When I visit schools in Europe, I try to meet with international students to get an idea of their experiences at the school. These conversations are great, but are generally very school specific. I’ve been having different types of discussions for the student panel presentations that are part of our virtual college fairs. I had one call with three American students studying at various European universities and I recently had a call with three students from the MENA region who are also studying in Europe. These calls were more about the overall experience of being an international student. It was fascinating to hear the commonalities of these students from different parts of the world, studying in different parts of Europe.
I talk a lot about some of the tangible benefits around studying in Europe, like cost and tuition. Certainly cost factored into these students’ decisions to study in Europe, but that was a very small part of the conversation. The benefits these students talked about seriously gave me goosebumps and made me so excited for the experiences my kids and your kids can have!
Though this was not the word they used, every single student said that one of the best things about their experience is having classmates and friends from all around the world. They enjoy getting to know about different cultures (including food!) and gaining insight from perspectives of friends who have had very different life experiences. One student talked about how his mindset has changed around cultural differences. He doesn’t think of these differences as better or worse than his own norms, just different. Another student told me-and this is one I have been thinking about a lot-about how he has learned to work with others who he would have otherwise avoided. He is from Egypt and has a lot of classes with a student from Israel. The emphasis on group work and class discussion has required them to learn to put aside their political differences in order to work together. The current state of the world can only benefit from kids who have these perspectives, insights and values.
I asked each of the students about the biggest challenges they have faced as international students. Most of them really struggled with this question! They talked about things that were initially difficult (figuring out the local public transportation, residence permit logistics) but didn’t define them as challenges. My theory is that by navigating those difficulties successfully, they then view them as just part of life-instead of a “challenge”. It also gave them the confidence to deal with future unfamiliar or difficult situations. These kids know that things aren’t always going to be easy and comfortable and don’t shy away from challenges. This is a trait that will help them succeed in so many areas of life!
One student talked about how initially, going to college in Europe felt like a really big deal to her. After just over a year of study, she said that “the world feels accessible”. This is one of those quotes I keep thinking about! She has had successful experiences navigating her life outside of her home country which has led to this belief. She has figured out how to get around Prague, she has travelled around Europe with friends, she is going to Asia to study for a semester. The exposure to living outside of her home country has not only cultivated her interest in the world, but she has proven to herself that she has the skills to do so.
Yes, I’m relieved that we are going to save incredible amounts of money with college in Europe. Yes, I love that the application process was simple and that we got Sam’s acceptance in just three weeks. Even if the price were comparable to the US, or the admissions process were not so transparent, these options would be worth exploring for these less tangible benefits. I want my kids to feel invested in the problems around the world. I want them to experience and value diversity. I want them to know how to work with others-even when there are differences. I want them to know that they can manage unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. I want them to know that the world is within their reach. I’m confident that attending college in Europe will lead to these traits.