Beyond The States
Beyond The States
The Parent's Guide to College in Europe

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

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

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 so much for joining me today. As many of you know, I’m really passionate about letting students and parents know all about the college options in Europe. The problems with the US system and the benefits of college in Europe are so clear to me that I don’t understand why everybody isn’t considering it. I don’t know how many of you listen to Malcolm Gladwell, his podcast Revisionist History, but I highly recommend it. The first season in particular had a number of episodes that really resonated with me around the mindset that’s needed when you’re thinking outside of the box. There was one episode that talked about how some people have a harder time making decisions that are outside of group norms and others, even when the benefits of these decisions are really clear. The term around this is threshold. If you have a high threshold, you’re not likely to make a decision that’s outside of group norms. No matter what the benefits may be. If you have a low threshold, you’re comfortable making decisions based on reasoning or instinct as opposed to what the crowd is doing. And if you have a threshold somewhere in the middle, you may not need group approval. But you do want to explore more data before making decisions based on unconventional ideas. We know that students who want to study in Europe likely have a middle to low threshold. These kids are comfortable making decisions that are unconventional, they want to experience new and different things and different ways of life. But as a parent of a student considering college in Europe, it’s equally if not more important to have a threshold of middle to low people are going to be asking you about this decision you’re making. So today we’re going to talk to a parent who actively helped her daughter pursue the less conventional option of college in Europe. Laura has raised her family in Deep River, Connecticut, to small town about 45 minutes from New Haven. Her daughter Liza is currently in the middle of her first year at Anglo American University in Prague. Before we get started talking with Laura, I do want to tell you a little bit more about the school. Private schools only started in the Czech Republic after the end of the Cold War. So the school was founded in 1990, which seems like fairly recently, but it’s actually the oldest private higher education institute in the Czech Republic. When I visit schools in Europe, I tend to avoid those that have American in their name. What I found is that many of these schools use whatever Association they have with the US be at an accreditation or a partner school to charge American size tuitions. Anglo American university does have an American accreditation, it’s the W ASC accreditation, which also accredit schools like Stanford. But it also has a really great educational philosophy and affordable tuition at right around $7,000 per year. Keep in mind that since it only takes three years to get a bachelor’s, that’s the equivalent of a four year tuition of right around $5,200, which is fairly unheard of. I visited AAU last winter and I thought really highly of it. All of their bachelor’s degree programs are conducted in English, which leads to a really diverse student body made up of students from all around the world. Class sizes maxed out at 25 students, most of them are around 18 students, and they stress interactive group work and class discussions. There was a small school, they offer over 200 courses each semester. And the facilities are absolutely incredible. It’s housed in a renovated historic building near the Prague Castle. I mean, I can’t even describe how beautiful it is. So we will make sure to put the link to the pictures in our show notes. In addition, Prague is one of the most beautiful and livable cities I’ve visited in Europe. And it’s actually the sixth safest country in the world, while the US is at 103 out of 162 countries. Now that you know a little bit about realizes studying, let’s talk to Laura to learn more about the journey that led them to AAU and how the experience has been thus far. Laura, thanks so much for joining us. So can you tell us a little bit about what led you to seek colleges outside of the US for Liza?

Laura: Well, we had started off looking at colleges that change lives to a book that was put out.

Jenn Viemont: Excellent book. 

Laura: Yeah, very good. We loved it. Liza was seeking a smaller college atmosphere. So we looked at a few colleges through there and things were some are good, some are not so good. She wasn’t wowed by any of them. And I had heard a story on NPR about colleges in Germany that offer free tuition, all of Germany’s free tuition. So we started looking at that since she had some international experience. You And we couldn’t quite come up with the college in Germany either. And then somehow I stumbled on your website. And it was like hitting the mother lode. We saw all these opportunities, all these different universities offering English programs that weren’t necessarily free, but were extremely affordable. So we started looking into that and realized she had way more choices than what we thought she had

Jenn Viemont: Interesting. Because so many people have come to us thinking that they’re dead set on Germany, because they have heard about the free tuition. And they do have some really amazing options, but also some pretty rigid entrance requirements, including I think the AC T minimum is 29 and SATs 1360s. And there’s no wiggle room on that. Also, it’s only the public universities that are free, and at least one region, which is where I think she was looking at Freiburg, right University of Freiburg and cleave wall and Freiburg is in the region that now has tuition fees seven, the reasonable. But what I often tell people is, Germany is not the only place to look, if you want a very, very reasonable option that there are hundreds of options under $5,000 a year, which is unheard of here. Exactly. So I was recently at a social event. And I met a woman who was telling me about her daughter, and how her daughter really wants to get a master’s degree and can’t afford it. So Salman didn’t know what I did for a living. But you know, the cost of education in the US is such an issue that it comes up in casual conversation. So I mentioned to her that there are some great universities in Europe that are affordable and sometimes even free. And her response was, Oh, I couldn’t let her go that far. And this is about her daughter who’s in her mid 20s. I’m guessing that you get similar questions, people ask you How could you possibly let her live so far away? How do you respond to that?

Laura: Well, you know, my first instinct was you’re letting your child go anywhere out of the home, they’re gone. They’re they’re breaking the strings or moving on. And with technology today, I mean, she’s texting me two or three times a week. It’s as if she’s down the road, or the next state over or, you know, she seems very close. The distance is much smaller these days with technology. Reality is yeah, she’s still, you know, a continent away, eight hour plane ride away. But it doesn’t seem the distance doesn’t seem as far when I can just jump on my phone and text her and say, What are you up to now? How are you? How’s your day going? And she responds to me right away?

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. And, you know, eight hours to Prague? What is it to and you guys are in the New York area, the greater New York area? What is it you it’s like six hours to San Diego? I mean, it’s California, it’d be almost equal distance. Absolutely. And people wouldn’t bad night if you said you were sending your your kid to California, but the different continent sort of gets in the way.

Laura: And I think what gets people is that she’s in a different culture. She’s in a different language. Just the other day someone said to me, Oh, is she studying to be a translator? No, no, she’s she’s taken a journalism major and everything slightly English. And then once they hear that they’re like, oh, oh, well, that’s difference. Right? So it seems a little more, you know, accessible to them? Absolutely.

Jenn Viemont: It is so interesting to me. How this idea how many people don’t know about these options and how it’s been kind of kept from us. For a long time, these aren’t new, and people all around the world have been going to these schools and going to these programs. 

Laura: And now we’re just catching on now, to not many schools, the guidance counselor’s don’t even know I know, Liza, when she went through her guidance counselor had no idea that you know, he was like, Oh, well, I’ll have to look into that. And you know, so we realized we were further ahead than they were and they could not offer much. 

Jenn Viemont: Oh, absolutely. As I mentioned, I’m in the process of writing a book guidebook and AAU is one of the schools that I’m going to be writing about. And I was on the website today looking at the social life opportunities, and there was definitely no lack of parties for quite a number of parties. And one thing they had that I thought was really cool. Is a monthly pub night with the professor’s. Has Liza gone to those?

Laura: I’m not sure if she has yet. But yeah, I’ve seen those as well. And it’s I mean, they, they’re very social. They’re not going on the students are getting together. There’s great opportunities for students from different universities to meet each other through it. She was telling me of a coffee shop that is open 24 hours and it’s geared towards students Nice. So she goes there she cracks open her laptop and next to her somebody from the universe did Charles universe City, there’s somebody else from another university. And so they’re they’re meeting students all over the city. It’s very student oriented type of city. And I would imagine it’s like that with many of those schools in Europe as well.

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. Some of the I think it’s Denmark, and they have students are whose it so it’s not, you know, so many cities have these informal coffee houses that are for students. And then there are some cities and countries that have these coffee houses, these bars or whatever that are specifically for students in a formal way. So it’s, it’s a different student life, it’s a different social life, but it can be more kind of what you want to make it, no, it will be a sorority, but you know, there are clubs or social clubs. Um, one thing that I think is is really important that people know, is how the qualities that are needed to be successful. And actually, our next episode is going to be about independence. And, and I know from our discussions, and from what I know about Liza, she definitely has that trait. What is it you’ve done in your household when she was growing up to cultivate that,

Laura: They were given like, both my kids were given a lot of freedom to explore, whether it be out their back door, or free time to play the way they wanted to play. They definitely had structured time as well. And then as we were growing up, it was important for me to have them travel, and we started locally, and then within the states. And then when they were both what I thought was old enough to appreciate the travel, we went to Puerto Rico. And then from there, we went to Greece. And we went to, you know, Germany to check out the schools for Liza, and Liza on her own, as well as my son have both done trips with their church every year. And I think it was important for them to go and do their own thing, without the parents right away from home, whether it’s with summer camp, or these trips, to have that freedom of not having mom and dad over their shoulder all the time. So we cultivated that kind of thinking growing up and Liza took to it. You know, she came to me after her sophomore year and said, I want to do a study abroad program this summer. And I researched all these and these are the ones I want and helped me decide which one I want to do. I will raise money for it. And she did that. So she was very driven to try new opportunities.

Jenn Viemont: Where did she study abroad?

Laura: She was on a two month program with projects abroad, she went to Tanzania. Wow, we’re helping the Norfolk orphanage. And that’s when she met students, a lot of students from England and Scandinavia and a couple other countries I can’t remember now. So that’s, you know, she started stayed in touch with those kids and have visited them. And so it kind of started and snowballed from there that, yes, she wants to be part of that global community.

Jenn Viemont: You know, and it’s interesting, you and I are similar in that we don’t live in urban, our kids aren’t being raised in an urban area, I was raised in an urban area. And my upbringing is very different than my kids. And my opportunities for independence are a lot different than my kids. So I love that when you guys went to Freiburg, you let her you know, walk around and explore and explore the coffee shops on her own. And just some of our listeners who are in urban areas, they might think that’s no big deal. But when your kids haven’t had that experience, sort of on a day to day life, gaining that experience, I love Sam to do that as well. When we visited College, we went when we visited Leiden, he would meet me after meetings and just walk through on his own. And so he gained independence, not only just doing it himself, but you know, using the Mapquest or map app to get there and getting around.

Laura: And then realizing it’s not so difficult move around the city, and it’s not so foreign are scary. And almost everywhere you go in Europe, somebody knows English, right? But you start to develop an ear for the language where you are, and you might try a couple of words in that language. And as you as you do more and more you gain that confidence. Say she would come back and just be like, Oh, I love it here. I can do this. I can live here, right?

Jenn Viemont: And you really hit the nail on the head with confidence. I think one reason we want our kids to gain this independence is so that they have the confidence that they need to succeed in anything that they do, be it you know, walking into a coffee shop or getting a job later in life. Yeah, it’s really cool. So, um, what opportunities do you see, either presently or in the future for Liza that she wouldn’t have otherwise had?

Laura: I think the big one is just having a global awareness. Being part of a global community. In Europe, you’re, you know, you’re thrown up against so many different cultures and languages, wherever you know you’re to ours from another country, great language and other culture. So having that and realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around America, and what America does kind of broadens your mind a little bit and makes you more flexible. Also having those connections with students who are all over the world, she’s going to school with students from, you know, dozen different countries who she’s developing friendships and relationships with that will last for a lifetime, not to mention the investors who are from all over the world. And she’s comfortable wherever she is. So I think the opportunities just expand by going to school in Europe.

Jenn Viemont: So many times I hear people say, but what about getting a job? How will they get a job after college? And not only do I cite the research that states that this actual experience makes them more employable? You know, even here in the States? I mean, there, there are studies done about that. But also, this is introducing them to international recruiting and international companies that may have jobs around the world that they can apply for.

Laura: Exactly. And that because they just been over there, she’s picking up check. I mean, there’s not a huge market for check speakers. But there’s a huge market for people who pick up languages quickly. We’re comfortable around different languages, and absolutely, you know, using her French, a lot more than she would be if she was going to school in the States. So I think languages is key. And having that exposure to the different languages in Europe is it’s very profitable for her. 

Jenn Viemont: And not only the languages, but the cultures, what are the soft skills that employers are saying that US graduates are missing is that ability to work in groups with people with different perspectives. And a you in particular, you may have very, this, I know, you know, this, but we’re listeners, they have very small class sizes. It’s very discussion based and project based and group based. So you are developing that skill. If you’re in a group with students from all around the world, there are certainly some different perspectives coming to that table that you’re working with. Yes, employers want that. 

Laura: So it’s very good about providing information on different perspectives, you know, that I see from their Facebook pages, they’re always exploring, you know, the perspective of the European thought process or the Asian thought process or whatever. So that’s, that’s top on on their list of providing their students is the global perspective. Absolutely.

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. So I mean, there’s so many great things about this, is there anything you would have done differently through the process started earlier?

Laura: Why is this a huge procrastinator? So yes, we would have started as soon as application process opened up, we should have sent it in right then. Because afterwards, getting accepted is the easy part. Afterwards, it’s getting the visa and figuring out where you’re going to live and figuring out the exchange rate and how you’re going to have your bank system setup. 

Jenn Viemont: I mean, there’s just so many little details that you’re not thinking about when you’re applying to the school. So yeah, I definitely want to start as soon as possible. Yeah. And that’s a good point. You know, most of the schools in Europe have rolling admissions. And it’s a lot easier, you’re not going in terms of the application process, you’re not going to have to write an essay on my neighbor told me that her son had to write an essay on what his favorite word is, you’re not going to have to write an essay on what your favorite word is, you might have to write a motivation letter. But that whole process is so much easier that it is easy to think, oh, I’ll just wait. And I’ll get that done later.

Laura: Yes, it is rolling admission, there’s no deadline, right? So she pushed it to our deadline was, you need to get your paperwork in in time so that you can get a visa. So that was our deadline. And we were right up against it and scrambling for that. Right. So the sooner you can get all that out of the way, then you can focus on Okay, where am I going to live? And what do I need to bring with me? And what do I have to shop for when I get there and just getting into the city and the school life? Instead of worrying about your visas and passports and money?

Jenn Viemont: And not only that part of the process? I often have parents say, oh, that sounds like a great thing. But my son’s only a freshman or my you know, my, so we’ll think about it later. The great thing about knowing and exploring this early in the game is that you can plan accordingly. You know, if there needs to be four AP courses, like some of the Netherlands schools, you can stretch that over the high school career and not have any one year this that’s really crazy. Or if you know you don’t need SATs, don’t worry about them. Or if you know you need them take a prep course you can really plan by knowing the different the different requirements of each country.

Laura: Yeah, so we didn’t have that. That advantage because in effect, we started late by the time we got up to speed about the schools in Europe. But with my son Yes, we have that opportunity. He’s already gone through and decided what classes he needs that will help him Um, and yeah, and he’s a sophomore. So once you can look at more of the opportunities, and the different majors and, and get a good feel of where you want to go as if you were, you know, looking for schools in the States,

Jenn Viemont: It’s really fun too. I mean, it almost feels like watching, I don’t know, like House Hunters International, you know, looking through the different schools and kind of experiencing them through the websites, I often say, it’s never too early, and it’s never too late to start the process. Even if you’re starting, you know, the spring of your senior year, there’s still some options open. Even if you’re 25, and you dropped out of college, and now you’re wanting to go back, you’re fine, even if you are 45. And you know what to take the Italian cultures and wine program that I’m personally fascinated with, you know, they’re there. It’s never too late or early for anyone. So is there advice that you give parents who are on the fence about whether this is a good idea for their kids?

Laura: You know, I think you have to go or let your child lead you, you know, if this is something your child is set on, and if they’re 100% comfortable with it, and they’re presenting you with, I want to study in Europe, then say, okay, you know, maybe you’re a little nervous about it. Let’s look at schools in America. Let’s compare and contrast. And as you go through that process, we did that with Liza. As we went through the process, the more we looked at schools in the States, the more she leaned towards schools in Europe, and we were able to cross off all the things that just like, Well, I’m gonna miss the American experience of going to school, she realized that really wasn’t a big deal to her. It’s still through the process, do the research, talk to people and feel comfortable in your own skin, about sending your child there? If your child is 100%? Poor? It’s almost hard to say, no. I mean, it’s a huge opportunity. And it obviously depends on the child, I wouldn’t push a child who’s like, I want to stay in the States. I can’t do that. Like you said, it’s not for everybody. But if the child is for it, then yeah, go for it.

Jenn Viemont: And if you’re on the fence, look at the numbers, even the savings opportunities are huge.

Laura: With the savings, opportunities are huge. And that’s what drove us initially. But now that we’re there, that’s kind of that that main reason kind of fell to secondary, more important reasons above it.

Jenn Viemont: Right, right. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for being with us today, Laura, and telling us about this amazing opportunity you have given to Liza. 

Laura: Well, thank you for talking to me about it. 

Jenn Viemont: So let’s go back to this idea of threshold that we started with. Most of us do fall into the middle area, and want more information before making decisions. We often get our beliefs mixed up with facts, though. So I encourage you to question your own reservations around college in Europe and collect information to determine whether the facts backup your beliefs, look at a concern you might have around distance for instance, are you only comfortable with schools that are within driving distance? If so why? Is this about your need? Or is it about a need of your child’s? And what message might you be sending your kid even inadvertently, by stating that they need to stay that close to home? Maybe your concern is that they’ll miss out on the experience both social and educational that you had in college. The problem is though, even if they go to the same school you attended, they’re not likely to have a similar experience as you did. The social and educational life in college in the US has changed a whole lot over the past few decades. There are a lot of books noted on our website and our blog. With research around these changes I encourage you to look at maybe your concern is that this option is going to limit their employment opportunities. But guess what? The research indicates that the opposite is true and that studying in another country actually increases their job opportunities. Maybe the concern is that you don’t know anyone else who’s doing this. I continue to be amazed at how fast this concept is catching on in the US. There are pockets of area in the US that are showing a lot of interest, places like Denver, la DC, Chicago, Seattle, the greater New York area, these places all have many beyond the state’s members. Other members are spread out throughout the United States, and they’re only a handful of states without beyond the state’s members. I guess what I’m trying to say is that people are doing this, even if they’re not in your peer group, and I think it’s on the cusp of becoming a commonly considered alternative. That said, it’s not for everyone, certain personality traits and skills are needed for success. Our next episode we’ll explore the level of independence needed and how to develop this skill. I hope you’ll join me then.