Sam’s (Mostly) Low Stress Junior Year

Ahh…..the end of the school year.  Sam is completing his junior year of high school and Ellie is finishing 8th grade. It’s hard to believe that it was this time three years ago that I learned about the possibilities for college in Europe.  Man, I can only imagine how different the last three years of our lives would have been (as well as the next four) if we didn’t know about these alternatives.

Many of you know that I believe that the benefits provided by the transparent admissions processes in Europe have as much of an impact on our lives as the incredible amounts of money we will save.  I’ve been hearing all sorts of stories about students who are “perfect applicants” not getting into their top choice schools, which also creates stress among the kids in Sam’s grade. Our year has been pretty relaxed (at least as it pertains to college admissions).

Before Sam knew exactly where in Europe he wanted to study, we knew that in order to keep his options totally open he would need four AP scores of 3+*.  It would not help him any if he had ten AP scores of five, he just needed the three or four scores to make his US high school diploma the equivalent of the diploma needed to attend universities in Italy, Norway, Denmark, and the research universities in the Netherlands  Though the vast majority or schools in Europe do not require AP courses, our game plan was to plan his high school courses to keep as many options open as possible.  Sam took one AP course last year, he is taking two this year, and he is registered for two his senior year.  He has found this workload to be reasonable, and he has registered for the fifth AP course next year in case he does not get a 3 or higher on one of the tests he will take this month.

By the summer before junior year, Sam had zeroed in on what he wanted to study, so we came up with a list of programs that would be a good fit for him (a service we also offer to members). Of the possibilities, one stood out far ahead of the others. Sam has a huge interest in the Middle East and Arabic.  Because he hasn’t had to spend his high school years playing the US admissions game, he has been able to cultivate this interest on his own. Leiden University, in the Netherlands, has an International Studies program that allows students to choose a region and related language to specialize in their second year. Given that the Middle East/Arabic was an option (of eight regions and 22 languages), Sam preferred this program over the other more general International Relations programs we were looking at.

Sam has traveled with me a good bit in Europe and has been to the Netherlands before.  Since he has had this exposure and knew he liked enjoyed the country, he didn’t feel the need to visit more than one school. We signed up for the Experience Day at Leiden (which conveniently fell over Thanksgiving break) and decided that if he felt differently afterwards we could plan another trip to visit more schools. I’ll tell you, that is a trip I would have been on board for since another school he was considering is in the South of France!  Sam was incredibly excited after the Experience Day-about what he would learn, the types of kids who would be his classmates, where he would live, and more! No French Riviera for me this year…

Most of the programs at Leiden-and in the Netherlands as a whole, have a completely transparent and non-competitive admissions policy.  If you have the qualifications that are defined, then you are in. Period.  Leiden requires a 3.5 GPA and 3 AP scores of 3+.  Sam’s GPA is in good shape and he’s on track for the AP scores. They open their rolling admissions period in October.  Sam will apply then and have his admissions decision before Thanksgiving.  If he has his AP scores, there is no question as to whether or not he will get in, so he doesn’t need to apply to  a number of universities.  His first choice school is also his safety school!  I’d like to caution you against thinking that this admissions process is indicative of a lower educational quality.  It is not.  Universities in the Netherlands are extremely reputable worldwide.  They have a different philosophy to access to higher education and students have to prove that they have what it takes to succeed the first year of study, passing a preset number of courses or they are not allowed to return the second year.

Later this month, I will share  a few examples of choices we have been able to make to opt out of the problems with the US path to college admissions.  Spoiler alert-opting out feels great!!

*As of October 2018, Leiden now requires US students to have three AP scores of 4+, with four scores of 4+ for the university college.

To Stay Out of the Rat Race, You May Have to Insist!

As I’ve mentioned before, I founded Beyond the States after exploring the possibilities for my own kids. This was three years ago and they will now be entering 9th and 12th grade this fall.  High school has been an incredibly different experience than it would have been, if we didn’t know about college in Europe.  If you are new to our the journey, be sure to check out the blogs on the admissions process because Europe’s transparent admission criteria make as much of an impact as the savings in tuition!

My son, Sam, had a few concrete opportunities to opt out of the US admissions rat race and we were quick to grab them!  When registering for his senior year classes, Sam elected to take two non-credit opportunities. One is a study hall, which helps him stay on top of his work since he has an after school job.  His job as a cashier at a grocery store has been of tremendous value and taught him lessons and skills he would not gain at school.  He also arranged to be a teaching assistant (TA) for one of his teachers.  Though not a credit opportunity, this entails new types of responsibilities and learning. After submitting his registration, his counselor emailed him and told him that he needed to choose one or the other and sign up for another credit class. She said that if she didn’t hear from him in a week, she would choose a class for him. Seriously?

I’m a big fan of having Sam handle this type of thing on his own.  We had already dealt with having his counselor automatically saying “No” to anything outside of the box and then having to go up the chain of command to get accurate answers. For that reason, I shot her an email inquiring about this policy. As it turns out, it wasn’t necessarily a true policy and all I needed to do was fill out a form to have this approved.  His counselor cautioned me about taking this path. She said “Sam will likely have to explain to colleges why he is only taking 4 credit classes when his peers are taking between 5 and 7. It will be a disadvantage to him when it comes to admissions and based on his GPA, I am assuming he will be applying to more competitive colleges that will be looking critically at what students have done in high school.” I can’t tell you how much pleasure it gave me to explain Sam’s college situation and ask her to send the form!

SAT/ACTs are another way we benefited this year.  The university Sam is applying to does not require a certain score for these tests.  Most schools in Europe don’t require the test at all but again, in order to help Sam keep his options open, he did take them.  The overall communication from Sam’s high school is not the best in the world.  I had emailed them to find out if/when they were offering the ACT. Since nobody got back to me, I signed him up to take it on a Saturday at a nearby high school. Shortly after he took the test, his school sent an email saying that they were administering the test and that it was mandatory for all juniors. I let his counselor know that Sam wouldn’t be taking the test, since he already had and we were fine with his scores. I was told that taking it at the school was mandatory and that “taking the test again could benefit him as most students scores increase the second time they take a test simply because they are more comfortable and know what to expect.”  Sigh. Guess what it took?  I just had to push back enough to find out that I could opt out if completed another form.

So in addition to being able to opt out of these problematic mindsets and systems, Sam has had time to gain skills and cultivate interests outside of school.  He is currently spending a month in Rabat, Morocco through a program with CIEE, an opportunity we were able to afford since we don’t have the financial worries that accompany college in the US!

Podcast: What’s My Major?

college in europeShow Notes

Title: The What’s My Major List

Description

One difference between college in the US and Europe is that in Europe incoming students must apply to a specific program, so they must know what they want to study. For students who don’t know what they want to study, this aspect can lead to worry. In this podcast, Jenn announces the availability of our “What’s My Major?” offering that helps students determine their field of study.

Notes

Recommended Podcast: The Europeans

Best Fit List Offering

Database Tour Webinar

Podcast: Fostering Student Independence

college in europe

 

Title Fostering Student Independence

 

Episode Summary

Parents are often concerned that students will struggle when faced with the new environment of college. In this episode, Jenn focuses on the importance of building independence in your student. She also talks about how she’s building these skills in her own children.

Resources

Admissions podcast

Atlantic Article: Let Your Kids Ride Public Transportation Alone

Rotary Youth Exchange

NSLI Languages Programs

Projects Abroad

CIEE Study Abroad Programs

Where There Be Dragons

Podcast: Parent’s Guide to College in Europe

college in europeTitle

Parent’s Guide to College in Europe

Episode Summary

In this episode, Jenn talks about threshold model of collective behavior first introduced to us in Malcolm Gladwell’s amazing podcast, Revisionist History. This theory describes how some people within a group are more comfortable than others when acting against group norms. If you’re at all interested in college in Europe, I encourage you to listen to Gladwell’s podcast episode, The Big Man Can’t Shoot, which explains an academic concept using an accessible sports motif.

Jenn’s guest for this episode is one of our members, Laura, whose daughter, Liza, is attending Anglo American University in Prague, Czech Republic.

Guest

Laura, Liza’s mother & Beyond the States member

Resources

Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast: Revisionist History

BTS Blog: What’s Your Threshold?

Sociologist Mark Granovetter’s 1978 paper on threshold model of collective behavior

Anglo American University

BTS Blog on Prague

Colleges that Change Lives

BTS Blog: Do You Have What It Takes?

Full Episodes of House Hunters International

 

 

Experience Day at a College in Europe

Show Notes

Title: Experience Day at a College in Europe

Description:

How does a student decide on which program is best for him? What is that selection process like? This episode’s guest is Sam Viemont, son of Jennifer and Tom Viemont. The episode covers Jenn & Sam’s recent trip to the Netherlands to visit Leiden University for the school’s Experience Day.

Guest: Sam Viemont

Download this episode (right click and save)

Notes:

Leiden University International Studies Program

SciencesPo Middle East Study Program

Binding Study Advice

Admissions Process Podcast

Leiden University Student Housing

B2 Language Proficiency

Practicing International Studies

Six Dutch Cities Vie to Become Europe’s Culture Capitol

 

Reason for Hope in a Time of Change

Last week was a rough one for a number of us. Many people have concerns about what the next four years will hold.  There have been increased reports of violence and acts of bigotry across the country. In trumpour own progressive enclave in North Carolina (not an oxymoron), a Latina woman who was walking her kids to school was followed by a pick up truck whose occupants were taunting them that they would soon be deported.  There are also concerns for our LGBT community and what the new political climate means for their rights and their safety following the election. Of course, there are broader concerns as well about how this election will affect our country. These concerns were evidenced by the crash of the Canadian immigration site as the election results came in on Tuesday.

While logistically it is hard for many of us who are saddled with jobs, families, and homes to pick up and move to another country, college bound students have the choice to leave the country for the next few year to study overseas. Many of you have told us that the election results have been the deciding factor when considering whether to pursue college in the US or Europe.  Certainly, the map of how millennials voted indicates that this is not the direction the younger generation favors.

The benefits to studying in Europe are huge, even without considering the political climate here.  We’ve talked about the incredibly affordable tuition and transparent admissions processes, as those are quite obvious benefits.  Another benefit to note is the exposure students gain to people who are different from them.  In this spread out country, many of us who don’t live in urban areas are often surrounded by people who are similar to us in appearance, background and beliefs.  My son’s history teacher used the election as an opportunity to teach the class about echo chambers.  Particularly on social media, we see a lot of our own opinions reflected by others and often “unfriend” or at least “mute” those who have conflicting views. As a result, we tend to think our own perspectives are more dominant and accepted than they are in reality.

I know that there are large numbers of people who voted differently than I did who are not inherently “bad people” and had some other reason for their vote than to support bigotry and chauvinism. I’m guilty of not truly understanding their plight. I’m also guilty of not understanding the impacts of the refugee situation or the experience of the refugees themselves.  I don’t know what it’s like to be “randomly” chosen for a search at the airport due to the color of my skin or last name.  While we don’t have to experience these things first hand, interacting with people who have different experiences and different view points helps us have a much broader and more accurate world view.

When Americans go to college in Europe they are introduced to people of all different backgrounds. College education in Europe is for everyone, not primarily for the wealthy or elite, and the English twain-meme11conducted programs draw students from around the globe.  What better way to understand the effects the death of the president of Thailand than to learn about it from your Thai classmate?  By gaining this world view, college students can come back to the US and advocate for change where it is needed. Their experience as global citizens will help inform the dialog going forward. They can help put us back on the right track in much more meaningful ways than if they continue to live where they have always lived surrounded by others just like them. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we all have this option!

Are You New Here?

Not surprisingly, we have had a huge number of new members and newsletter subscribers over the last week. I thought it might be helpful to point out where to find information and to announce some upcoming news from Beyond the States.

Monthly Webinars

Each month we hold a webinar with a live Q&A at the end. In these webinars, we dive into a specific topic such as the admissions process or what majors are available in Europe. You can sign up for upcoming webinars and access our past webinars and information sessions here.

Latest News

Our BTS in the News Page has all the recent articles about going to college in Europe, along with media coverage of Beyond the States.

Timing

This is a pretty important one-people often ask me if it is too early or too late to explore the option of college in Europe.  The answer is “neither”.  This piece discussed how BTS can help at different stages in the process.

Our Blogs

We are still working out  the best way to search our blog.  You can go through the categories or type in search terms in the sidebar.  Type “Firsthand”  in the search box to pull up the blogs related to college visits.

The Map

This map shows the number of English conducted programs in each country and the average tuition of these programs.

Homeschooler’s Guide to College in Europe

Ths_images-1he face of homeschool has changed a lot over the years.  Only 36% are doing so for religious/moral reasons and more and more families are homeschooling due to their dissatisfaction with the education system in this country.  We get a lot of interest from these families, who realize that college in Europe is a way to continue to opt out of the problems with the higher education system.We get a lot of inquiries about how being homeschooled factors into the admission process in Europe. While homeschooling is on the rise in Europe, there are some countries in which is it illegal (Germany and Sweden) and others where the regulations make it difficult to pursue (Switzerland). This week, I would like to share my thoughts on how to deal with some of the obstacles you may face as a homeschooler.

There are some countries (mentioned above) in which a homeschool diploma would not be recognized due to the laws they have around homeschooling.  Other countries require an accredited diploma and some require applicants to have their transcripts/diplomas nostrified.  This generally involves a trip to the Secretary of State’s office or, sometimes, the embassy.  Often, when dealing with governmental bureaucratic layers, the answer you get to your questions may vary depending on the person you talk to.  Thus, I highly recommend that homeschoolers work with agencies that allow you to homeschool and provide accredited diplomas and transcripts for your work.

One of our members moved to Europe in the last years.  They are digital nomads and have chosen to homeschool using Oak Meadow distance learning.  Their daughter lists Oak Meadow as her school and will graduate with accredited transcripts and a diploma.

Another one of our members told us about a few less costly options.  She is looking into places like Clonlara. These schools validate the credits and, after the graduation requirements have been met, issue an accredited diploma.

A few countries (Norway, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark) have extra requirements for all American applicants.  Applicants either need a certain number of college credits, 3-4 AP scores of 3+, or an IB 3_ring_binderdiploma.  First of all, if you choose not to go this route, there are still plenty of options!  Though Norway, Italy and Denmark would not be feasible, the universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands do not have the AP requirements and there are still an abundance of choices throughout the rest of Europe as well.

Good news about AP tests-you do not have to take the AP course to take the AP test.  Many homeschool students are receiving a rigorous education at home and would easily pass the AP tests.  Further, since the number of AP scores required is specified, an advantage is not given when a student takes more than required.  Italy requires American students without an IB to take AP Italian as one of the tests they submit.  This is an option that is closed to many American students, since Italian is not an offering at many schools, not to mention AP Italian.  If you are a homeschool student taking Italian though, you can take the AP test and then be eligible to apply (assuming you have taken the other AP tests as well).

Many homeschool students take courses at local colleges as part of their high school curriculum.  If you accumulate a year’s worth of college credit, you do not need the AP scores.  It is important to note that most colleges require that these credits are issued by a 4 year college, not a school that can only issue associate’s degrees.

Are there extra hoops you will have to jump through as a homeschool applicant?  Yes.  However I absolutely recommend it, as I think many homeschool students have the qualities needed to succeed as a student in Europe and could thrive in this environment.

Five Ways to Improve Your Cultural Diversity Prior to College in Europe

Lumpia
Lumpia

I feel so fortunate that my childhood in provided me exposure to all different sorts of cultures, backgrounds and religions.  Experiencing many different versions of “normal” is an important part of developing a global perspective. For me, this included seeing the Hindu Shrine at Shrunali’s house , arranging Friday night sleepover plans to accommodate Tammy’s family’s shabbat, and not having any idea what Martin’s family was talking about since they all spoke German at home.  And let me tell you how lucky you were if you got to sit near Floremy at lunch! She was likely to trade her lumpia for your fluffernutter.  We were able to talk and joke about our cultural difference and I believe that it gave me a greater curiosity about the world and not just an acceptance of, but an appreciation for of any sort of differences.

Studying in Europe provides students with exposure to people with all sorts of background and experiences.  English-conducted programs draw students from around the world-not just anglophone kids round tablecountries.  It is likely that your roommates and classmates will will be from other countries.  The students I have spoken with really value this diversity.  They’ve talked about how mealtime turns into a multicultural event, how the classroom discussion truly provide a global perspective, and how the opportunity for travel increases, since they now have contacts (read-free places to stay) in these different places.  Though many in the US almost seem afraid to talk about cultural differences, it is a common topic there with friendly joking about it as well.  I was hanging out with some students in Finland who were all friends.  One of them was Latvian and his friend told me (in front of the Latvian student), “If you really want to make him mad, just say he’s from Russia”.  Of course, this was good-natured joking and the Latvian student also laughed while making a joke about how at least none of his family member’s own a fanny pack.

I’ve said before that, in order to be successful as a student in Europe, students need to have cultural curiosity and openness.  I recognize that most Americans are not exposed to cultural diversity on a regular basis. How can those students develop the traits needed for success abroad?  Here are some suggestions:

1. Try Different Foods: When I was pregnant with Sam, Tom and I were at an Indian restaurant where a family with 2 young daughters was sitting near us.  The youngest, who was probably around 3 years old was grumbling about the appearance of one of the dishes.  The older sister, probably around 5 years old, sweetly reminded her, “If you want to travel the world, you have to try different foods!”  Tom and I thought that was the coolest thing ever and made it our mission to implement that policy with our own kids. Try out different foods as a family.  If you don’t live in an area with good ethnic restaurants, get some cookbooks from countries of interest and try a recipe yourself.  You’d be surprised how many obscure ingredients can be bought on Amazon.
2. Seek out cultural festivals in your area. This is a great way to experience food and traditions of other cultures. These are often listed in the local paper. anne-frank-house-for-blog
3. Use the internet, books, and TV. I was recently re-reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank in preparation for a trip to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I was shocked at how many issues/thoughts/complaints my own 12-year-old American daughter has in common with  a 13-year-old German/Dutch girl in hiding from the Nazi’s in the 1940’s.  You may be surprised at how many commonalities you have with people who initially seem very different. On a lighter note, I love watching House Hunters International before travel to get an idea of what life is like.
4. Don’t worry sports fans!  Just because college sports aren’t like they are here, doesn’t mean you will miss out. Basketball is the most popular sport in many countries, soccer (don’t forget to call it football!) is, of course, huge in many areas, and ice hockey is the most popular sport in Scandinavia.  If you can’t find European teams on one of the hundred sports channels, check it out online.
5. Airbnb: Discovering airbnb changed the way I travel.  Not only is it much cheaper than hotels, but now I stay in residential areas when I travel.  This gives a real feel how one would live in the country, as opposed to how one would be a tourist in the country.  When I visit schools in Eastern Europe this winter, I am excited to try a site I recently found that offers meals made up of regional specialties cooked by and eaten with locals.

The benefits of earning a degree in Europe are numerous. In addition to the financial savings, this option can provide students with critical thinking skills, global experiences, language skills and greater job prospects. I truly believe this is a fantastic option for students who feel limited by aspects of U.S. higher education possibilities.

Is College in Europe Safe?

cff3f2c793e848f69be67f8c37b40d1cI often get questions from parents about whether it is safe to send their kids to college in Europe.  Granted, this question usually comes from parents who probably won’t send their kids overseas anyway, but safety is certainly something that is on most of our minds these days.  My answer is always that I believe college students are just as safe in Europe as they are in the US, if not more so.
First, let’s first look at what is happening on US college campuses today.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that every year about 1,825 people die from unintentional alcohol-related injuries and also every year 97,000 students report they experienced alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Binge drinking simply isn’t the problem in Europe that it is in the US.
Then, we have mass shootings occurring in places like Orlando, Charleston, and San Bernadino. Like the fire drills or civil defense drills many of us grew up with, today’s kids participate in lock down drills at school, practicing what to do if there were an “active shooter” on school grounds. Unfortunately, these drills seem necessary due to the incidence of shootings at schools across the country from elementary to college level in places like Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech.
None of this is to say that I feel unsafe in the US, nor am I suggesting that you aren’t safe.  I would absolutely still go to any of the cities I named above.  I don’t worry while my kids are in school each day. While I am saddened and horrified when shootings and murders go on around the country, I don’t personally feel unsafe while they are going on. Yet, I received worried phone calls when I was in Germany due to the bombings in Brussels.  Of course, many of the calls originated from my mother and I had to explain to her that, just looking at the odds, I was safer in Germany than she is in Chicago. To put it in perspective, Germany has about 50 firearm deaths per year, while Chicago saw 66 gun killings in May 2016 alone, according to the LA Times.
So let’s compare. I think the abundance of violent crimes in our US cities and schools may lead some to generalize that cities and universities in unfamiliar places are just as bad, if not worse. In fact, the U.S. murder rate is higher than the rate of all the countries we have listed in Europe except for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (from United National Office on Drugs and Crime). Further, the rate of gun deaths is dramatically higher in the U.S. than in European countries and the US is home to nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings
Yes, some European countries have had horrible recent terrorist attacks. The 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people is nearly as many who die from gun homicides in all of France in a typical year. Even if France had this kind of mass shooting on a monthly basis, its annual rate of gun homicide deaths would be lower than that in the U.S.
I will also tell you that one of the students we helped, Jared D., was in Brussels visiting a school with his jareddad on March 22nd, 2016, the day of a significant terrorist attack. Despite that first-hand experience with terrorism, he is
still attending KU Leuven this fall, just as many students continued to apply for and attend Boston-area universities after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
The Economist has an annual Safe Cities Index in which 50 major worldwide cities are compared across four categories. Stockholm (#4), Amsterdam (#9), Barcelona (#11), and Frankfurt (#16) all ranked higher in Personal Safety than the highest ranked U.S. city in the study (D.C. #17).  Paris (#24) is ranked better in personal safety than Chicago (#25) and New York (#28). The bottom line is that crime exists in cities worldwide. If you would be comfortable sending your student off  to New York University, the University of Chicago, UC San Francisco or Georgetown, you should feel equally comfortable with your student in most European cities.
–Jenn