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.
Josh is a former US Marine from Florida who now studies International Relations at the University of Warsaw in Poland. His first international exposure came during his years of overseas duty. His posting to the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group really increased his interest in higher education and stoked a desire for continued international experiences. He also met his now-wife while serving at the US Embassy in Warsaw. Josh’s studies are financed through the GI Bill which, until recently, I didn’t realize could be used to fund college in Europe (more info here)!
Why Are Veterans So Well Suited for College or Grad School in Europe?
They have gained international exposure through their service.
They tend to be older and more mature than typical students in the US.
Their benefits really are confined to state schools in which they live or have residency, since $23,672 won’t go very far for towards out of state or private school tuition.
Their experience in the military has taught the skills needed to deal with bureaucratic processes that are often involved in studying abroad.
What Are the Benefits Under the GI Bill?
Benefits under the Post 9/11 GI bill vary based on the amount of time served after 9/11/01. Those who had active duty for 3 months get 40% of benefits up to those who served for 3 years who get 100% of benefits.
100% of benefits include:
Full tuition for in state and up to $23,672 for out of state or private or international (veterans can get in state tuition where they live or have official residence).
$1,000 per year for books.
$1,650 monthly living allowance
What are the Options in Europe?
There are 735 universities in continental Europe that offer English-taught bachelor’s and/or master’s degree programs. More than 220 of these schools accept the GI Bill. The only countries that don’t have any schools that accept the GI Bill are Monaco and Slovenia. All the others countries have options! In fact, more than half of the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in our database accept the GI Bill!
Of these 4,300+ English taught bachelor’s and master’s degree programs that accept the GI Bill, only 177 have tuition that is greater than the max benefts. Most of these more expensive programs are either MBA programs, Fine/Performing Arts programs in Sweden, or programs held at American schools with a European campus (surprise…).
Here are just a few examples of universities that offer programs of interests and are fully covered by the GI Bill (assuming the student has 100% benefits) :
What better place to study cyber security than Estonia?
On my first visit there, I was surprised to learn about all their technological advances, their focus on internet connectivity (including free WiFi throughout Tallinn), e-society (CNBC Story), electronic voting, and unique cyber-security programs. This from a country that was under Soviet rule until just 1991! Tal Tech offers both a bachelor’s and master’s degree program in Cyber Security.
The curriculum is designed to provide higher education in the extremely hot field of Cyber Security, integrating software development and IT systems administration. Graduates of this curriculum will be able to independently design, operate and manage secure IT systems. Cyber security personnel are in high demand right now. The unemployment rate in the field is 0% and there are estimates that there will be 3.5 million unfilled positions in 2021.
The university offers a total of 20 English-taught bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, primarily in the fields of business, engineering, technology and computer science. Tuition ranges from 2,300-6,000 euros per year.
The city of Groningen has a tremendous amount to offer students. It is the youngest city in the Netherlands, with half of the population under the age of 35. Further 25% of the residents are students. The decentralized campus means that the various university buildings are located throughout the city, which makes the city and university feel very connected-like the town is serving as one big campus. Though it’s a city with a population of more than 200,000, it retains a community feel. Groningen is also a world cycling city and residents say that the city center is busy but quiet, since there are so few cars. Truly an incredible student city!
The University of Groningen is one of the oldest in Europe, founded in 1614. They have a strong international student body, at 20%, representing 120 different countries. I don’t think I could even name 120 countries!
The university offer 34 bachelor’s and 116 master’s program, all 100% English taught. Not only are there programs representing most study disciplines, but most of them are multidisciplinary in nature. For instance, the Internal Law program includes courses in politics science, economics and international relations. The Life Science and Technology program covers biology, pharmacy, physics, chemistry, and engineering. There is really something for almost everyone here! Tuition ranging from 8,900 to 15,500 EUR per year, all well under the GI Bill spending limit.
Bocconi just about has it all-triple crown accreditation, a centralized campus in the incredible city of Milan, a truly international approach to education-and, of course, Italian food! They ensure that class size is conducive to interactions and the classroom layout is intentionally designed to create an interactive environment.
Many schools SAY say that emphasize internationalism, but Bocconi really backs it up. Every professor that has been hired over the last 15 years has had international experiences themselves-they are either non-Italian or an Italian who received their Ph.D in another country. Bocconi sees the value of providing international exposure throughout the study period. Bachelor’s students are required to learn two additional languages during their studies and students are strongly encouraged to study abroad (in some cases it is mandatory).
Given that this is a business school, almost all of the programs are related to economics and management. That said, in addition to pure business programs like Finance and International Management, there are also programs that integrate business with other areas of study. Examples include:
Economics and Management for Arts, Culture, and Communication
Green Management, Energy and Corporate Social Responsibility
Economics and Data Science
Data Science and Business Analysis
Economics and Management of Government and International Organizations
Bocconi offers 27 English-taught bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. All except for 8 of the programs are less than the tuition covered by the GI Bill.
How Can Beyond the States Help?
Beyond the States provides information, resources, and a community of like-minded people to help students explore, apply to, and prepare for higher education in Europe.
I didn’t visit McDaniel College in Hungary the first time I was in Budapest. There are a handful of American universities in Europe that I have a number of concerns about. Some of them focus on and cater more to American exchange students, which certainly affects the experience for full degree students. Others charge “American sized” tuition, which I don’t think is justified. Though McDaniel College Hungary has a very reasonable tuition, it wasn’t on my high priority list a few years ago.
After visiting Anglo-American University in Prague, one of my favorites and a Beyond the States member favorite as well, I realized that I needed to check into McDaniel College Hungary. I added a day to my recent trip and took a short two and a half hour train ride from Vienna to Budapest. McDaniel College in based in Maryland and is listed as one of the Colleges that Change Lives. They note the personalized, interdisciplinary curriculum, experiential leaning opportunities, and student-faculty collaboration as stand out qualities.
The Budapest campus is now a full branch campus of McDaniel College Hungary and the qualities noted by Colleges that Change lives absolutely extend to this campus. Class size does not exceed 15 students, there are not straight lectures courses and students and professors have direct relationships. I was struck by the innovative and interdisciplinary classes they developed for this campus. For instance, there is a journalism class called From Garden to Table (you should really check this one out-it’s fascinating), a relevant Migration on the Move course, and a new course called Psychology on the Big Screen.
Students can major in Business Administration, Political Science & International Studies, Communication, Psychology, or Art History & Studio Art. This does not need to be decided at enrollment. Students are encouraged to sample courses from different departments and can easily change majors. Like US universities, McDaniel College Hungary provides resources for non-academic needs as well. There is a staff member who helps with housing, a mental health counselor, and support available 24/7.
All of this sounded great, but I had one remaining concern-the school size. There are only 150 total students at the Budapest campus, and this includes 20-30 exchange students they have each semester. When a school is this small, my concerns include class selection, student resources, and student life. Many of these concerns were quickly alleviated. They have strong student resources in place. Though somewhat limited in number (just over 50 each semester), they have sufficient diverse and interesting classes offered every semester. But what about student life? I went to a small high school and the entire student body at McDaniel College Hungary is just a bit larger than my small graduating class in high school!
McDaniel let the students speak to these concerns themselves and arranged for me to meet with a group of international students. One thing to note is that the student body represents 36 different countries. This diversity was represented with this group of students I met with. The group I met with included; Moburak, a Nigerian student who is the head of the Student Advisor Council; Dana and Stephanie who transferred from a community college in California; Rush, a student from DC who transferred from Trinity College in Connecticut; Claudia, a local student; Malisa, a student from Iran, and Dan who is a degree seeking student at the Maryland campus doing a semester in Budapest for a second year.
Dan’s perspective was particularly interesting since he could compare the experiences provided by both campuses. He takes a lot of literature courses and noted that theses courses in Budapest are stronger, with better and deeper class discussion. He loves the Budapest campus so much that he plans to transfer and begin studying full time next year. All of the students spoke very highly of the educational quality and course selection.
They also had wonderful things to say about the student life. In Europe, student life is not confined to campus and all the students spoke of the abundant social opportunities provided by Budapest. Most of the students said that their friend group consists mostly of McDaniel students, but Moburuk stated that that usually changes during the second year when the social group expands to students from other universities that you meet when you are out and at parties. The Student Advisory Council arranges a number of event throughout the year that include orientation events, pub crawls and movie nights. This year they have organized a trip to Montenegro (which has been on my short list for travel). Students pay just 200 euros for flights, food and accommodation!
That brings me to price. Budapest is an incredibly affordable city! The students I met with pay between $250-300 per month when they share an apartment, and some live alone for around $550 per month. Monthly transportation passes cost under $35 and you can get a langos, one of my favorite Hungarian dishes, for about $1.50. But here’s the incredible part-tuition. If you attend McDaniel in Maryland, you will pay $43,260 for tuition. In Budapest, you will pay just about $8,000 per year! Further, students who chose to spend a semester studying at the Maryland campus continue to pay the Budapest tuition price! Further, they accept FAFSA and the GI Bill.
I asked the students what they say to people who say, regarding European tuition, “You get what you pay for”. Stephanie hit the nail on the head when she responded “It’s not about this being inexpensive, but about American education being way too expensive”. So true! If you are ready to learn more about life-changing and AFFORDABLE options, I invite you to join Beyond the States.
I would not have been able to name a city, other than Prague, in the Czech Republic before starting Beyond the States. I certainly would not have thought that the city of Brno is consistently rated one of the top ten student cities in the world! There are 70,000 students in this city of 400,000, making it a lively place with lots of opportunities for student life. Brno itself has been called “Little Vienna”, since many of the same builders and architects developed the city when the city walls were taken down in the 1850’s.
A university administrator told me that the sense of community throughout Brno makes it feel like a village, though it is actually the Czech Republic’s second largest city. To me, Brno felt like a large campus, due to the abundance of universities and students throughout the city. Having been in Vienna before I arrived in Brno, I was also struck by the lack of tourists in the city.
It’s not just students that are attracted to Brno. IBM, Honeywell, and Red Hat are just a few of the multinational companies with large offices in the city. These companies often look to the university students when hiring English-speaking, part-time employees.
Another benefit to living outside of capital cities is the affordability factor. Most universities in the Czech Republic have their own housing. Single rooms in Brno generally cost around $150 per month. Meals in student canteens can be found for under $3, and a monthly transportation pass for students is just $12 per month. This leaves plenty of budget left to explore nearby capital cities during the weekends! Students can get to Prague, Budapest, and Krakow in just around two hours and Vienna and Bratislava in just one.
I often visit cities that have a beautiful city center, but areas outside this section are more run down. I did not have that experience in Brno. I walked in many different parts of the city and noted how well-maintained it was. Further, I was also struck by the excellent condition of all the buildings were at both schools I visited. This is not the case with public universities in many countries. Even public universities in Prague were not as well restored. This may be due to the fact that the Brno area and universities had a very different experience under the communist regime than the universities in Prague.
My first stop was Masaryk University. This University was founded in 1919 and is the second largest university in the country. 22% of their 35,000 students are international, but this number is misleading. My recent blog discussed how large numbers of Slovak students come to the Czech Republic for their studies. In fact, about 16% of Masaryk students are Slovak, meaning that non-Slovak international students account for only about 6%. Certainly the needs of international students who are less than an hour from home and are familiar with the language and culture are different from international students from further away. Despite the lower number of non-Slovak international students, the school has very strong resources for international students. They guarantee first year housing for international students, and start the year with an international student orientation and a buddy program. Each faculty (department) has their own international student office as well as an advice dean for international students and another advice dean to work with all students around academic planning. Masaryk offers twenty-one English taught master’s and bachelor’s degree programs. All except for Medicine and Dentistry cost under 4,000 euros per year.
After visiting Masaryk and grabbing some Vietnamese food for lunch, I walked about 30 minutes from the city center to Mendel University. Like Masaryk University, Mendel was founded 100 years ago, but is a much smaller school. There are 10,000 students at Mendel University. International students account for 20% if you include Slovak students but the number is still high-at 10%-without them.
There are so many things about this university that impressed me, that I don’t even know where to start! Let’s start with educational approach. Though many countries in eastern Europe still primarily use frontal instruction, Mendel University takes a more progressive approach. Most courses include a seminar component and incorporate hands on and practical work in addition to theoretical knowledge. The school has large agriculture and horticulture faculties, with focus on sustainability. They have their own vineyard, brewery, and forest that students in the different master’s degree programs use as labs of sorts. There is talk of adding an English-taught agrobiology bachelor’s program in the future, but nothing official yet.
Each faculty (department) has it’s own culture of sorts. The Faculty of Development and International Studies, which provides two of the three English-taught bachelor’s, is known for being especially dynamic, and progressive. Professors are accessible to students outside of class and even known to socialize with groups of students from time to time, like their counterparts in Northern Europe. The other benefit to studying in this faculty is that the building has it’s own dorm (with guaranteed housing) and canteen, along with classrooms. This building is less than a ten minute walk from the other parts of campus. Students take this walk through the university’s botanical garden, that is only accessible to those connected with the school. I saw these gardens in February, when nothing was in bloom outside of the greenhouses, but they were very peaceful and I imagine that they are breathtaking in the spring.
Equally impressive are the resources Mendel University offers international students The provide fairly standard offerings, but take them up a notch. For instance, like many schools they offer a buddy program for international students. They make this more successful by matching students to the buddy intentionally as opposed to randomly. Of course, they offer a separate orientation for international students as well. In addition to the centralized international relations office, each faculty has at least one international student advisor. Further, the international relations office staffs a 24/7 help line for international students. This is something I have not heard about from any of the other schools I visited in Europe, and really speaks to the level of care given to international students. Excursions and events are organized by by the international relations office, different faculties and the very active ESN chapter. Mendel currently offers a total of ten English taught bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, ranging from 1470-2940 euros per year.
Brno is one of those outside of the box locations that I would encourage you to consider if you are looking for a great student city, high quality educational options, and strong international student resources-all at an incredibly affordable price.
There is only one type of tour you will find me on, and that is a food tour. I wasn’t able to schedule a visit to learn about one of the very few English-taught programs in Slovakia, but we decided to take a day trip (less than one hour by train from Vienna). Since we just had one day, I scheduled a food tour to learn about the food and culture, while also seeing the city. Ellie and I were the only people signed up for the tour that day. Our guide, Simona, was in her mid twenties and received her bachelor’s degree in Slovakia and her master’s at an English-taught program in Denmark. Needless to say, I learned so much from her (including the fact that Slovakian food is incredible!).
Simona explained to me that higher education in Slovakia is more formal and resistant to change (which explains the low number of English-taught programs). She desired a mix between practice and theory which is why she decided to pursue her master’s degree in Denmark. Interestingly, many Slovakians go to the Czech Republic for higher education. Tuition at Czech public universities is free for anyone studying in Czech-taught programs-regardless of their nationality! Czech and Slovak are very similar languages. That, along with the fact that many Slovaks have grown up with exposure to both languages, provides the Czech proficiency needed to study for free.
Simona also shared her theory about why Denmark recently placed limits on the number of international students they admit. She believes that this limit is at least partially due to the cost of educating students from other EU countries. Denmark has a number of ways it supports it’s citizens, including students. One is the SU monthly stipend paid to Danish students while they are enrolled in higher education. In 2006, the EU ruled that Denmark had to provide a similar benefit to all EU students who are studying in Denmark (though there are a few more conditions around it than for Danish students). This is right around $900 per month and tuition is also free for EU students.
One thing to remember here is that the reason higher education is so affordable in Europe is that it is subsidized by the government. Even though non EU students pay much more in tuition than EU students, the government still subsidizes a large amount of it. One reason some countries, including Denmark, provide English-taught programs is to benefit their own economy and labor market. Denmark, in particular, has a significant labor shortage. The Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science conduced a study to explore the costs and contribution of international students. They found that the subsidies paid for international students (for EU and non-EU students) is “paid back” by their contribution to the economy after nine years in the country (which includes their years of study). The problem is that only one of three international students stay in the country for long enough to positively contribute to the economy. The ministry explored this to determine the types of programs that had the largest number of students returning home after graduating and are cutting the number of international student spots in those types of programs. This does not apply to all universities in Denmark or all programs. It is primarily affecting master’s degree programs as well as bachelor’s programs related to engineering. The good news is that the Ministry is working with universities to improve educational outcomes pertaining to employability of international graduates in Denmark.
I have to tell you, this day spent with Simona, walking around Bratislava, eating incredible food, learning about Slovakian culture, was one of the best days of our trip. Simona has a full time job in Vienna, and helps her friend out with food tours when she can. I feel so lucky that she led our tour that day. In addition to introducing me to the surprisingly delicious sauerkraut soup, I greatly benefited from her insights into higher education!
I really love train travel. It’s just so easy and comes without all the stressors of air travel. Little things make it easy-like not having to worry about where my liquids are and arriving at the station just shortly before the train departs. More than any other city in Europe, I was struck by how many places one can easily get by train from Vienna. In under 2.5 hours, you can get almost anywhere in Austria, or to many cities outside of the country, like Bratislava (under 1 hour), Budapest (just over two hours), Brno (just over one hour). The trains were on time, clean, comfortable, and affordable. The most I paid for a train ticket was to Budapest, which cost 39 euros.
Vienna is a strikingly beautiful city. While the most impressive buildings are in the city center, even the residential buildings are stunning, painted light pastel colors. I was able to walk almost every place I needed to go in under 30 minutes and only needed to use public transportation once. The city is easy to navigate, clean and safe (ranked fifth in the world for physical safety). Student residences can be found for 350 euros per month, though there are new higher end options with more amenities that cost 600 euros per month (shown here).
Given my background working in mental health, I was super excited by the Psychotherapy Science program offered at Sigmund Freud University. This program first introduces students to the different therapeutic modalities, and the students choose one to specialize in for their final year. There is also a focus on practice, with students starting clinical placements in their first year of study. I will provide more in depth information abut this program and school in the March Program of the Month, accessible to members.
Another school that impressed me was IMC Krems. Krems is a small city on the Danube river, and is just one hour by train from Vienna. The small population of 40,000 does not impact student life, since 15,000 of those inhabitants are students! The campus is shared by the three universities and also holds one of the student residences, where single rooms cost 350 euros a month. The city center is just a 15 minute walk from campus and holds ample opportunities for an active student life. There is also an ESN office on the campus which arranges trips, parties, laser tag, pub quizzes, holiday dinners and more. A small city like this can be a great option for international students. Since it’s a student city, there are many establishments that cater to students (cafes, pubs, etc), but the size of the city is less overwhelming than a large city might be. That said, Vienna is just one hour away so students still have access to city offerings as well.
I planned this trip to Austria after reading about the Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology program at IMC Krems. I was very impressed by the program and featured it as a program of the month for our members. I had high hopes for their offerings, and was not disappointed! There are supports in place for international student from the time they enroll up until the time they graduate The International Welcome Center helps students with the logistics around housing, banking, visas and such when they arrive. The International Relations Office continues the support throughout the program. The school has strong relationships with industry leaders, which enriches the classroom experience and also leads to internship placements, which are require in all of the programs. IMC Krems offers seven English-taught bachelors degree programs. All are three years in duration and cost between 7800 and 9800 euros per year. It’s often hard to visualize what a university in a foreign country looks like, and what their students are like. This videogives a glimpse into the campus and students at IMC Krems.
My trip also took me to Brno, in the Czech Republic and Budapest, in Hungary. Look for the newsletter in the coming weeks to find out more about the schools I visited in these cities.
Interested In Learning More About College in Europe?
A Beyond the States membership costs just $39 per month and includes access to our searchable database of the 1700+ accredited and English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in continental Europe. Members also benefit from monthly member Q&A calls with me, monthly office hour recordings, a private member Facebook group, webinars and courses, and a highlighted program of the month. Click here to join!
I arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania to investigate college in the Baltic countries, after spending 10 days in Jordan with my son, Sam. I loved Jordan, which provided so many different sensory experiences. There were the sounds of the calls to prayer five times a day which I found soothing (except the one that happen before 5 am…). There were the smells of spices and grilled meat. There were amazing sights I could not have even imagined in Wadi Rum (the desert) and Petra (you may recognize it from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). There was the Frogger-like experience of crossing the street each time (even at crosswalks) and then there were the ups and downs of traveling with a teenager, which included good bonding conversations, as well as seemingly constant “advice” (not criticism I was told…).
Though the experience was absolutely incredible, I didn’t realize how much energy it took until I got to Vilnius. I was a bit grumpy when I arrived. I flew Ryan Air-which I always say I will never do again but then get sucked in by the low price. The boarding process reminds me of the old days with Southwest Airlines-sort of a mob mentality and then the flight attendants spend the entire flight peddling their goods. The person who came up with the idea to allow passengers to sample perfume in an enclosed space is not on my good list…We got to Vilnius late, and the cold fresh air when I walked out of the airport helped improve my mood almost immediately.
I had the weekend to explore the town before my meetings with a college in the Baltic countries began on Monday. I like visiting places in winter, as if you like a place as it’s worst weather wise, then you can imagine how great it would be at other times of the year. There are some places that felt depressing to me in the winter, like Sofia, Bulgaria and Warsaw, Poland. Though the skies are just as grey in Vilnius winters, I didn’t have that same feeling. “Hygge” is a Danish word, that has been entirely worn out internationally now, but really applies to Vilnius. The simplest way of describing it is a really cozy feeling. There are a ton of coffee shops with comfortable seating and lit in a certain way that make you want to go in with a book. There are wine bars-again with the warm lighting-with signs for mulled wine. The streets are clean, the architecture is beautiful, the people are friendly. I felt like I wanted to listen to classical music as I walked around the city (which is not something on any of my playlists). It just felt nice, and calm, and cozy.
Now, what I appreciate as a woman in my forties is very different than I would have liked as a college-aged student! This made me especially curious about student life in the city. I noticed that I didn’t see a lot of college-aged students out and about. Of course, it’s quite possible that the hours that I am out are not the hours in which college students are out (or awake). Certainly there are cafes, bars, nightclubs, theaters and more. It did get me thinking about the international student experience though.
One thing to note is that when a school reports their international student number or percentage, it includes all levels of study (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate) AND almost always includes exchange students. This makes a huge difference! The international student percentage at Vilnius University, for instance is right around 9%. While that’s not a huge number, it’s not alarming. When you look at the percentage of degree seeking international students, however, it’s less than 3% and, again, that includes all levels of study!
So, why does this matter? For one thing, it can impact whether or not there are sufficient resources for international students. Vilnius University does not have an international student association or an international student office. They do offer an orientation week for international students (which includes exchange students) and they have an ESN office, but these are more directed at the exchange student experience. Further, one of the great benefits around studying in Europe is that students form friendships with people from all around the world. If half of your peer group leaves after just one semester, those meaningful bonds are harder to form and maintain.
Academically, Vilnius University has some strong programs and may be a good fit for some students. A student who is a little older may have the independence required to get their academic and social needs met. A student with a Lithuanian background may know enough of the language and culture to socially integrate with local students. These are just important considerations when looking at a school.
The international student population at Vilnius Technical University is similar to Vilnius University when you include exchange students, however it’s right around 5% when you look only at degree seeking students. It’s still small percentage, but they do have resources in place for their students. There is an office staffed with four people who work specifically with international degree students reading problems, questions, where to find resources, and more. Since they are a smaller university, they do this as the university level so all international students get the same information. There is an international coordinator in each academic department who helps students with the academic piece of things. They also have a mentor program for new degree seeking international students. Additionally, they reserve the newly renovated student residences for international students, which cost under 150 euros per month!
After recharging in Vilnius, I enjoyed the energy in Riga! It’s more urban, with people of all ages out and about at all times of day. It’s also remarkable beautiful with striking Art Nouveau architecture and abundant green space. Though the population is under 650,000 (similar to Portland, Oregon) it is the largest city in the Baltic region and, thus, provides an active night life. It’s an incredibly affordable city, even more so for students. For instance, students pay just 16 euros a month for an unlimited public transportation pass (the regular price is 50 euros). I really fell in love with Riga and it’s now on my list of favorite cities in Europe.
Of all the schools I visited on this trip, I was most excited by what I learned about Riga Technical University. Their total international student population is 15% which is at 10% when you subtract exchange students. The international student body is diverse, representing 87 countries. Not only does the university have an office that assists international students, but they also have an International Student Council which represents international student interests and arranges social events.
Unlike most universities in Europe, the university has a true campus, just a 25 minute walk (or 15 minutes by bus) from the city center. The campus houses the different academic departments, dorms (which cost 65-180 euros per month), and an Olympic size pool (there is a large recreation center off campus). There is a large shopping center directly next to the campus which includes a grocery store. The buildings were very well maintained, inside and out, which is not always the case with public universities.
Each program is split into groups of no more than 50 students for lectures with much smaller groups for labs and computer classes. Students are always taught by professors (not assistants) who are accessible for help outside of the classroom as well. All of the four year programs are very hands on, with lots of labs and internships in order to prepare students for the workforce. They evidently do a good job at this, given their strong reputation with employers. When I visit schools I look for strong academic programs and educational outcomes and an environment that supports international student life-academic and otherwise. Riga Tech checked all of these boxes.
My visits to the other schools in Riga helped me realize other questions students should ask when exploring a particular school or program. The majority of the international students in the other schools I visited are in just two programs (the integrated Medicine and Dentistry programs). There are only a handful of international students in each of the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs, and these students represent just a few countries. At one of these universities, classes for international students in the English-taught programs are separate from Latvians in the English-taught programs so it’s almost like private classes taught by the professors. While there is something to be said for the personalized attention in the classroom, I’m concerned about how isolating this would feel.
Though I absolutely love the Baltic area, I don’t think that Lithuania and Latvia are as far along with internationalization as Estonia is. That shouldn’t rule out the two countries for students. I would absolutely recommend Riga Tech, and there are certain types of students who the other schools may be a good fit for. More than anything, this trip helped me realize that there are some important questions students should look into when exploring a particular school or program. These are:
What is the number of degree seeking international students?
How many countries are represented by the degree seeking international students?
What is the percent of degree seeking international students in the program of interest?
Is there an international student council?
What types of international student associations are at the school?
Is there an international student office at the university level? Do they work with degree seeking student exclusively or also exchange?
Is there an international student coordinator at the program level?
Is there a mentor/buddy program for international students?
After gathering that information, you can consider the impact each area would have on your own personal experience.
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I have much to report about my visits to colleges in Italy! I stayed in Milan, visiting schools in the city as well as in Bologna and Turin. It was my first time in Northern Italy and I really enjoyed it! I have always loved to visit Italy, but these northern areas feel much more livable and less touristy than the other places I have been. Milan is extremely easy to get around-both as it pertains to the city and getting elsewhere in Italy and Europe. I was able to get to Bologna and Turin in an hour by train. You can get to Lugano, in Switzerland, in under 90 minutes and Rome in under three hours. That said, the train travel is not inexpensive. My flights from Paris to Milan and Milan to Sofia, Bulgaria, were both less expensive than my train travel within the country. There are three airports in the region with many low cost airlines.
More than any other country I have visited, I was struck by the differences between the public and private colleges in Italy. The public colleges in Italy charge tuition based on family income to all students, including international students, with a maximum tuition at most schools of under 4,000 Euros per year. While this may seem attractive, the facilities of the public colleges in Italy I visited were quite basic, and large lectures are customary. I was told that students have to be prepared for less services directed towards their growth and development, as the main focus of these schools is educational. Certainly the trade offs are worth it for some, but not for all. I want to emphasize that this is not the case in most other countries. In fact, I am often more impressed by the public universities than private ones elsewhere.
There are unique obstacles when applying to colleges in Italy. The first applies to master’s and bachelor’s degree students applying to both private and public universities. It is a headache called “pre-enrollment”. This procedure was put in place in the days before internet and has not changed with the times. First, a student applies to a college in Italy. The school then issues a pre-acceptance letter (or rejection). The student takes the the pre-acceptance letter along with a ton of other required documents to the Italian embassy in their home country for pre-enrollment. This also begins the visa process. The student is officially enrolled once they are in Italy in the fall and turn in their documents to the school.
But wait-it’s potentially even more complicated! Some undergraduate programs have an entrance exam. SAT and ACT can substitute for many of them, but not for all. For instance, all the medical programs require entrance exams as do programs like architecture. Private universities tend to offer their entrance exams in the spring and often offer them in cities around the world. Public universities generally offer theirs on campus in Italy in September. And by September I mean a mere month before classes begin. This would personally make me really anxious from a planning perspective!
Finally, the Italian government requires that American students have either an IB or 3 AP scores of 3+ to enroll in bachelor’s programs. This is because Italian students have 13 years of education, while we have 12 in the US. A full year of college can substitute for the AP requirement and some schools allow 3 academic college courses to substitute. Word on the street is that the government is considering getting rid of the pre-enrollment process and looking at other ways to assess educational equivalence besides the APs. Fingers crossed!
While I learned a lot at each of the colleges in Italy I visited, one school really stood out and excited me. The school is University of Bocconi in Milan. Bocconi was founded in 1902 and focuses primarily on business and economics related programs. They offer English taught bachelor’s, master’s, and MBA programs. The majority of the programs are taught in English and the longer term goal is to have all of their programs taught in English.
What really struck me about Bocconi is the international approach they take to education. This is something that is easy for schools to say they do, but Bocconi really backs it up with resources. Traditionally, higher education in Italy has revolved around lectures with little interaction between students or students and the professor. This is still the case at many public universities. For the past 15 years, every professor that has been hired at Bocconi is fluent in English and is either a non-Italian or an Italian who received their Ph.D in an international program. This creates a team of professors who are not resistant to an alternate educational model and are more international in their approach, as opposed to strictly Italian.
Each entering class of the different programs is split into classes of no more than 100 students so even the largest lecture does not exceed that number of students. Even for lectures, the classroom layout was intentionally designed to be conducive to an interactive environment. Each department has a dean, program directors, and course directors to serve as resources to the students. In addition, each student has an academic advisor. Because Bocconi has strong connections with the business community, guest speakers from the field often speak in classes which provides a bridge between theory and practice.
Though the campus environment is international itself, with over 90 nationalities represented, Bocconi sees the value of providing students opportunity for further international exposure throughout their studies. In addition to the opportunities through Erasmus, Bocconi has 275 bilateral agreements with schools around the world. This allows students to study outside the EU for no additional tuition fees. Their partner schools in the US include Princeton, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, NYU, Northwestern, and University of Chicago, in addition to 47 others in the US and equally impressive names throughout Latin America, Canada, Asia, Austrailia, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Students are advised strongly to study abroad and it is mandatory for some of the programs.
Bocconi offers seven English taught bachelor’s programs (3 years), eleven master’s programs (2 years), three specialized master’s programs (1 year) and eleven English taught MBA and post-experience education programs. Almost all of the programs are related to Economics and Management, with program options that integrate these areas with social sciences, computer science, finance, arts, culture and communication, government, fashion, healthcare, and more. In addition, there is a bachelor’s degree in International Politics and Government and a L.M program in the Law of Internet Technology. They also offer a four year World Business Bachelor’s degree programs in which students spend the first year studying at USC, the second year at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the third at Bocconi, and choose where to attend their fourth year. Students graduate with a full degree from all three universities.
The tuition for the bachelor’s degree programs is $14,150 per year (other than World Business which varies based on the school), master’s degree programs are $15,347 per year and MBA/post-experience programs start at $28,300 per year. Bocconi offers need based scholarships of full tuition for the length of the entire program. There are also merit based scholarships offering a full tuition waiver and with free housing for the first two years and one option that provides a 50% reduction in tuition. Applicants are automatically assessed for the merit scholarships upon application. The need based scholarship requires a separate application. In addition, Bocconi has a FAFSA number! This is a huge advantage to American students as it allows them to utilize US funding options for college in Italy and use their 529 savings without penalty.
Bocconi has resources and structures to support their students growth and development outside of the classroom as well. It is a centralized campus that even provides housing-most of which is on campus! They currently have seven student residences with an eighth opening the summer of 2018. Rooms are single occupancy and range from 600-700 Euros per month. They are also building an updated rec center which will be complete in 2018. Bocconi currently has a lacrosse team and soccer team as well as intramural and other options for track, hiking, judo, basketball, volleyball, boxing, rugby, skiing, snowboarding. and tennis. There are a number of student associations pertaining to various interests outside of academics as well as a student media center which includes student radio, web TV, and newspaper. Bocconi offers extensive student services including a counseling department that provides individual counseling as well as support around acclimating to a new country, time management guidance, and other challenges students may be facing.
Bocconi has a dedicated department of other 70 employees who work on job and internship placements. This department size speaks to the focus Bocconi puts in assisting their students in finding internships and jobs. Though the majority of students who graduate from the bachelor’s degree programs go on for a master’s degree, the job placement department has a dedicated team to help undergraduates with internships and job placements. 96.4% of the graduate students are employed one year after graduation, with 51.2% of them employed abroad. Top recruiters include Accenture, Goldman Sachs, Google, L’Oreal, J.P Morgan, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, the United Nations, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and many more!
As I have mentioned many times before, it is crucial that we look at quality indicators beyond rankings-whether looking at schools in the US or colleges in Italy. I believe that these quality indicators include a classroom environment that fosters interaction and cultivation of critical thought, international exposure, development of skills needed for employment, student supports, and outcomes pertaining to employment. Bocconi checks all of these boxes and more. Though it is not one of the least expensive schools in Europe, it is still comparable to in-state tuition fees when you factor in the difference in duration. Further, there is a very favorable probability of a high return on investment as it pertains to learning, employment, and personal growth.
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 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.
Belgium 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.
Let me just start by saying that, though there are many parts of Belgium that I think are incredible, Brussels has never been my favorite city in Europe. That said, I have learned that the city has a tremendous amount to offer students.
The first has to do with the price. The government subsidizes public universities and I visited two schools during this visit with tuition under $3,000 per year. Remember that these are three-year programs so you are getting your full degree for under $10,000! The school that impressed me the most on this trip, however, is a private school. At $12,500 per year, it is not the bargain of the Belgian public universities but still offers great savings compared to US schools, tuition at Vesalius College is less than in-state tuition at many public universities such as Michigan, Illinois, and UMass. This becomes even more apparent when you factor in the benefit of the three-year program. Not only is this a year of tuition and fees avoided – it’s also a year sooner in the workforce generating income and experience. The school also offers merit-based scholarships which provide a 50% tuition reduction.
This school is Vesalius College. It was founded in 1987 by Vrije University Brussels (VUB) and Boston University to provide English conducted bachelor’s programs that merged the best parts of the European and American approaches to education. Though Vesalius Collge is right across the street from the VUB campus and is technically part of the school, it has its own private school status and functions independently from VUB. That means that students are able to enjoy the amenities and facilities of VUB (clubs, sports facilities, libraries, etc) without the struggles that often accompany a larger school.
Vesalius College offers bachelor’s programs in Communication Studies, Business Studies, International Affairs and International and European Law. Though they tout a liberal arts education, they are referring more to the interactive teaching style and not the broad education that involves students choosing a specialty/major after introduction to various fields. Though all of the programs have strengths, I want to focus on the International Affairs program.
The first strength that Vesalius College offers International Affairs students is the fact that their students come from 60 different countries. Combined with the interactive teaching style, small classes (large lectures are even limited to 30 students) and group work, students are exposed firsthand to perspectives from around the world which I believe is a key component to International Affairs.
The school uses “Theory-guided, Practice Embedded and Experiential Learning”. Though it’s a mouthful, you can certainly see that it is implemented in their curriculum. Of course, students get the theory component in the classroom. There are some interesting and timely classes like Legal Aspects of Migration, NATO and Transatlantic Approaches to Security, and Global Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and De-Radicalization. Students are also able to choose from a broad array of electives at partner schools which include VUB, Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, Institute of European Studies, and the Royal Music Conservatory Brussels. Unlike many other Belgian schools which base grades almost solely on final exams, courses at Vesalius College are continually assessed through projects, papers, and exams. Further, the fall semester ends in before winter break, so students don’t have to spend their holiday studying for final exams.
For the practice and experiential components, International Affairs students really benefit from the school’s location in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union. The school has guest lecturers that include speakers from NATO, the UN, various relevant EU committee chairs and directors, ambassadors, and foreign ministers. Students must participate in a capstone project, which involves working with high-ranking diplomats on foreign policy issues and also have the option of doing internships (for academic credit) with the UN, NATO, and various embassies.
Vesalius College’s modern building is located across the street from the VUB campus and is about 20 minutes from the city center. The school has its own cafeteria which sources many of its ingredients from organic farms and won the SMC Sustainable Seafood Certificate in 2013. Of course, as previously stated, students can also cross the street and use the large array of VUB facilities.
Coming as an international student to a foreign city can be overwhelming, so Vesalius has a number of support systems in place to smooth the transition. Though they don’t have their own student housing, the school does assist students in finding space in the student residences throughout the city. Each student is assigned a study advisor (a professor) and a separate career advisor which speaks to the priority of educating students and also making them employable. Though student life is enjoyed with students from schools all over the city, the school has a real community feel. The small size allows the students to really get to know each other and their professors. This community feel was something I noticed when I was observing students while waiting for my meeting to start.
Students are sometimes concerned about going to a small university. Often their concerns center on student life. I had dinner with Jared from North Carolina and his friends Lisa (from Atlanta) and Sebastian (from Luxembourg) while I was in Brussels and this was one of our topics. Though Jared knows Lisa from class, most of his other friends are from his student residence and attend various schools through the city. Jared and Sebastian both told me that their social life is more from their student residence and less from their academic program. Further, even when one attends a large university (like Jared at KU Leuven), the majority of their classes are held within one department so larger schools have a small school feel as well. Given that students at Vesalius College have access to all the clubs, facilities, and even classes of the larger VUB, the school size does not present limits but does provide advantages.
Preview: Next week, I will be writing more about what I learned from Jared and his friends about student life in Brussels…