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Change in Plans for the Viemonts

As you may remember, we made plans to move to Malaysia in spring 2020. We applied for a visa, and Ellie and I spent an incredible six weeks looking at schools, apartments, and just exploring. We were all super excited for a life filled with curry mee and a completely different way of life. Just a couple of weeks after I announced our plans, we had a plot twist in our lives. Tom got a job offer-one he was really excited about-for a company that is 100% remote. However, he would need to live in place that had some overlap in the work day with US time zones. With a 12-hour time difference, Malaysia was off the table if he wanted this job.

Luckily, we werent completely back to square one as I had researched several countries before we decided on Malaysia. Deciding on a new plan paralleled the process I advise students to go through when choosing which European schools to apply to. I always recommend students to first start with the quantifiable criteria, which starts with area of study and admissions requirements. It doesn’t matter if you want to live in France if you want to study Philosophy because there aren’t any English-taught programs in that area of study. It doesn’t matter if you want to study in Denmark if you don’t have any AP scores or an IB degree, since those requirements are country-wide. For our search, first and foremost we needed to identify a country that had visa structures that we qualified for (since we weren’t going with a work or student visa). We also needed a place that had no greater than a 5 to 6 hour time difference from EST. It doesn’t matter if I want to live in Croatia if they don’t have the visa structure we need, or anywhere in Asia due to the time difference. These concrete criteria helped us narrow the field tremendously.

The next criteria we had was around cost. Just like the university search, this gets a bit more complicated. When students are looking at universities in Europe, tuition along with living expenses needs to be considered. I often use the example comparing Norway and Estonia. Though Norway offers free tuition, the overall cost of tuition and cost of living is less expensive in Estonia because Norway is such an expensive country. In our search, we had to consider not only cost of living, but also tax rates (one reason we initially chose Malaysia is that they don’t tax global income). We would love to live in Spain, for instance, but the tax rates there are high which affects the overall cost of living. Then we get to the most subjective criteria, which is quality of life. This is different for everyone, but for us some considerations were weather, food, public transportation, ease of visiting schools for Beyond the States, and high school education for Ellie.

All these factors helped us decide on Lisbon. Portugal has a tax structure that provides a 10-year tax break to those who become tax residents and meet a set of other criteria. It’s also one of the more affordable countries in Europe. My brother lives in Lisbon, so we will get to spend regular time with him, his wife, my nephew, and niece. Food and weather boxes are checked (big time) and we found a great international high school that will allow Ellie to continue with her curriculum. I do hate that we will be paying more for high school tuition than we pay for Sam’s university tuition, but I keep reminding myself that it’s just for two years! Speaking of Sam, it will be much easier to see him since Amsterdam is just a 3-hour flight from Lisbon. And get this-after just 5 years of living there we can apply for Portuguese citizenship! We must pass a language test first (thought there are rumors that this requirement is being removed), so we will be taking classes and studying hard. After we become citizens, we can live anywhere in the EU!
Finally, this move means that school visits for Beyond the States are going to be a lot more frequent! We are taking advantage of Ellie’s virtual school year with a couple of months of travel before settling in Lisbon. We leave on January 12th and will spend a month in Valencia, Spain, with plans to visit a few schools in Madrid. After a couple of weeks in Lisbon to handle logistics in February, we will then spend March in Athens -with more school visits-and settle down in Lisbon April 1st. I’ve had my eye of a few schools in Finland that I plan to visit in May as well. It’s been interesting going through a process that parallels that of the students I work with. Like some of the students I talk with, we started this process with one thought/plan in mind that required modification. What we thought of as a Plan B turns out to be at least as good as a choice as the original plan, just in different ways. Flexibility is something that I sometimes struggle with, but it’s been an exciting process. The other thing I have found fascinating is how many BTS members, former members, future members/newsletter subscribers I have encountered through this process. I’m in a Facebook group for Americans who have or are planning to move to Portugal and already have been contacted by four other people who are in the same group and know me through Beyond the States! I guess it’s not surprising, given that valuing global experiences is something we all have in common. Anyhow, I look forward to bringing you even more frequent information about schools! I’ll send out updates about the schools I have appointments with ahead of time, so you can let me know if there are any specific questions you would like answered.

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Viemont Family Plans

Ellie and I have been in Malaysia for the last four weeks and are finishing up our time in Bali.  It’s actually been a scouting trip since we (along with Tom) will be moving to Malaysia in the spring.  I’m often asked why we are moving and why Malaysia. The short answer is that Tom and I have always dreamed of living abroad. Ellie is 100% on board with this plan, but Sam wanted to finished high school in the US, so  we waited for him to get off to college and then sold our house this past spring and started the process!

Malaysia has an incredible 10 year visa, low cost of living, great health care, no taxes on global income, and Kuala Lumpur is an exciting, modern, food filled city. It’s also a great jumping off place to explore other parts of Asia with short and cheap flights to amazing places. The long answer goes back to Tom’s brain hemorrhage in 2017, our experiences around that (both with healthcare and the insights that come from a near death experience), job insecurity he has experienced when he returned to work (despite his full recovery), my learning about various ways to experience location independence after being interviewed for the EPOP podcast, and a deep desire to experience more of the world on a longer term basis.

Batu cavesThe reaction from friends, some family, and even strangers has been really interesting. Some people are genuinely curious and I’m always happy to answer their questions.  Many people aren’t familiar with Malaysia (I wasn’t until fairly recently), but know of Singapore, due to  the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians”. To them, I’m able to explain that Kuala Lumpur is like Singapore, but more affordable! Other people make assumptions and seem to want us to defend our decision. My mother questioned what we would do about healthcare-though Malaysia is medical tourism hot spot with affordable and high quality care.  Some question why we wouldn’t choose another better known place, without consideration to the fact that you can’t live long term on a tourist visa. They (including my mom) questioned safety, though  Malaysia is ranked the 15th safest country in the world-far ahead of the US ranking of 128th place. Others (ok, my mom again-but others too…) questioned the educational impact this will have on Ellie, without realizing the learning opportunities that living abroad naturally provides and that there are options for international high schools.

This all relates to the myth of American exceptionalism. We’ve addressed this concept previously, but it bears repeating. Why do we assume our health care is the best? Why do we assume our universities are the only good ones in the world? Why do we assume that our way of life is only one worth emulating?  Why do we even have to think in terms of “best”? A good university, doctor, way of life for one person may not be for another. Things can be different without one having to be defined as better than the other.

Ellie is doing 10th grade through a virtual school, since we are moving before the end of the school year.  This also gives her the opportunity to travel with me this year.  We are in Bali to attend a conference about World Schooling. I first read about this a few years ago and found it fascinating.  Basically, these are families who take less conventional approaches to education in order to allow their children to learn from the world.  Though Ellie’s education is more traditional (accredited online school and likely international school for the rest of high school), I thought this would be a great way for her to meet other teens and for us both to learn from families who make a conscious point to learn from the world.

Already I’ve seen the natural learning and curiosity that occurs through these experiences.  You can imagine our surprise when we saw a swastika on a building on our way in from the airport! I had no idea that the swastika is actually a Sanskrit symbol used for over 5000 years by many ancient cultures around the world. It is still used on some Hindu and Buddhist temples and organizations in Asia-not as a symbol of hate but as it’s original pre-Hitler meaning of peace, luck, well being, and prosperity.  We learned about world religions and can’t even count how many Ganesh statues we have seen! We learned thought provoking information about cultural identity; how many people are just learning that they are Japanese because their families took on a Chinese identity for fear of  retaliation after WWII; how Tamil is the common language among Indians in Malaysia; how the British colonization still has effects though independence was granted in 1957; and how ethnic Malays/Malaysian Malays (not sure if one term is more PC than the other) are all held to sharia law, while all others in the country have a secular justice system. We had first hand experience with haze in Malaysia, caused by the intentionally set forest fires in Indonesia. Ellie was able to use this information for a paper she had to write in Earth Science about deforestation. I can tell you that NONE of these things would have been of interest to Ellie  (and -full disclose- some would not have interested me either…) if we weren’t here having these first hand experiences.

So why am I telling you all this?

I recently read a sentence that really stuck with me from Sam’s Introduction to International Studies syllabus. It noted that one of the course objectives was to “foster global positioning sensitivity based on an awareness that there is no single objective position from which to observe the world.” This really gives me goosebumps!  Wouldn’t it be great if we all had this? The very same day, I read an article that quoted a woman who was at a political rally in North Carolina. She said, “This is like college — it’s like a pep rally of like-minded people and we feel safe here,”

I don’t want my kids to solely be around like-minded people. I want them to learn from the experiences of others.  I want them to feel a little uncomfortable as their views and perspectives are challenged by their experiences and the views of others.  This type of education occurs when studying in Europe. Their classmates and friends are from all around the world so they will meet and learn-in the classroom and socially- from students who have had vastly different life experiences than them hughesairco.com. They will also learn about the history and culture of the country they are studying in, just through day to day life and the natural learning experiences that take place.

I recognize that our choice to move abroad isn’t possible or desirable for many people.  There may be jobs, family responsibilities, and many other reasons to stay in the states. You may prefer to experience the world through travel and enjoy a supportive community in the US.  I totally get that!  This is an example of differences that aren’t better or worse than the other. That said, almost every person I have met through Beyond the States has wished that they had these opportunities to get a degree abroad when they were in college. Our kids don’t have a mortgage yet. They aren’t responsible for taking care of us.  They don’t have a career to leave behind.  This is the prime time for them to take advantage of the opportunities to learn and grow in tremendous life changing ways, by getting their degree in Europe.

Beyond the States helps families access and navigate the information about the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in Europe. This free online workshop  is a great starting point and provides answers to many of the questions you may have.

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GI Bill: Can It Be Used for College in Europe?

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?

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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) :

 

Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia

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. Visit the bankruptcy lawyers website for more information.

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.

 

University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands

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, check benjaminnicholas.

 

University of Bocconi, Milan, Italy

gi billBocconi just about has it all-triple crown accreditation,  a centralized campus in the incredible city of Milan, a truly international approach to education-and, of course, Italian food! They ensure that class size is conducive to interactions and the classroom layout is intentionally designed to create an interactive environment.

Many schools SAY say that emphasize internationalism, but Bocconi really backs it up. Every professor that has been hired over the last 15 years has had international experiences themselves-they are either non-Italian or an Italian who received their Ph.D in another country.  Bocconi sees the value of providing international exposure throughout the study period big city maids. Bachelor’s students are required to learn two additional languages during their studies and students are strongly encouraged to study abroad (in some cases it is mandatory).

Given that this is a business school, almost all of the programs are related to economics and management.  That said, in addition to pure business programs like Finance and International Management, there are also programs that integrate business with other areas of study.  Examples include:

  • Economics and Management for Arts, Culture, and Communication
  • Green Management, Energy and Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Economics and Data Science
  • Data Science and Business Analysis
  • Economics and Management of Government and International Organizations

Bocconi offers 27 English-taught bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. All except for 8 of the programs are less than the tuition covered by the GI Bill.

How Can Beyond the States Help?

Beyond the States provides information, resources, and a community of like-minded people to help students explore, apply to, and prepare for higher education in Europe.

Interested in Learning More??

If you’re looking for a bachelor’s degree, click here to get our Five Programs Guide.

If you’re more interested in a Master’s degree, click here to get the Ultimate Guide to Grad School.

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Sam’s Journey Truly Begins

I don’t know about you, but when I went to college, we tied all sorts of stuff to the roof of our car and my parents helped me move in to the dorms. My Facebook feed has been filled with friends doing the same over the past week or so. This is not really the custom in Europe though. As most readers know, our son, Sam, is attending Leiden University in The Hague, The Netherlands, studying International Relations. Here’s a link to a podcast where Sam talks about his visit to Leiden for Experience Day.

I dropped Sam off at the airport on Wednesday. As we checked his bags, I felt compelled to tell the ticketing agent that he had an additional bag to check and that TSA Pre was missing from his boarding pass.  Sam was standing right there and perfectly capable of handling this himself, but I just couldn’t help myself.  I knew he could take care of it, but I just wanted to help, while I still had the opportunity. That said, I do know that these little things send a certain message and can hinder independence.

There are some really crucial tasks that need to be completed during the first couple of weeks. Sam needs to open a bank account (something that is more complicated than it sounds), register at city hall, find out how rent is paid in the coming months, and a host of other logistics.  Knowing myself, it would be really difficult for me not to take over the organization of these tasks if I were there. This is one reason I decided to not head to the Netherlands with him now, and am instead waiting until October, visit this website.

I’m often guilty of managing things myself just because it’s easier, or because I want to help or protect my kids.  I’ve had to fight these instincts the past few years in an effort to prepare Sam for attending college abroad.  Though he has only been gone a few days, this has already paid off.  When Sam returned from Morocco last summer, one of his bags didn’t make it.  With oversight, he handled that on his own from filling out the forms, to following up with the airline, to arranging the delivery of the bags.  Guess what? When one of his bags didn’t make it last week he knew exactly what to do which eliminated a lot of stress (other than the fact that he was dying for a shower and the missing bag had his towels…).  When we traveled to the Hague his junior year, I had him navigate his way to meet me after one of my meetings with a university. Since he had a way to contact me if needed, it was a lesson in guided independence.  Guess what? When he unexpectedly had to find his way from the train station to the housing office on his own, he was able to do so without worry.

Correspondence from the universities goes straight to the students, parents are not included on these exchanges.  So Sam has been in charge of gathering, scanning, and submitting necessary documents, arranging for the welcome service, calling about student residence permit issues, and keeping track of all the various orientation dates.  I’ve kept a list of the tasks that need to be completed, so that I could follow up as needed (aka-nag).  Sam has surprisingly stayed on top of it. I think he appreciates that the school treats him as the adult in the situation and he responds accordingly.  I will admit that I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from grabbing the phone a few times.  Though he didn’t communicate information the exactly as I would have, it was taken care of, check Air Conditioning service.

All of these experiences make him (and me!) confident that he will be able to handle the tasks at hand in the coming weeks-and years. I have a list going again with the crucial things that I will follow up about and have had to consciously make myself not ask (nag) about things that don’t matter in the long run.  If he wants to procrastinate buying the items for his kitchen, it really shouldn’t matter to me (yes, I’ve had to repeat that to myself many times). I think all this is just to say that, as parents, we sometimes take charge of things for our own needs- whether it’s the need to nurture or help, the need to get things done correctly the first time, or the need to protect.  We forget that we have raised these great kids who are capable, who can learn from mistakes, and who can utilize many resources for assistance. I’m often asked what parents can do to help prepare their kids for college in Europe.  Without a doubt, providing opportunities for guided independence is my number one suggestion!

Side note-only a few days in and Sam has had some incredible experiences. It’s prevented me from being sad that he’s gone and more focused on how excited I am for him. I’ll share more about his experiences and pictures of his dorm room (hopefully this will compel him to clean up…) next week.

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Learning about Denmark in Slovakia

BratislavaThere 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 stay classy transportation.  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!