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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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Proost (cheers) to student life in Europe!

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. 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!

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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 to visit.

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.

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Global Citizenship

college in EuropeWhen I visit schools in Europe, I try to meet with international students to get an idea of their experiences at the school. These conversations are great, but are generally very school specific. I’ve been having different types of discussions for the student panel presentations that are part of our virtual college fairs. I had one call with three American students studying at various European universities and I recently had a call with three students from the MENA region who are also studying in Europe. These calls were more about the overall experience of being an international student. It was fascinating to hear the commonalities of these students from different parts of the world, studying in different parts of Europe.

I talk a lot about some of the tangible benefits around studying in Europe, like cost and tuition. Certainly cost factored into these students’ decisions to study in Europe, but that was a very small part of the conversation. The benefits these students talked about seriously gave me goosebumps and made me so excited for the experiences my kids and your kids can have!

Global Citizenship

Though this was not the word they used, every single student said that one of the best things about their experience is having classmates and friends from all around the world. They enjoy getting to know about different cultures (including food!) and gaining insight from perspectives of friends who have had very different life experiences. One student talked about how his mindset has changed around cultural differences. He doesn’t think of these differences as better or worse than his own norms, just different. Another student told me-and this is one I have been thinking about a lot-about how he has learned to work with others who he would have otherwise avoided. He is from Egypt and has a lot of classes with a student from Israel. The emphasis on group work and class discussion has required them to learn to put aside their political differences in order to work together. The current state of the world can only benefit from kids who have these perspectives, insights and values.

Confidence

I asked each of the students about the biggest challenges they have faced as international students. Most of them really struggled with this question! They talked about things that were initially difficult (figuring out the local public transportation, residence permit logistics) but didn’t define them as challenges. My theory is that by navigating those difficulties successfully, they then view them as just part of life-instead of a “challenge”. It also gave them the confidence to deal with future unfamiliar or difficult situations. These kids know that things aren’t always going to be easy and comfortable and don’t shy away from challenges. This is a trait that will help them succeed in so many areas of life!

The World Is Accessible

One student talked about how initially, going to college in Europe felt like a really big deal to her. After just over a year of study, she said that “the world feels accessible”. This is one of those quotes I keep thinking about! 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 travelled 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 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 were comparable to the US, or the admissions process were not so transparent, these options would be worth exploring for these less 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 attending college in Europe will lead to these traits.

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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

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Firsthand: Student Life in Brussels

As I mentioned in my last blog, Brussels is not my favorite city in Europe. Recently, I spent some time with Jared, and his friends, Sebastian (from Luxembourg) and Lisa (from Atlanta) to find out their opinions on student life in Brussels.

They all appreciate the offerings of the urban atmosphere.  Of course, no car is needed and they are able to get anywhere they need to go on foot or by train.  Though Brussels student lifeBrussels is known as a somewhat ugly city, the Grand Place is truly beautiful.  In some cities, it is hard to find student residences in the city center. Jared and Sebastian, however, live very close to the Grand Place and Jared frequents a coffee shop right in the square. If I were experiencing the Grand Place and it’s surroundings on a regular basis, my impression of Brussels might be different.

Jared and his friends all appreciate the perspective gained from the different backgrounds of the students in their classes and residences.  In some cities, diversity is limited to the university student population. This is not the case in Brussels, which is an incredibly international city.  The diversity is further increased by the fact that one’s social life is more often associated with their place of residence than solely with their program or school. This allows students to have friends from schools all around the city.

student life brusselsBelgium has two official languages. Flemish, a dialect of Dutch is spoken in the northern region, while French is spoken in the south. Brussels is actually in the northern region but has special status as the Belgian capital and both languages are spoken. I had a really interesting conversation with Sebastian about how the Belgian economy and population in different areas affects the perception of Belgians who speak each of the languages.

Alright, let’s get to the elephant in the room which is, of course, safety in Brussels. Jared and his father were in Brussels on March 22nd, 2016 visiting KU Leuven when the bombing of the metro and airport occurred. Despite this first-hand experience, he still chose to make Brussels his college home. Jared, Sebastian, Lisa and I discussed their perceptions of safety, as it pertains to terrorism in Brussels. They all had a really good perspective on it and noted that terrorism can and has happened in many cities around the world, including US cities like Boston, San Bernadino, and Orlando. There is also a strong police and military presence in the city, which has increased since last spring. We discussed how horrible events can create a “new normal” of sorts. An example in the US is the regular lockdown drills in elementary schools due to school shootings. Any safety concerns that Jared and his friends have were around safety precautions you need to take in any urban area, and were not related to terrorism at all.

Universities in Brussels also have unique opportunities for the refugee issue.  Vrije University Brussels, for instance, has a “Welcome Student-Refugee” program to help refugees continue their studies.  They had 18 students enrolled in the program in the fall of 2016. Some of these students are in English-conducted Social Science program.  Students in this program include refugees as well as students from expensive UK private high schools.  Talk about a range of perspectives in the classroom!

Jared and Lisa both attend KU Leuven’s International Business Program.  Though the campus is in Brussels, Lisa lives in Leuven which is about 20 minutes by train. I really wish I had the time to visit Leuven on my trip. Belgium has some incredible cities (I know it’s cliche, but I LOVE Bruges), and it sounds like Leuven is one of them. Over half of the 100,000 residents are students, which means that it has the accommodations of a student town and active student life. The city is filled with medieval architecture, has a low cost of living, and is very safe and compact.  The city is also known as a technology hotspot and is part of Health Axis Europe which is a “a strategic alliance initiated by the biomedical clusters Cambridge (UK), Leuven (Belgium), Heidelberg (Germany), Maastricht (Netherlands), and Copenhagen (Denmark) in order to cross-leverage innovation resources and thus jointly increase the international competitiveness.”  Sounds like some great internship and job opportunities there!

An administrator told me that one needs to really know Brussels to appreciate it. Given the diversity, culture, opportunities provided by the UN and NATO offices, and ease of exploring Belgium and Europe as a whole, I’ve decided that I was premature in my negative opinion.  Student life in Brussels has a lot to offer.

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Student Update: Jared Thriving at KU Leuven

We recently gave you an update on how Theo is doing at Leiden University College. Today I have an update on Jared (first blog, second blog) the student from Chapel Hill we worked with who is now attending KU Leuven in Brussels, Belgium.

brux-2Jared’s family had a crazy summer before he left for school.  In addition to getting Jared ready for college in Europe, they were also in the process of relocating from Chapel Hill to Wilmington, NC.  Jared’s mom was starting a new job so Jared’s dad, Dave, went with Jared to settle him in.  Now I have to say, though many Tom would probably struggle in a similar situation, I know Dave personally and he is super organized. Even with the presence of a focused and on task dad, Jared noted that the first week was exhausting with running around taking care of residency requirements, school documents, and settling in to his apartment. 

Jared is living in a brand new student residence right in the middle of Brussels. The residence provides options for single rooms with shared kitchens/common areas or studio apartments.  Since Jared’s family is saving so much money on tuition (at only 1,250 Euros per year), he was able to talk them into paying for a studio apartment option (housing in this residence ranges from 450-675 Euros per month).  Jared’s room came with a fridge, bed frame, and desk so he also had to spend the first week buying a mattress, bedding, and seating.  Thank goodness for Ikea!

Though there have been some issues with building management not being responsive (to issues like internet problems and such), Jared has no regrets about choosing this residence for his first year.  The majority of the 75 students in the residence are first year students at various schools in the city and about a dozen of them are in the same program at Leuven as Jared. These factors made it easy for Jared to make friends from other schools and gives him friends from his own program to study with as well. Jared makes dinner for himself most nights (something his mother was worried about him handling), mostly prepared and frozen foods but sometimes a group of students in the residence cook for each other. Jared thinks that paying a bit more for a residence that was new and in a safe part of town was a great idea for his first year, despite some of the problems.  He will have more options his second year since he will know about more alternatives, have a feel for the city, and be able to make arrangements while he is there.

Jared’s classmates and friends from the residence are from a variety of countries around the world and he has enjoyed meeting people with diverse backgrounds and learning about their cultures.  He plans to travel to Spain with some friends from his residence who are from Mallorca and has already travelled to Luxembourg and around Belgium. Of course, he also enjoys hanging out and going to parties!

268px-belgium_provinces_regions_stripedJared misses his friends and family, but hasn’t been hit with overwhelming homesickness. His older sister came to visit over Thanksgiving and then he will go home for two weeks over Christmas. His biggest challenge has been around learning the languages in Brussels.  Belgium has different language areas. In the northern region, Flanders, people speak Flemish, a dialect of Dutch. In the southern region called Wallonia, people speak French. Brussels, the capitol is in Flanders (orange on the map), but the city is pretty much evenly split between those who speak French and Flemish (much like Dutch) which increases the difficulty of learning either of those languages.

Jared’s first year includes classes on accounting, financial institutions and markets, management, research methods, statistics, math for business economics, managerial economics, philosophy, psychology, law and foreign language.  Of course, these are not all taken at once.  Jared is taking eight classes, three of which are math-based courses this semester, which require a good amount of out of class study time.  His lecture classes are in subjects like philosophy and require less time out of class for him since he had taken two years of world history,  Jared is also taking a project class in which small groups of students organize an event for charity and carry it out by the end of March. Though he notes that it is the most challenging class he has, he appreciates that he is learning skills around marking, sponsorship, insurance, general accounting, and event management in a practical, hands on way. There are generally around 20 students in each of his classes except for his lecture classes which have all 200 students from his program. Here’s one key difference from college in the US: all of Jared’s books costs less than brux$200!

I was a bit worried that Jared’s transition would not be as seamless as Theo’s was.  Not only does KU Leuven not have the residential component that Leiden University College has, but Jared’s campus is in Brussels while the main campus is a short train ride away in Leuven.  Jared’s experience really speaks to a difference I often point out, which is that student life is often not confined to the school, but is more an experience of being a student in the town of wherever you may be.  I’m so happy for Jared and we will continue to follow his experiences.

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Holidays for an International College Student

Thanksgiving can be a bit hard for first year students in Europe. It’s just like any other day with classes and student sometimes are a bit homesick by this time.  Many American students gather with other international students and school staff to celebrate holidays from home that aren’t recognized by their school country.   Some international student offices even arrange such celebrations.  When my kids go to college in Europe, I plan to fly over and spend time over Thanksgiving weekend together-either in the town of their school or a quick nearby getaway. Fortunately, Christmas break is right around the corner and most American students do go home for the break, since schools have at least a two week break around this time.

Students can benefit from experiencing different holidays and festival traditions that they would not otherwise be exposed to. Travel expert Rick Steves has an extensive list of holidays and festivals by country. Here are a few of our favorites.

christmasmarketjenaChristmas Markets

Christmas in Europe centers on an Advent market that, in most cases, has filled the square before the cathedral each December for hundreds of years. Many markets start on the Friday before Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas Eve; most end on December 24, especially in Germanic countries, where Christmas Eve is set aside for trimming the tree at home. Here’s a really great article to help identify the best ones from our friends at Dispatches Europe.

If you’re having trouble getting in the yuletide spirit or you’re not the shopping type, there’s always the legendary Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, Belgium. This festival features 178 different beers, including some of the best beers in the world, in a celebration of the diversity of Belgian beer culture.

images-15Carnival

According to Wikipedia, “Carnival is a pre-Lent season of festivities Carnival typically involves a public celebration and/or parade combining some elements of a circus, masks, and a public street party.” Carnival is celebrated in New Orleans as Mardi Gras. You may have already heard of Carnival in Venice with its masks and elaborate costumes. Venice is perfectly nice, but if you’re looking for a similar festival with a less touristy vibe, check out Croatia. Established in 1982, Rijeka, Croatia holds the country’s largest carnival festival of parades and costumes. the 2017 Carnival runs from January 17 until March 1, so there’s ample opportunity to check this out on a break or as a weekend trip.

Midsummer’s Eve

In Sweden, Midsummer’s Eve is one of the most important days of the year, rivaling Christmas with its festive spirit and traditions. Traditionally, Midsummer was celebrated on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist, but the holiday has its roots in a pre-Christian summer solstice festival. In 1952, the Swedish Parliament decided that Midsummer should always be celebrated on a weekend. As a result, the observance of Midsummer now varies between June 20 and 26. Midsummer Eve activities include folk dancing in traditional costumes around the Maypole and games for all ages. At some point, festival goers enjoy a meal of herring with new potatoes and a glass of schnapps.

 

Prague Pride

orlando-830x365There are many pride festivals across Europe. The biggest one in Central/Eastern Europe, Prague Pride, happens in August in the capitol of the Czech Republic. 40,000 people gathered together to celebrate equal right to love.  Although they sometimes look like carnivals, gay pride parades are an opportunity to show that all citizens should have the same rights in our society. The 2016 edition of Prague Pride included a memorial service for the victims of the Orlando, Florida, night club massacre where 49 people were killed at a gay night club.

 

 

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Firsthand Report from Theo in The Hague

We’ve told you about one of the students we worked with last year in our previous blogs.  Theo impressed me from the start and I have really enjoyed our interactions.  He is attending Leiden University College The Hague, the honors liberal arts program connected to Leiden University in the Netherlands.  I recently checked in with Theo to see how his transition has been going.

University colleges in the Netherlands have a required residential component (1-3 years depending on the school).  As I’ve mentioned previously, student housing at Leiden University College is nicer than any apartment I had until I was in my 30’s (of course, my former career as a social worker certainly limited my options).  The school and its housing is a modern high rise right next to the train station in the center of The Hague.  The lobby includes a vertical garden to represent the sustainability theme. Classrooms are on the first few floors and the dorm rooms are on the top floors.  All rooms are fully furnished and curtained with their own facilities (kitchen and bathroom with toilet). The rooms are huge and are more like a studio apartment than a US style dorm room.  Some units are shared with another student, but most are singles. The floor to ceiling windows overlook The Hague. Rent is €565 (about $672) per month for a studio.

I asked Theo about the logistics of his move in.  The only things he brought with him were clothes, books, and odds and ends. He bought everything else locally.  His parents stayed in town for a few days and helped scout out thrift store furniture for his room.  Theo also noted that there is an Ikea store in a neighboring town and a few students organized group trips to stock up there.  Having knowledge of the state of shared bathrooms in many dorms or student apartments, Theo is super happy about having a bathroom all to himself! He also loves having a kitchen.  He discovered over the summer that he really enjoys cooking, so he has been using the kitchen for meals beyond the ramen and frozen pizzas I subsisted on at the same age.  He has had fun experimenting with random new ingredients and his Dutch friends have helped him navigate the grocery stores.

Theo is also enjoying life in the Hague.  He describes it as fascinating, beautiful and vibrant and has enjoyed wandering the streets exploring the city.  He also loves the Central Park-esque park that is right outside the school’s front door.  He uses it as a calm retreat from the urban setting. There were two orientation sessions during the first weeks of school.  One was for Leiden University College students and the other was for all Leiden University students in The Hague. He found them both to be informative and entertaining and helped him understand the program, school, and city.

The social transition has been easy for Theo.  He had been corresponding with another student online who he met in person his first day. The orientation programs also helped him meet other students.  Theo reports that the social scene is whatever you want it to be. Some students explore the clubs in town or have “borrels” (which he told me is the Dutch term for a party/get-together with beer).  Theo enjoys a more mellow scene, hanging out with much smaller groups of people.  Theo describes himself as somewhat introverted, he enjoys his time alone but has not isolated himself and has been making friends and joined clubs that have helped him make friends with similar interests. He also told me that there hasn’t been any cultural awkwardness that he anticipated “just regular awkwardness” (did I mention how much I enjoy his insights?).  He did say that there are a good number of jokes made at America’s expense, but that they are not in a mean way or said as a judgement towards him as an American.  He’s met eight other American students, but notes that there could be more.  Since classes are conducted in English, it’s hard to determine where someone is from.

Theo’s description of his academic life is so great, that I’m including it verbatim:
“I am currently taking History of Philosophy, History of Science, Academic Writing (which is actually a course about Greek identities under the Roman Empire), and Global Challenges: Peace & Justice.  Each class is made up of twenty or so kids, and are all discussion based.  Once a week there is a big lecture for P&J, but the Global Challenges classes are the only classes that do that, to my knowledge.  All of these classes are mandatory for first years.  Study time is largely dependent on how bad a procrastinator one is, but in general it can be described as feasible yet challenging.  It also involves a lot of writing.  I found all of my books for free, except my academic writing book, which cost fifty bucks.
Classes start at different times every day, so I may wake up any time between 7:30 (Wednesdays) to 11:00 (Tuesdays).  I have one class every day for two hours, plus an additional two hour lecture for P&J on Moleiden angledndays.  That may seem like a little but we receive enough of a workload to necessitate at least two hours of out of class work every day, or seven hours twice a week, if one is so inclined.
Overall, it has been a wonderful experience so far, and I am excited to continue to explore The Hague, and to participate in such rigorous classes.  I recommend this school highly for anyone who wants to be challenged, who loves discussion, and wants to deal with practical issues facing the world.”

I am so excited for Theo and look forward to continuing to follow him through his college career!

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Denmark’s Friday Bars

Friday barsDenmark was one of the first countries I researched for Beyond the States. One of the things that surprised me most was the concept of “Friday bars”.  Each Friday at noon, the academic departments or students themselves set up bars in a classroom or canteen in the building with beer and soft drinks.  Students within the department then have a time and place to socialize with other students as well as their professors.  There are two things that struck me about this.  One is how different the relationship is between students and professors than at most schools in the US.  In Denmark, the informality and access are the rule. The other thing this made me think about is the difference in the practices and attitude towards drinking in Europe.  This is something I noted about most European countries, not just Denmark. Since drinking under the age of 21 in the US is illegal, students drinking with professors is limited and could put the professor in jeopardy of arrest. In the US, most college drinking is done under the context of “partying” with the intention of intoxication. American students studying in Europe reported that drinking is done more casually (to relax, with meals, having to know when to stop with professors, etc).  That’s certainly not to say that students in Europe are not getting drunk, it’s just to say that it’s not always the goal.