is the block schedule used for his program. The year is broken into eight different five week blocks. Each week includes a lecture class, an academic skills class, and two problem based learning (PBL) sessions. The PBL sessions are based on the lecture topics so each week is very cohesive. Not having to academically shift gears so often during the day and week is a good fit for Sam’s learning style. Further, when there is a course that he doesn’t like as much, he only has to endure it for five weeks, instead of a long semester. That said, many of the courses are multidisciplinary so even if a class includes economics (which he learned last year is one of his least favorite areas of study…), it’s not the focus of the entire class.

Why study in the Netherlands? A great reason is innovative teaching styles. Sam’s program uses an educational approach called Problem-Based Learning. It’s a very systematic approach, so I’ll be writing more on that in a few weeks. Apart from the student centered teaching format, the hallmark of this approach is small group and interactive learning. Even the one lecture class also has an interactive session each week with ten students. This is a different grouping each week, which has been nice since meeting fellow students on campus before/after lectures is not currently a possibility. Each week also consists of Academic Skills class, which is a group of about eight students and two Problem Based Learning Sessions, which are the same group of 6-8 students for both sessions and throughout the entire five week block. These are intensive classes with a lot of out of class work too, so students get to know each other well through this time. The structure has allowed Sam to build community, despite the online format.

It’s no secret that Sam struggled the first semester at Leiden. Much of this was due to the natural exploration of abundant social opportunities. The lock down during his second semester allowed him to develop study strategies that worked, since there were less social distractions. He finished the year with strong second semester grades and confidence in his abilities as a university student. That said, we were both a little nervous while waiting for his grades from the first block exam, particularly since he was prepared yet still thought the test was difficult. We were both received when he (finally) got his scores and learned that he did well! With all that is stress in the world right now, it’s great to have something so significant in his life going well. Helps me sleep at night too!

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Deep Dive into Academic Life in Europe

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!

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Sam’s Journey Truly Begins

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, check Air Conditioning service.

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.

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Applied Learning and Fun in The Hague

college in europeShow Notes

Title: Student Social Scene and Universities of Applied Sciences

Description

In this episode, Jenn looks are two questions: What is the social life like for international students? And what is a University of Applied Sciences? Universities of Applied Sciences focus on getting students ready to enter the workforce as opposed to the purely theoretical approach one would find at a research university. In some countries, UASs are viewed as inferior, while in the Netherlands, they’re viewed as simply different. In this episode, Jenn interviews Hannah Remo. Originally from a small town in New Jersey, Hannah is currently studying European Studies at The Hague University of Applied Sciences and will graduate with zero student debt. It is less expensive for Hannah to attend college in the Netherlands than it would have been to study in-state!

Guest: Hannah Remo

Resources

CNN Money article featuring Hannah

Projects Abroad

Universities of Applied Sciences on Study in Holland site

The Hague University of Applied Sciences

Ten Fun Things to Do in The Hague

Six Ways the Dutch are Nailing Student Life

Duo Student Housing Organization