Beyond The States
Beyond The States
How to Prepare Your Children for College in Europe

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

Podcast Transcript –

Intro: You’re listening to the Beyond the States podcast with Jenn Viemont. Did you know that you can go to Europe and get your entire degree taught in English for less than one year of tuition at many American schools? Jenn will take you on a deep dive into the many benefits and options around English-taught higher education in Europe, helping to make the possibility less foreign.

Jenn Viemont: Hi, I’m Jenn Viemont. Thanks for joining me today. We recently heard from a listener who told us that her son had always planned to do a gap year before college, she saw benefits around the gains and independence a gap year can provide, not to mention the opportunities for travel. And she was wondering how taking a gap year works with admissions in Europe. Her question got me thinking about independence as a whole. It’s definitely one of the qualities that’s needed. If you plan to study in Europe, I feel like my kids have a lot fewer natural opportunities that help them become independent than I did when I was growing up. Part of this is a difference in the environment. I grew up in a city, which allows at least for independent mobility, either walking or public transportation, which my kids don’t have. The other hindering factor, though, is just the parenting culture these days.

There’s an expectation for involvement well beyond that of my parents when I was growing up, when you choose not to participate in that culture, even if you’re doing so for conscious reasons, it’s easy to doubt yourself. I’ve told this story before probably in a blog. But one of the things we’d like to point out our house is that it’s walking distance from the elementary and middle school. It’s right around half a mile. There are sidewalks all the way. Lots of people walking, and there’s a crossing guard at the one busy street. My son went on to middle school when my daughter was in third grade. And I had her walk to and from school by herself. I mean, not really by herself. It just wasn’t with me, she still had friends that she met up with along the way, that she was literally the only kid who didn’t have an adult walking with them. Even now I see parents walking with fifth graders, and even one who walks her middle school or to school. Now I don’t think that all these parents are walking with their kids because you doubt their own kids ability. Maybe the parents are walking so they can talk with other parents. Maybe it’s a nice time to chat with their kids Without Electronic Distractions. Maybe they have to walk the dog anyway. However, the reason we want our kids to be exposed to opportunities for independence is so that they can gain confidence in their abilities. Walking half a mile in a very safe area without adult supervision is a great place to start. The coordination and supervision of their life starts really young, with things like organized playdates, and it continues on through their lives. One would hope that by high school, we could start to ease up and allow them to learn from their mistakes. But academically, the stakes are so high that many parents feel that they have to stay totally on top of things, because mistakes can prevent future opportunities for your kids. So if you listen to our admissions podcast, you know this is not the case for kids applying to school in Europe. A lot of things that matter in the admissions process here don’t matter there. Furthermore, as I mentioned, it’s super important for kids to have successfully experienced independence before they go. As parents of kids who are planning to go to school in Europe, we both can and should do what we can to foster independence. So let’s talk about things we can do for this. Well, we’ll start by talking about things that can be done locally, or at little to no expense. an after school job is a great way to develop these skills. When I was in high school, I worked at the gap. My son Sam is now working as a cashier at a grocery store. Do either of these jobs have anything to do with our future careers? No. Nor were they about enrichment, but the skills they teach that pertain to independence are huge. salmon’s had to be a lot more conscious about time management, for instance, he has to plan ahead for assignments if he knows he’s working. He’s also learning to manage his money, and learning that if he uses all of his check buying excessive amounts of Nutella, which he has, he won’t have money to use when he hangs out with his friends. I also think that a big part of independence is knowing how to get your needs met using resources and asking for help. This is still really hard for Sam academically, but he has no choice but to do so at work. He has to ask about things like his schedule, taking time off and such. I’m hopeful that this skill will transfer over into him feeling more comfortable seeking academic resources when he’s needed, because you have to start somewhere. Another somewhat easy thing to do is to assign cooking nights. You can have your teenager be responsible for the planning the shopping with a budget and cooking once a week or so. This one is particularly important. Since college students in Europe cook for themselves a lot more than they use cafeterias. The use of public transportation is another important independence related skill. If you live in a city, your teenager is they’re probably already well versed in this and you can fast forward a little bit. If not you need to be a little bit more creative. Maybe you live outside of a city or you have a trip plan for this could be practiced.

The inclination would be to go to a city and teach them how to how to use it how to navigate the holes system. But I encourage you to take it a step further. If I were to take Sam to a city and try to teach him, I can tell you, I see a lot of eye rolls. And I know moms. So here’s what I suggest right at the list of resources and information about public transit in that city, where it’s going to be practiced. Maybe it’s a website with a route planner, maybe it’s about an info about which app on their phone would give them a route, I really suggest that you let them know that it’s crucial that they know the last destination of the train or bus that they want to get on so that they know they’re going the right way. Then, when you get to whatever city it is, tell them where they need to get you. Now, in an ideal world, you’d be able to just go to that destination and wait for them to get there. But I know that a lot of you wouldn’t be comfortable doing that. The main suggestion I make here is that you don’t correct any mistakes they make or give them any help. Let them figure it out. Even if it means getting on the wrong train the first time, if you help, it’s not going to provide the confidence that they need. If they ask for help, you can remind them that there are probably other people in the station, they could ask if you have the opportunity to do this in a foreign country, all the better. When Sam and I recently were in The Hague, to tell him the place and time he needed to meet me. And he’d figured out how to get there and what time he needed to leave. So navigating air travels another thing you can do, if your teenager doesn’t have the opportunity to fly alone, put them in charge of getting you to the correct gate at a layover using the same rules you did for public trans. If they do have the opportunity to fly by themselves, all the better see him recently had to navigate his first solo international layover, it was a tight connection. And I was more nervous than he was and went fine.

And I had to keep telling myself that even if he missed his flight, we could have figured it out. So most of these are activities that are still guided by us as parents, what’s even more powerful are those that don’t involve us. Sometimes it’s a simple trip to stay with family or friends who live elsewhere, with our team going without us. Sometimes it’s a sleepover camp experience. But what I think is really incredible, are the opportunities that also incorporate some sort of international exposure. As a matter of fact, I’ve met a lot of American students in Europe, both beyond the state’s members and those through my school visits. And I’m having trouble thinking of any of them who haven’t had an international experience through something like this. There are a ton of options that range and cost from free and affordable to very expensive, and also vary from programs that are just a couple of weeks long to a summer to it at full academic year. But I do want to go through a few of these options with you because they’re really exciting. So the first one that comes to mind is a Rotary Youth Exchange. This is a really low cost option. It’s usually just travel costs and spending money, and they send kids for a homestay in over 100 countries and this range. They have programs that range from short term to a full academic year. Another option is something called the NSL AI program. It’s run by the State Department and they have summer and academic year programs to encourage critical languages. They have programs for Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Persian, Turkish, Arabic and Korean. And kids stay in a homestay situation and they have intensive language training, full scholarship. So it’s a free program, but it’s really really competitive and hard to get into. Often their trip to schools as well. If your teenager has taken a language in school, sometimes a French club will will take a group of students somewhere or if they’re in an AP class, sometimes they have opportunities to do that as well. And these are often affordable options with ways to fundraise for them. It’s generally through just the language you’re studying at school. So it’s somewhat limited, but still a great opportunity. So there’s also this great program I recently heard about from one of our members called projects abroad, and they have programs that are two or four weeks long, where teenagers go and do volunteer programs in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, Mexico, Mongolia, don’t where I’m at. And so I’m halfway through Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Peru, the Philippines, Romania, Samoa, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, and Vietnam, man. Okay, so they have programs in all of those countries. And the options include working with kids, teaching English conservation work, sports coaching, archaeology, work, building farming and work with the arts.

So not only does this provide a really incredible international experience and international exposure, but many high schools do have a volunteer requirement for graduating and this also can meet that So there’s also a program called sea ice, a company called Sea IE. And they have options for programs that focus on language and culture on service and leadership and on Global Discovery. Sam is actually doing one this summer and Rabat looking at Arabic language and culture, but they also have opportunities for Spanish in Spain, Chile and the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Peru, Italy, you can study Italian, Germany, they also have options for Japanese and Mandarin language learning as well. So they have also in addition to the language and culture programs, they have these really cool options like Botswanan, or Australia and wildlife conservation. Or there’s a program on promoting children’s rights and education in Ghana or the Dominican Republic. They have a world government program in Belgium and an environmental awareness program in Thailand. That’s just a few of them. I mean, there there are a number of other options too, but just to give you a little taste of their options. Another option I’d like to tell you about. Also one of our members told me about, it’s called off where they be dragons. And it sounds really incredible. I wish they had adult programs. They have programs in Bolivia, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Laos, Madagascar, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru, Senegal, and Thailand. So when the the member that I work with who was talking about it, he talked about how great it is because they really emphasize getting to know the people and the cultures and appreciating these these huge differences. So here’s an example they have a program called the Silk Road, and in it, the way they describe it is that you will explore the diversity of China’s people and cultural transition. Live with yak hurting families on the Tibetan Plateau, trek through a word I can’t pronounce. Here’s Z village, high in the Pamir Mountains, learn about the agar culture and history of Islam in China. And I know I butchered some of those words that I apologize for it.

How cool is that, that you can live with a yak herding family and Tibet. I mean, that’s just incredible to me. They also have language intensives. They have peacebuilding and conservation in Cambodia. Here’s a really cool one called community and conservation in Indonesia, where you live with sea nomads, harvest coffee, and learn about efforts to protect the world’s most extraordinary coral reefs. So do you see why, as I was reading through this, I wish they had adult options. I’ll tell you this, every student I’ve talked to who’s done these high school international experience programs, whether it’s Rotary, or a trip through school, or you know, living with sea nomads, they’ve come back completely changed, not just in terms of independence and confidence, but with a thirst for more international experiences, as they’ve really had this incredible experience of life as a global citizen. So back to the original question from our listener about gap years. One benefit of doing a gap year is it it opens up Sweden as an option. In Sweden, you can apply during your senior year of high school. Most universities don’t allow you to defer admissions in Europe, but you can still apply during the gap year. So there’s nothing that would prevent you from going to school in Europe if you do a gap year. But one reason students have done gap years in the past is that it does provide this opportunity to travel and experience a world. As a student in Europe though, it’s easy to hop on a train and be in another country in just a few hours. Your classmates are from all around the world, so visiting their hometowns with them is an easy possibility. Further, doing a semester abroad is common and sometimes required, like studying abroad while you study abroad. The possibilities here include schools throughout Europe with the Erasmus program, and even different continents through bilateral agreements with no additional tuition costs. So even if our kids aren’t at the optimal level of independence, when they leave, they’re going to gain it quickly. They’re going to have to cook their own meals. cafeterias aren’t open every meal of the day and week, they’re going to have to deal with getting their residence permit dealing with language barriers and seeking out resources is there’s not as much spoon feeding as there is here. These are the opportunities that will really allow them to grow and and to develop the skills that they need to be successful in life. I’m really excited by the opportunities for my own children for years in this. Thanks for joining me.