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Why 'Best Colleges' Doesn't Mean Anything

Jennifer Viemont
Founder & Chief College Advisor
October 29, 2022

Listen to this podcast.

Why are certain places a perfect choice for some people but a mistake for others?

Generally speaking, something doesn't have to be “better than” or “worst than”, it can just be defined as different. Moreover, something is very rarely universally “better than” or “worse than”, rather, it is a matter of the specific person's preferences. Whether we are talking about food and fashion or homes and education. Hence, how to make choices that match your personality and expectations when it comes to living and studying abroad?

Jenn and her guest discuss this topic. She is joined with Tim Leffel, a writer, an editor, a publisher, and an author of numerous books about traveling. Stay tuned as Tim shares his rich experience of traveling to many countries and also suggests the importance of setting the right priorities when choosing a country to stay.

“You need to know what is crucial for you to have in your life ahead of a time and to be prepared for cultural differences.”, Tim Leffel

Full transcription of the podcast.

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: You guys, I am so super excited about our guest today. It's author Tim Leffel, and he has had such a direct impact on my family's life. So as I've mentioned before, we just got back after spending two years in Portugal. We had originally planned to move to Malaysia, but due to some constraints with Tom's job, we moved to Portugal instead. It was through Tim's book and his blogs that I really learned about living in both of these places. So when we were developing our plan about moving abroad, Ellie and I spent six weeks in Malaysia. We spent time in two different cities, Penang and KL, and we were looking at things like apartments to see what we could get with our budget, visiting international schools that Ellie could attend, and experiencing other aspects of day-to-day life. 

And this trip was so helpful. Of course, we visited a number of tourist sites when we were there. I mean, there's some incredible places to visit. But the majority of our time was spent living as we would if we were residents, not tourists. You know, Ellie did her online school during the day, I worked. We experienced grocery shopping, traffic, public transportation, all sorts of other things that relate to how life works when you live somewhere. 

So because of this, had we moved there, I feel like we wouldn't have been surprised or disappointed by certain things, you know, things like the excessive heat, the crazy traffic, or the haze during burning season that really just gets to your eyes and your throat. And we experienced all these things so we knew what we were walking into. We didn't really have this as much with Portugal. But my brother does live there and kind of gave us a lot of information. And we had been to Portugal a couple of times as well. So these things, along with the frequent trips I take to Europe for Beyond the States definitely gave us an idea of what we were getting into. 

So Tim's book is all about -- the title says it all -- "A Better Life for Half the Price." And Tim does a great job pointing out in his book, that this isn't just a cheaper version of your current life. And that you do need to know what's crucial for you to have in your life ahead of time, and to be prepared for cultural differences. 

And this is really what I want to parallel to college in Europe as well. While it's certainly more affordable than out-of-state and private higher education in the US, it's not just a cheaper version of these schools. You have to be aware of and interested in the differences, and also ready to deal with the downsides as well. So it would be a little bit like if I said I wanted to move to Eastern Europe say just because of the affordability. And I was looking for a house that costs less than my current one here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I want a fenced-in yard for my dogs. I want a store like Target that has, you know, everything you might need, easily accessible. Also, a large supermarket, an English-speaking high school for Ellie, and an English-speaking Pilates studio for myself. And oh yeah, I'd like central air and heat, as well as a clothes dryer. Not going to happen. 

It's the same when someone tells me that they want to study in a specific country in Europe, that they want to pay less than in-state tuition, attend a medium-sized university, have a centralized campus with a dorm. They want to major in Literature and minor in Political Science, and they want to play, I don't know, softball competitively for the school. Not gonna happen. 

 So it's important to know that there are a lot of differences between European universities and American universities. Certainly, the program structure is different than the majors and minors and Gen Ed requirements in the US. And except for Ireland, and a few exceptions, most campuses are decentralized. This means that the various departments of the university are all throughout the city. They're not in one central campus. Now, your classes are all going to be held in your academic department. They call it academic departments faculty. So you don't have to get from, you know, one part of town to another to get to your classes because you're not going to have those Gen Ed requirements that are held in different academic departments. 

Student Housing is not generally owned by universities. There are dorms, they're called student residences, but they generally house students from a variety of different schools in the city. So because of these two factors, your student life is often more tied to the city than the school. And now, that's not to say that there aren't opportunities for student life within the school, but it's not confined to that. 

Sports are different too, of course. We have a podcast episode done earlier this year about a student who actually plays baseball in the Netherlands. But this is done at the league level, not connected to the university. School size considerations are different as well. Small schools are worth considering since so much of your student life occurs outside of the school. And larger schools are worth considering too since your academic life is pretty confined to your smaller academic department. Getting lost in the shuffle is less likely, and you can usually find all of the student resources you need at this level; at the faculty level, the academic department level, as well. 

So these are just a few of the differences. One thing I'm working on with myself is not automatically seeing a difference about anything, not just countries or schools, and automatically defining something is better than or worse than. For one, something doesn't have to be better than or worse than, it can just be defined as different. Second, something is very rarely universally better than or worse than. It's really more a matter of the specific person's preferences, their goals, their interests, their tastes. Whether we're talking about food, or fashion, or homes, or education, or countries, I have to tell you, I'm a lot more likely to look at something with an open mind, if I'm thinking about it as different, as opposed to better or worse. Even going into thinking that the options in Europe are better can really shoot you in the foot, as you might not be prepared for some of the obstacles. When you look at the differences with an open mind, you can decide if there are differences that would fit you as a person as well as your personal situation. Having the mindset that you will, or even having the mindset that you should get the same experience outside of the US that you get in the US is really going to set you up for a lot of disappointment. 

We offer a number of master classes throughout the year in which students have group calls with each other, and also with myself. So we do spend time talking about concerns. It's really important, I think, not to gloss over them. So one student mentioned that he's really active in marching band in high school. And though there are a ton of differences in Europe that he's really excited about, he's concerned that he won't be able to continue with marching band. Now, I really have no idea how marching band works outside of the US, like whether there are, I don't know, marching bands that perform at parades or things like that. So his first step is to explore this through Google, which he – you’re so lucky. I would have had to like consult an encyclopedia or something if it were my day. 

But anyway, so he's going to research and see if there is something similar, or even the same, you know, some sort of marching band that would be interesting to him. There might not be. And if not, he's going to weigh whether that's a deal breaker or a preference, or whether there are ways for him to pursue that interest during summers, or other outside of the box solutions. It may be that he decides it's a deal breaker, and that's okay. The recognition that there are differences, neither good nor bad, but that simply have to be evaluated along with his own personal needs, that's going to help him make an informed decision. 

So we're going to take a quick break and talk to Tim who knows more about these differences and how to evaluate them than anyone I've ever encountered. We'll be right back.

Testimonial: Hey, guys. I'm Izzy from Wisconsin. I'm entering my third year of study at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. If you've been listening to the last few episodes of the podcast, you might think that Beyond the States is mostly for Dutch schools. There are a lot of members here particularly because other than Ireland, of course, the Netherlands has the greatest number of English-taught bachelor's degree programs. There are actually Beyond the States members in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Italy, and France, and Spain, and Belgium, and even Cyprus. Each country is different when it comes to their admission requirements, educational approaches, the types of universities and types of programs they offer and more. 

This is just one reason why Beyond the States is so helpful. They have information about all of these different countries and make it easy to understand and navigate them. I'm actually a dual citizen, and my parents grew up and started their higher education in Poland. They later moved to the US to finish their higher levels of education. Even though they have an understanding of these higher educations in the US, they didn't want me to be limited to just those options, especially since I'm eligible for EU tuition in all of Europe. Except for Ireland, of course. Our Beyond the States membership helped me learn about so many options all around Europe that would be a good fit for me. 

I would really encourage you to not limit your options to just one country. For example, when I was looking, I looked not only at the Netherlands but also Portugal, Spain, Germany and the Czech Republic. Beyond the States makes that easy to do, especially with their membership. Check the show notes or service page at beyondthestates.com for information on how to join. 

Jenn Viemont: So today I'm joined by Tim Leffel, who is the true original travel influencer. He's an award-winning travel writer and author, and an expert who's regularly quoted in major media. He's written and edited thousands of articles, online and in print, and authored five books: Travel Writing 2.0, The World’s Cheapest Destinations, Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, the Traveler’s Tool Kit, and my personal favorite, A Better Life for Half the Price. 

Tim, I can't even tell you how excited I am to have you here today. We just spent the last two years living abroad in Portugal, and our exploration of different places and how to approach the search and the considerations and all of that were a result of your incredible book, and I can't even tell you the impact it had on our life. And I'm so glad you're here to share your wisdom with our listeners.

Tim Leffel: Well, thank you, Jennifer. That means a lot. I love to hear when people read something that I wrote and acted on it because yeah, that's the purpose really, to help people do it with fewer headaches and less hassle, and hopefully, less money as well.

Jenn Viemont: Well, and it's really interesting, I was reviewing a lot of your work over the past week in preparation for this call. And particularly during these times when travel is limited, it's so exciting to read about the possibilities for when it's not. I was reading – I'm going to be honest – South America has been on my lower list of places to go, on my lower priority list, but I was reading about a place that you talked about in Argentina that's like Switzerland, and I can't get it off my mind. And it has moved up to, you know, the top five in my list of places I want to go.

Tim Leffel: Yeah, that would probably be Bariloche. It's kind of a weird place because there's lots of Germans and Swiss Germans there and chocolate shops and all. It feels kind of strange when you're in South America, but beautiful, beautiful scenery around there.

Jenn Viemont: Wow. So you're an expert both on moving abroad and traveling on the cheap. And our students who are studying in Europe – and actually, some of their parents are moving abroad the students for three to four years, sometimes more if they decide to go to grad school or pursue work there. And of course, students are interested in affordable places to go. So I'd like to talk about both, but I do have a question about something I just recently learned this week in my research, which was that you had your first international travel experience at the age of 30, after establishing a career and buying a house and all that. So I'm wondering if you can tell me a little bit about your journey from there to here?

Tim Leffel: Yeah, that was partly because I was following the path that we're all told to follow, which is, you know, get good grades and go to college and get a corporate job, and then move your way up the ladder. And I'd sort of done all that. Sort of following the script, I guess. And I had taken some vacations and been on business trips, like in Canada, and I'd been to Jamaica and whatever, but I hadn't gone anywhere for more than a week, I don't think. I traveled a lot in the US. But basically, my now wife, then girlfriend, said she wanted to go travelling around the world and, you know, go backpacking around the globe, and she would like me to go with her. But if I didn't, she was gonna go anyway. So that was kind of the impetus. And, you know, it kind of just – you know, they say that out of the box thinking, you know, it just totally put me out of my box, and I started thinking, “Well, why not? It's like I love this job I’m in.” I had this boss that I hated, and you know, it was a very stressful job. And so, it was a fun one, but very stressful. I worked in the music business, and so did my wife, and that's how we met. 

But anyway, so we started making plans, and I rented out my condo. I didn't sell my car. I think I parked it at my parents house and we just like sold a bunch of stuff, got rid of, you know, everything we could, and then took off. And we didn't really have enough money to last us an entire year, so we got certified to teach English. We took a month-long course in Bangkok, and we ended up teaching in Turkey for about five months on that trip. And then later, we taught English in Korea. So I would advise that for people who are looking to live somewhere. It's a good way to, you know, fund your living abroad experience because at the worst, you get paid enough to live on. But if you're in a country like Korea, you can actually save a lot of money. So we did, and then we went traveling some more. So in all, it was about three years abroad on that trip. And yeah, I started travel writing then, just doing some odd articles here and there, and realized I didn't really want to go back to an office job. I mean, I did for a while when we came back, because I had a kid and I had I guess a steady income. But I kept the travel writing going, and eventually, it became my full time job.

Jenn Viemont: Wow, that's awesome. And you live in Mexico now, correct? 

Tim Leffel: Yes, I do. I live in a city called Guanajuato, which is right smack in the middle, and it's in the center of the country, but it's 6,500 feet up in the mountains. And so, the weather's really nice, and it's sunny all the time.

Jenn Viemont: Nice. So you have personal experience around living abroad. And then of course, all your research around it. So I wanted to start there, with actually living abroad. And I think a lot of people think that the savings, when they think of savings, it's just like rent and food. Can you tell me about some of the other areas or the other sources of savings that people might not think about right off the top of their head?

Tim Leffel: Well, first of all, there's this underlying principle that people don't realize until they're out there for a while, which is the faster you move, the more you're gonna spend. So if you're trying to do like seven countries in two weeks, you know, you're gonna spend a fortune, no matter where you go, just because you're gonna spend so much on transportation. And also, when you're in a certain place for a while, you figure out where the cheap restaurants are, and where the best grocery store is, and what free events are going on, and all that kind of stuff. So it definitely pays to go deeper instead of wider. 

And the other thing is there's a massive difference in just the day-to-day costs in different countries, whether that's, you know, a hostel or a hotel or lodging, but also just a bus or taxi or, you know, basic food things, and to go out to see a museum or to go on some activity. I mean, it can literally quadruple when you cross the border. I mean, that happens when you go from Hungary to Austria, for instance, or the Czech Republic to Germany. I mean, their neighbors, you know, they're closer than US states, and smaller, but the economic differences can be huge. And so, there are some places like Bulgaria that are as cheap as Southeast Asia, for example, or Central America. But then, you know, if you go to Switzerland or Norway, you're going to spend way more than you would in the United States. And so, there's just a massive range there, even in Europe. And so, it pays to do some research. That's why I put out that book, The World's Cheapest Destinations. Because when I wrote it, there was nothing out there like that, and it was really hard to find, you know, apples to apples comparison. So I just kind of put out this guide and said, “I'll see if anybody buys it.”

Jenn Viemont: And they did.

Tim Leffel: And people did. And so, now it's in its fifth edition, so it's been a while.

Jenn Viemont: I also think for us when we lived abroad, a big part of the savings that really shook us every day was how much less healthcare was.

Tim Leffel: Oh yeah, that’s a big one.

Jenn Viemont: You know, than in the US. And also, I think there's this sort of false belief that the care you get in the US is the best, you know, it must be, you pay so much, and doctors pay so much to become doctors. And I was extremely impressed with the level of care we got for -- we chose to get private insurance, but we didn't have to after we had residency. So you know, it was under $200 for the three of us each month for insurance. We didn't have a deductible, I could talk to my doctor on the phone. I mean, it was just -- and then my son who is in the Netherlands broke his wrist, and he was just on student insurance, had to have surgery. And we kept calling the hospital to say, “Okay, you know, how much is out of pocket?” and calling the insurance, you know, trying to think like he just had surgery, we must -- you know, we're gonna pay an arm and a leg. And they were very off put by all these calls -- you know, we’ll get to you when we get to you! It was zero, is what we had to pay out of pocket. It was crazy.

Tim Leffel: Yeah, I hear stories like that all the time. And it just is so foreign to us, coming from the US system that’s so ridiculously expensive. And we have catastrophe insurance, but it's mostly because we need it when we go back to the US. But when we're here, we pay out of pocket in Mexico and it's $40 to $60, depending on the doctor, and they give you their cell phone number. That's private doctors, of course, you know. And if we went to the public system, it would be maybe nothing. And my dentist trained in Texas, my dermatologist speaks fluent English, you know. And so, she's at the high end, that's the $60 one, you know, but it's like, still, it's nothing, you know? It’s like less than you spend on dinner at Applebee's or something. 

So you know, it's not something we ever worry about here. And like you said, a lot of European countries, and Argentina is like this too. They don't even know how to charge you. It's basically, you know, they give the care and send you on your way [laughs].

Jenn Viemont: Yeah, yeah. It's really incredible. I mean, being back in the US now and seeing how much my husband is now no longer self-employed, and he works for a company and seeing how much of his check is going towards health insurance, you know, you think like, oh, you work for a company, you're covered. No, it's just a lot of it's coming out of his paycheck. You know? 

Tim Leffel: Yeah, exactly. 

Jenn Viemont: It's really incredible, that difference.

Tim Leffel: And just back to your question again, lodging usually is your biggest expense, or one of the biggest expenses. So there are ways out there that you can cut that down by, you know, doing volunteer work, or couch surfing, or home exchange, or working in a hospital for two weeks or whatever. You know, you can get creative with those things. But you know, still, when you're planning a budget, it's better to just assume you're gonna have to pay for it, and then get a surprise to the upside if you work something else out.

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. So I was rereading a number of your blogs, like I said, and one thing I really liked that you said -- I can't remember if it was a blog or a book, but you said, “As a travel writer who visits 10 to 12 countries each year, I often asked myself when visiting a new place, could I live here? Usually the answer is no for some very specific, factual reason.” And you also talk about the reasons that you might not want to live someplace or a reason that somebody else might want to live someplace, you know, there's not just one right answer. So I want to talk about that more. But just out of curiosity, can you tell me another place, besides Mexico, where the answer is, yes, I could live here? And maybe a place that you love to visit, but you wouldn't want to live?

Tim Leffel: Yeah, I could live in Portugal, which you have lots of experience with. I probably wouldn't live in Lisbon. I’d live somewhere smaller, more manageable. But I do like that country a lot. And there's other places I've been in Europe where I could live. But I do have to say the language can be a problem like someplace like Hungary or Bulgaria or Czech Republic. I like those places, but I think I would find it difficult not, you know, having any mastery of the language. And I would live in Argentina, and we actually thought about it for pretty seriously for a while, but we decided it was just way too far. And you know, getting back and forth to see family was going to be too difficult. And also, they go out to eat at like 11 or 12 at night, which is if you got a kid, that's hard to deal with. 

So there were a few reasons there. But yeah, there's -- I mean, it's also a matter of how long are you going to live there. Like if you go live somewhere for three months, that's a whole different thing than if you're gonna go there for the rest of your life. And so, that's one of the great things about being a digital nomad, which a lot of people have, you know, sort of found their way into because they're working remote, or they own their own business, and they can go where they want. And so, three months is kind of like a visa limit in a lot of places. So you know, a lot of nomads will go somewhere for three months and then move on. Sometimes you can get six. And I think that's a really nice situation, because you don't really get sick of a place in that amount of time, you know? And all the things that are getting on your nerves haven't totally freaked your nerves yet. So yeah, it's kind of a different thing. I mean, there are a lot of places I could live for six months easily. But I don't know if I would want to live there for years on end. And I kind of feel that way with most of Southeast Asia too, just because that heat gets really stifling, that tropical heat. I was just in Belize for two weeks, and I loved it, but I got so tired of spraying bug spray on all the time, and I still got a load of bites, you know. And I don't miss that [laughs].

Jenn Viemont: Oh no. When we were in Malaysia, that was the only thing that got to me. Even though there's air conditioning everywhere, even like on the sidewalks.

Tim Leffel: Yeah.

Jenn Viemont: You know, that heat where you need to change clothes a few times during the day.

Tim Leffel: Yeah, I remember the first place we landed was Japan when we went traveling around the world, but then we landed in Bangkok, and it was the hottest time of the year. And we were sucking down bottles of water all day long and never going to the bathroom. And I realized, you know, there's something not quite right about this.

Jenn Viemont: But I like what you said about three to six months, I could live somewhere, like our students, I could live somewhere for three to four years, if there was sort of a reason. You know, if I were being compelled by great education at a great price. And knowing there's an end date. Then if you know there's an end date, you know, okay, I have to deal with this nonsense of whatever nonsense it is you find for three to four years. I can suck it up for that long. And I often do get students who come to me and they say, oh, I want to study in Paris or Barcelona, or Rome or a handful of other well known places, because, you know, they vacation there. And it's so different vacationing somewhere versus living somewhere.

Tim Leffel: Yeah.

Jenn Viemont: So if you were talking to a college student who would be living somewhere for three to four years, what would you suggest that they look at when it comes to -- you talked about deal breakers about location I talk about the same when it comes to school considerations. So what would you suggest they look at when they're thinking about their deal breakers around location or what they should or shouldn't include in those?

Tim Leffel: Well, I think for anyone moving abroad, you know, weather matters. You know, how much and how well are you able to put up with winter, or extreme heat and bugs, like we were talking about.

Jenn Viemont: Or darkness.

Tim Leffel: Yeah, darkness. I mean, if you go live in Norway, I mean, it's gonna be, you know, dark all day, sometimes, you know, in the middle of the winter. And it's great in the summer, because you know, you can be out at 3am. And everybody's still eating outside and cafes and it's light. But you know, you get the opposite in the wintertime. So that matters, the cost of living matters. If you're broke all the time, that's no fun. I mean, even if you've got the university support system there and a meal plan or whatever, you're still going to leave campus sometimes. Yeah, and so. And then just the culture. I mean, if I've heard people say that they studied in Russia, and they got really frustrated, because everybody was just kind of cranky and frowning all the time, and you know, just in a bad mood, and that can wear on you after a while, you know, and they're also sort of social norms around the world. I mean, it can be difficult to live in Japan or Korea, because there are very conformist social norms that, you know, if you step outside of the circle, you're really ostracized. And so if you're kind of a rebellious person with tattoos in those rings and purple hair, you're probably not going to do so well, there maybe in the middle of Tokyo, but not the rest of the places. So yeah, it's just kind of a self assessment more than anything, you know, what matters to you? What's important, what, what do you hate? You know, that's as important as what do you like and, and back to your point about the big cities, I do think it can be advantageous to go to a smaller place, I mean, a really university town instead of a big city. My wife studied in England, and she went to Norwich, University of East Anglia, Anglia. And one thing I think she got way more interaction with with British people that way. And also, you know, it was a lot cheaper, and she was able to do a lot more, rather than being right in the middle of London.

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. And there's, it's not like these are necessarily small towns. I mean, there's Toulouse in France, which is a great student city, there's Utrecht in in the Nether, Bruno and Czech Republic or Paich. In in Hungary, I mean, they're, they're not like tiny, little small towns, I think people also think of small towns outside of the US, like small towns are in the US. And it's so different, right? So what do you think the biggest obstacles people face? When they're moving outside of their home country? What are some of the hardest things you had to adjust to that people should anticipate?

Tim Leffel: Well, I think the people that adjust the easiest are the ones that are open minded, and appreciate other cultures and understand that, you know, the place you grew up, doesn't necessarily get it right all the time, either. Like, being willing to just kind of go with the flow and see what's expected of you in a place and, and how you fit in and how you get things done. I mean, this is kind of a blanket statement. But in most of Latin America, things move very slowly, and family comes first. And you know, nobody's a workaholic, and you've got to just kind of get used to those things. And because if you try to fight them, you know, you're going to be in a fight day after day. And, you know, if you expect your contractor to show up at 10 o'clock on the dot, every morning, to do work on your house, you're gonna go through many contractors, because we're gonna do that consistently. And it's just part of the culture, you know, and it's super noisy, where I live, there's like fireworks and mariachi bands and dogs on the roof and everything. And you know, if that kind of thing is going to drive you crazy, then this is not the place to live. And so I always tell people to do a trial run because you know, try to go live in a real neighborhood, don't stay in a high rise tourist hotel, you know, rent an apartment somewhere and where the locals live and kind of try it out. Because then you get a real sense of what it's like to live there. Instead of like you said, the tourist experience, which is very different.

Jenn Viemont: Totally, totally. For me, I think the biggest The hardest thing for me to adjust to that I had to do all sorts of self talk about was just dealing with the bureaucracy, you know, your residence permit your driver's license, all those things. And what I had to remind myself is, that sucks everywhere. Like even in the when you live somewhere, you so rare, you know, for like, what you get your driver's license renewed every 10 years here in the US passport renewed about that. So you're not dealing with it on a daily basis, like you are in your first year in another country. So it might seem like it's worse, but it's not. You're just dealing with it more.

Tim Leffel: I hear people complain about the process they have to go through to get residency in Mexico and like, maybe they had to go to the office a second time because they didn't you know, they were missing a document. It's like, Do you realize how much effort people have to go through to go the other direction? It takes us 10 years to get residency in the US. You know, it's not a big deal if you have to go back again.

Jenn Viemont: No, for sure. I hear a lot of people and I hate to use this word because it sounds judgy but I but I hear this more from Americans and Then students and families from other countries, it's almost like a sense of entitlement of like wanting to be in this new country. And wanting you know, the convenience, I had a hard time with the convenience as to and not having a whole display of hummus to choose from, or to, you know, 10 different stores to get 10 different items. But like, I'm not entitled to that living in a different country, you know, yeah,

Tim Leffel: You're a guest there is their country. Yep. And yeah, the US is the land of convenience and choice. And people need to understand, like no other place in the world lives up to that standard. And whether that's a good thing or not, you know, we can get anything we wanted anytime, almost. But that's not the case in most of the world.

Jenn Viemont: Right. And I think it really is, like you were just saying whether it's good or not, is not necessarily having to define everything as better or worse, just recognizing that there's this category called different, and it doesn't have to be better or worse and qualified in that way.

Tim Leffel: And there are plenty of areas where the US is way behind other parts of the world, you know, public transportation, healthcare, we already talked about. I mean, the US healthcare system is great if you have some rare disease, and you need like, the best surgeon in the world and things like that, you know, but for normal day to day health care, it's pretty lousy, and you know, our, our transportation system, the roads are great, but if you need to get from A to B, without a car, it's pretty tough. Whereas in most of the world, you can do that quite easily. And so, yeah, there's plenty of areas and you know, you can get, we can talk about our political system for days. And you know, there's our education system, there's plenty of flaws that we could point to where we grew up, no matter where we grew up.

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely, absolutely. And that ties to one of my other questions, which is, there was this one blog, I was reading of yours, that talks about the negativity people get from other people, you know, people who are moving outside of their home country, the negativity they might get from friends or families, or for you, we're talking about sort of internet trolls. And a lot of the families I work with deal with this as well, you know, you're gonna send your kid, you know, to another country, these are families who may live on the east coast, and wouldn't hesitate to send their children to California. But sitting there from the East Coast to, you know, some place in Western Europe, they're baffled. And I see it also on our Facebook ad posts, you know, people will comment on the ad with a statement as if it's a fax, but as either something that is no longer true, or has never been true. You say I'll quote, I'm not sure whether these attackers feel threatened or patriotic to the extreme, or just grumpy that they're stuck where they are. But it's a common tendency I deal with every month. So I'm wondering if you could tell us when it deal when it comes to dealing with these objections, not from the internet trolls, but from, you know, well, meaning people, family, friends, school counselors, whatever. Do you have advice on what to say to them?

Tim Leffel: Yeah, it depends on who I'm talking to, you know, some people are just hopeless, I think you're, you're never gonna change their mind, you just say, we, we have a really good life there, when we enjoy where we are. And we're able to, you know, have a lot money, a lot more money leftover at the end of the month that we can spend on other things, or save or whatever. But, you know, sometimes I'll just get into the specifics and say, Okay, we have a housekeeper, we have a four bedroom house that's paid for, you know, we don't have a mortgage, we take a taxi across town for $3, we can go buy more groceries that we can carry for $40. You know, so why wouldn't I live there, I have sunshine all year, you know, it's 70 some degrees every day is beautiful. So, you know, understand if you don't want to move, but we had a lot of good reasons to move and, and besides, I can speak Spanish now too, which I never managed to do when I was just studying from a textbook. But once people step outside and travel a lot, they understand it, but the people who have not traveled at all outside their own country. I think it's a lost cause, you know, to try to talk about anything besides maybe the economics in the weather, like I mentioned.

Jenn Viemont: You know, this is really true. I mentioned to you that for a while we were on route to move to Malaysia, and my 17 year old daughter, she was 15 at the time, and she was so excited about this. We did a trip to Malaysia scouting, you know, it was playing, we were moving to Malaysia. And people would ask her, why Malaysia? Now, I want to just tell you that we watched the episode of House Hunters International Well, after this plan was put into place, but it was like, Oh, we're gonna go visit their list. Watch this episode in House Hunters International. And she was telling people Oh, because we saw it on House Hunters International. I'm like, Please don't tell people that she's not they don't care that they don't tax on on global income. Don't care about those things. It's just easy to say.

Tim Leffel: Yeah, that's funny. I do want to put a caveat out there because people bring up that show a lot. It's not completely true. You have to understand but the prices are accurate. So watch out for that.

Jenn Viemont: It's nice to kind of get a look at like, you know what housing looks like they're putting bass where we're telling that so I knew who I need to do damage control with.

Tim Leffel: Yeah, it's funny.

Jenn Viemont: So D, so our students are in Europe, you know, in EU and EEA countries is where the students we work with are. So, you know, that doesn't have to be Europe, it can be you know, it's my son went to Morocco, from from Amsterdam very easily. But what would you say are hotspots for affordable travel for students who are living in UAE countries?

Tim Leffel: Well, there's two basic clusters. So that makes it easy to remember what we used to call Eastern Europe, the Iron Curtain countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union. Those are pretty universally still a bargain. So I'm just gonna run down I'm real quick Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania. Yeah, there's one or two missing there. But I guess Moldova, maybe but, and then there's Georgia, which is way over on the other side of the, the, the red, the Black Sea. But anyway, you know, those are all good deal. Bulgaria is sort of the Balkans, sort of Eastern Europe, depending on who you ask, but the Balkans is the other cluster. So that would be you know, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, those are all a really good deal. And in all those cases, it's just because the amount that the local people make is just not what it is in France or Italy. And that trickles down to everything, you know, real estate, transportation, or your rent, or hotels or whatever. So those places are just drastically cheaper than going to, you know, the greatest hits of Europe. And, and I would say, you're not really taking a step down in quality either in some of those, I mean, the Czech Republic is just a fantastic place to visit. And Slovakia is very similar, because they used to be one country. You know, but I mean, just fairy tale castles and historic cities. And I mean, Prague might just be the, you know, the most historic city in Europe, because it didn't really get destroyed during World War Two, like a lot of them. So a lot of people have discovered Hungary because of the river trip, river cruise tours and things like that, and just, you know, walked away raving about it, because it's a beautiful place, and, you know, good food and, and you can just do pretty much everything you want to do in those countries for a fraction of what you would spend in, you know, England, or Holland or France or wherever. And so I just feel like you have a lot better time when you're there because you don't have to be watching every dollar and be concerned about, you know, breaking the budget every day.

Jenn Viemont: Right? Right. My son is changing to a school, from the Netherlands to Prague, and great, and he did a trip to Prague and was blown away by like the beer cost compared to

Tim Leffel: Yeah, the best beer in the world and the best price. Right?

Jenn Viemont: Right. Right. Yeah, it's those countries are, I'm dying to go to Montenegro to I met with some students in Budapest one year and the international student group or whatever, they were planning a weekend trip for students who wanted to go to Montenegro. And for the entire trip, it was something like 200 euros, you know, for food for lodging, everything to probably stayed different accommodations in these students. But, but it looks beautiful. Yeah,

Tim Leffel: That's a great deal. Yeah, it's beautiful there and but you know, just to say if somebody is hell bent on going to Western Europe than where you were in Portugal is probably the best value and Spain's not so bad either. And you can drink good wine for cheap in both of these places, which is good for students, I guess. So, you know, if you are going to go to Western Europe, head south, and then also you can take a quick trip from Spain over to Morocco, which is again, a quite reasonable place. It's a different continent, but not by much.

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely, absolutely. I was actually looking at just flight times, and was impressive. My son and I went to Jordan one year many years ago and and just mind blowing experiences, things that like I didn't think would have an effect on me. I didn't think that Wadi Rum, you know, being in a desert like fine. Oh, good, right. No, but like, I mean, just mind blowing in ways I could never explain. So it's probably good. I'm not a travel writer. And that's actually not too far from Europe either. Getting to that world.

Tim Leffel: Yes, all those Mediterranean countries that are pretty short hop by plane and then Morocco, you can actually get to on a ferry, which makes it really easy. But yeah, so if anybody's wondering what Wadi Rum is like, you've probably seen it in many a movie including the new dune one.

Jenn Viemont: Watch the new Doom one.

Tim Leffel: It's quite good. It's great. I can't see it in the theater.

Jenn Viemont: Well, I'll talk I have my new I'm trying to up my cardio. I hate cardio and the new thing I'm doing though I hate cardio. And I'm not a video game person is I'm doing that virtual reality Oculus thing. Oh, wow. And it has these workouts called supernatural. And they're like a 3d virtual reality of these places around the world, like Petra like Wadi wrote, where I'm like, Oh, I've been there. But it also shows me other places. And I'm like, Oh, that's beautiful. I'd love to go there some time, is kind of satisfying my travel itch right now, not long term, but for now, it'll satisfy it. So tell me this. Are there places around the world for travel or for moving that you haven't been yet but that are on your radar that, you know, with COVID travel stuff not happening as much or whatever they that you're hoping to check out pretty soon?

Tim Leffel: Yeah, I have not been to Georgia, which I mentioned earlier, the country? Of course, not the state, right. Yeah, that's become a real digital nomad hotspot, because basically, you can go there for a year on a tourist visa. And on top of that, they have a digital nomad visa that you can get. So it's not the greatest in terms of weather, I mean, they have, they have a real winter there, but it's not too bad, it's kind of mild. And then you can go skiing, which is, you know, always nice if you have to put up with winter. So it's a big wine, it's like the oldest wine region in the world. And so there's lots and lots of wineries there. And, you know, mountains, and there is a bit of a beach area. And so, and it's very cheap, I mean, you can rent a two bedroom apartment there for 600 bucks in the capital city. And it'll be pretty nice. And so a lot of people who had to leave Bali, or Chiang Mai or wherever ended up there. So I feel like I've kind of missed out, I was gonna go there and 2020. And then we all know what happened then. And so hopefully, I'll get there in the next year or two. Otherwise, I mean, I think I've been to most of the places where where people end up moving, I haven't spent much time in Spain. And you know, Barcelona has been kind of a hotspot for a long time. But, you know, I don't know if I would live in a city like that. Anyway, I don't really like living in a big huge city as much. Like I love to go to Bangkok for a week, but I wouldn't want to live there all the time. And I want to spend some more time in Argentina. And I was telling you before we started that I've got a trip planned down there in March to Patagonia. And hopefully that all works out. And I'm going to scope it out a little bit. I've got a few expat friends that live there that I'm going to hopefully connect with. And there's some other spots that, you know, this happens a lot where the political winds kind of change and they it becomes not as good as pot as it used to be. And I kind of feel that way about a few spots right now when I'm one of those Nicaragua, one of them's Turkey. And both for similar reasons. They've got a kind of a dictator for life in place, and that nobody can seem to get rid of, you know, a lot of personal freedoms have been eroded. So I would be scared to death to buy in either those places, but again, for three months, you know, what could happen? It's maybe not so bad. But I have not been back to Turkey for about 10 years. And I do love the place, but I'm not real thrilled about the environment right now.

Jenn Viemont: It's interesting. You talk about the three months I had a parent asked me recently, I am a total fan of Estonia. I'm such a fan of Estonia.

Tim Leffel: I haven't been there. I should mention, I haven't been to that one. And they have that EV subprogram which is nice. Yeah,

Jenn Viemont: It's cool. And Latvia, I also love they're not as digital nomad friendly, but, but um, Estonia is fantastic. And they have some great schools, very internationalized. And one mother asked me, you know, do I think that's a good idea, given the issues with Russia and Ukraine and all that right now? And that's basically what I said to her. I said, you know, as a, as an American citizen, I would absolutely send my American citizen kids there for a degree program, because if things got dicey, they can leave. Would I buy property there? Maybe not right now. But certainly for three years when you can leave? I absolutely would. And I feel most places. I mean, Poland doesn't have the best political situation right now. Hungary doesn't have the best political situation right now. But right, let's get dicey. You can leave.

Tim Leffel: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And that brings up a larger point. I think for most people, it doesn't make sense to buy in a country unless you know, you're going to be there for the long term. Or unless you're just buying like a cheap vacation beach house or something which I did that once in Mexico, where it's such a low price that like what the downside was, you know, so miniscule that I didn't really worry about like, if I lost all that money wouldn't be the end of the world. But you know, some people put their whole life savings into a house and like they sell something in the US for 600,000 They put it all into a mansion somewhere and that to me seems incredibly risky, especially if you haven't lived there already. Some people do that house owners international style back to that, you know, without even like spending any time in the place and so then you don't know the real values. You don't know what people are at See pain, you don't know what the best neighborhoods are, you don't know how well that town is going to hold its value what's on the way. And so yeah, I would tell people to be cautious about that, unless they're just taking a flyer with you know, a minimal 10% of their net worth or whatever, then you, you don't have much to worry about, but just rent for a while you can rent a fabulous place for less than you would spend on, you know, a monthly mortgage in the US in a cheap place. So just enjoy it.

Jenn Viemont: And even in a not cheap place, we lived in cash cash, which is just outside of Lisbon. It's like an ocean town. And we paid much less than our mortgage for a place that was, you know, five minute walk from the ocean. So I could walk on the ocean every single day. We had a horrible, horrible landlord. That was you know, and it was a third floor walk up and third floor, European third floor. So really fourth floor. But you know what that counteracted the effects of some of the pest Delta nada and wine and cheese, we were having so much of definitely pay off a trade offs.

Tim Leffel: Yeah, and if anybody if you ever want to get an idea what the rent prices are, just pull up Airbnb and check the monthly rates, and that's gonna be the highest. I mean, that's, you know, the top end, you'll probably find something cheaper if you're there on the ground and looking around. But that'll give you an idea. And you can search in a place like Tirana Albania, for instance, to see, like penthouse apartments for 500 bucks a month on Airbnb, you know, really nice places. And so you know, if you go there, you're probably going to spend less than that. And sometimes that's utilities included. So that's your monthly nut, and you've got nothing else to worry about. So why would you buy a place? You know, like, it doesn't make sense. Unless you see the future, and you know, you're gonna take a great investment ride?

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. Man, my list is growing and growing through this conversation with you Georgia was already on my list. But now there are a few more on my list as well. And from reading your blogs, so So can you tell our listeners a little bit about the resources, the blogs of books, how you help people who are interested in cheap travel or cheap living abroad?

Tim Leffel: Yes, I have a book out called a better life for half the price. And it's in its second edition right now. That was my pandemic project. When travel shut down for a while I spent a few months interviewing people for the second edition, this book because it was really easy to get hold of people. And so, you know, got a lot of expats stories in their actual prices of what people are paying, and, you know, the kind of goods and Bad's I mean, one criticism of some of the expat publications and websites out there is they kind of, you know, make everything look rah, rah, wonderful all the time. And I'm trying not to do that, because there are downsides to every place. And you need to, you know, be aware of those and, and know before going in, so you don't get a nasty surprise. But, you know, most people who live abroad are willing to take that in stride, and they're happy, you know, they're there. And they usually say, I wish I'd done it earlier, you know, because they their expenses have gone down, they're living a happier life, they're not as stressed, they're eating better. So you know, all these things can really make your whole life feel better. I have a blog called The cheapest destinations blog that I've had since 2003. So I'm one of the pioneers, I guess. That's about cheap travel and living abroad, just you know how to travel well, for less or, and how to live abroad for less. And I have a few other publications where where I'm editor, I'll just shout out to one. It's called perceptive travel. And it's all narrative stories from book authors. So that's kind of a more literary side of travel, as opposed to the how to stuff which is most of what I end up working on. But sometimes it's good to tell a longer, more in depth story about a place or a story. So those are some of the things I work on. And yeah, if you're just a traveler, I have a book out called the world's cheapest destinations, and I updated every few years. And that'll give you some real prices in different locations. And I want to stress one thing real quick, that you should take advantage of if you're a student, you have access to a student visa, so that makes life so much easier. If you try to go somewhere as an adult to get a residency visa, it's a whole lot harder than getting a student visa. So take advantage of it while you can.

Jenn Viemont: For sure, for sure. And I just have to encourage all of our listeners to check out we're gonna have links to all these in the show notes. But really, I mean very few people who I don't know have inspired action in my life like like you and your resources have so I mean even still, we're not going to be living abroad now but reading your blogs and coming up with next places I want to go I sent my son your blog about the cheapest places for beer. I mean there is fantastic resources that continue to excite and expire so i i hope that not expire just as far Inspire. But I do hope that everybody will check it out and I really Really appreciate you being here today.

Tim Leffel: Well, thanks for having me on, Jennifer. It's good talking with you. And I might hit you up for what you paid in Portugal later.

Jenn Viemont: For sure. Thanks so much for listening today, before we end up like to tell you about a crunch time pack. So I only offered this twice a year. And it's for students who are going to be applying for the fall of 22 and are feeling behind on the research and it's a personalized and comprehensive package this really hands on with me to make sure that you know, all the ducks are in a row. So the first thing that comes with is a best fit list. This is a service we offer where I personally handpick three to five programs that fit the student's qualifications, budget, interests, preferences, all of that, that they provide to me through a form that's emailed to you after ordering. It also includes a line jumper pass, the turnaround time for best fit list is off in about three weeks or so because we get so many of them. And with the line jumper paths, you'll get your best fit list just 10 days after submitting. It also comes after you get your best fit list back we'll have a one hour consultation. And we do this to formulate your admissions plan. And also answer any questions you might have. After that, I create a custom admissions calendar for you with all the deadlines you know when you need to ask whichever teacher for a recommendation when you need to write your motivation letter by all of those are going to be on a calendar specifically for you based on the schools you're applying to. And then it comes with email check ins that I'll send you around those dates saying hey, you got that reference letter yet or you know, just to follow up. And for some accountability, which I know helps a lot of people including myself also comes with a motivation letter review, where I will go through the letter you write for admissions and give you suggestions about organization structure, content, etc. And it also comes with a Facebook group membership, which is only usually available to our month to month members, which of course if you're about to apply, you might not need a full membership, but you do get access to our incredible community of families. So a lot of the services you can't purchase separately, I don't offer the calendar. For instance, I don't offer email check ins, for instance without this package. But if you were to add up the cost of the other services that we do offer, the cost of this package is $525 less than if you paid for the available services separately. Because it's such a personalized service. I only accept five students at a time. So you're going to want to make sure to sign up really soon. If you're interested. You can find a link to this special and also more information about this episode in our show notes. And you'll find a ton of other information on our site, which is beyond the states.com you'll find blogs, some by me others are written by our student ambassadors, they have both written and video blogs. You'll find links to our old podcast episodes that we did back in 2017, which is a great starting point. And you'll also learn more about our various services and our incredible community. We'd love for you to follow us on Facebook and Instagram. If you have suggestions for future episodes, just shoot us a message there. And finally, if you enjoyed the podcast we'd really appreciate if you'd leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Thanks again for listening.

Jennifer Viemont
Founder & Chief College Advisor

5 Reasons Why You Should Study in Europe

If packing up your whole life and moving sounds more exciting than terrifying, then you'll love what colleges in Europe have to offer you. These are 5 reasons why going to college in Europe will be the best decision you'll ever make:

1. Tuition is much more affordable than the US.

In continental Europe, the average cost of all the English-taught bachelor’s programs is just $7,390 per year. Since 1985, US college costs have surged by about 1000 percent, and tuition and fees continue to rise. Even when you factor in the cost of travel, going to college in Europe if often cheaper than one year of tuition at a state college in the US.

2. There are thousands of English-taught degrees.

Choice is another key issue. When cost is a chief consideration, you may be limited to only in-state schools, where tuition is lower. What if your in-state schools aren’t a good option for your chosen field of study? In Europe there are thousands of programs to choose from across 212 areas of study, and they are all taught 100% in English, so there's no need to worry about learning a new language.

3. International exposure is essential and highly valued.

Students who studied abroad stand out from the crowd when seeking jobs after college. The very act of leaving their comfort zone to make a fresh start in a new place builds skills and confidence that will be carried throughout a student’s life. Silicon Valley billionaire investor, Chris Sacca, describes international study experience as a critical differentiating characteristic among candidates. According to former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, “The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of [General Electric] will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires.”

4. You'll avoid the US admissions rat race.

The college admissions process in the US has become a race to the bottom as students compete with their peers for a single spot in a liberal arts college, convinced by parents and guidance counselors that their survival rests on playing a musical instrument or varsity sport.Many smart kids don’t do well on standardized tests. This doesn’t limit them as much when looking outside of the US, as many colleges in Europe do not require standardized tests. Many countries see entry into universities as a right, rather than a privilege, so admission standards are not as stringent.

5. Spend your weekends & breaks exploring the world.

Travel opportunities abound when attending college in Europe. For example, Lille, a city in northern France with multiple universities, is close to major cities such as Brussels, London, and Paris via high-speed rail. Air travel, especially with the rise of affordable airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and Transavia, can be comparable in price to rail travel, so many more destinations open up for short-term travel.

How to Get Into the World's Top Universities

When you also factor in the many problems with US higher education, it is imprudent not to consider other possibilities. It is true there are many excellent schools in the United States—I don’t think anyone would argue that. There are some that have managed to look at applicants as people, and not just a checklist of achievements. Some even have reasonable tuition rates, and/or professors that actively teach and have highly engaged students. Despite this, I have yet to find a school in the United States that addresses all of these issues: allows students to opt out of the rat race the admissions process has become, have reasonable tuition, AND have positive results around the educational experience and post-graduation outcomes. Not every school in Europe provides all this either, but the schools listed in our database do.

How to Find Degrees in Europe That Are Taught in English

Finding these programs is burdensome, difficult, and confusing, especially with institutional websites in foreign languages... We know that making the decision to study abroad can be difficult, so we want to make it easy for you. We scoured the continent for vetted programs and made them available to thousands of families looking to leave the US and find a better life in Europe. We found over 11,200 degrees, 870 universities, 550 cities, and 32 European countries to choose from. Europe offers an impressive range of educational opportunities!

We have gathered all of the information you need to know about studying in Europe – from the different types of schools available to how to get housing and everything in between. Our database helps you find these programs quickly and easily, helping you contextualize the many benefits and options around higher education in Europe.

You will be able to find programs and courses that suit your interests and needs, taught in English by experienced professors in state-of-the-art facilities. Purchase a membership and search our database of English-taught European bachelor's and master's programs to get started on your journey to Europe today.

Get a Free Insider's Guide

We created free guides that give you the skinny on 5 bachelor’s or 10 master's degree programs in Europe that are taught in English, uber affordable, easy to get into, are great for opportunities, and give you life-changing experiences.

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To explore more countries, cities, and all of the universities, get access to the full database and search through over 11,200 programs taught entirely in English. You're bound to find your ideal program.

Beyond the States matches you with your ideal English-taught college in Europe.

Beyond the States provides access to 11,400+ European bachelor's and master's programs across 870 universities, 550 cities, and 212 areas of study, plus all the resources you need to get there. No sponsorships. No bias.
3400+
English-taught bachelor's programs in our database.
8000+
English-taught master's programs in our database.
550
Beautiful European cities to choose from.
870
Top-tier universities accepting international students.
€293,558
Typical savings against a private university in the US.
€55,098
Typical savings against in-state tuition in the US.
All inclusive of tuition, living, food, books, health insurance, travel expenses, as well as hidden fees. Compiled with data from students and the official websites from KU Leuven, UNC, and Duke.

Listen to the College Insights™ Podcast

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What Transparent Admissions Requirements Really Mean

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
It’s that time of year again… College admissions are on the minds of many students who have attempted to get into their choice schools across the US; it can be a deeply confusing and stressful time for many.
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Master's Degrees in Europe for International Students

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
Her conversation partner this week is Sean Dempsey, a past BTS member and recent graduate of the highly-ranked KU Leuven, in Belgium.
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Will a European Degree Work for Me in the US?

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
Is a degree from Europe valuable enough in the US? Does it allow students to get into grad school and get a good job? Who gives accreditation to universities in the States?
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How to Get a Master's Degree in Europe

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
In today’s episode, Jenn has an interesting discussion with Tiffany, a parent of one of our members, Ethan. She became so interested in the Beyond the States process herself so that she’s amid planning admission for herself and her husband – for a Master degree program in the EU!
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Avoid the Pitfalls of College Rankings

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
How useful are college rankings actually? What do they measure? Can you find great colleges in Europe without relying on rankings?
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The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
We're going to be talking about the differences in the educational experience, meaning the academic side of things that students have in Europe versus in the US. So I'm always taken aback when people assume that universities in the US are the best globally.

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