If you follow my blog, you’ve probably read my recent post about going to grad school in Europe and how there were things I wish I had known before even applying to a program. One of those things was related to the actual student experience.
As a two-time exchange student in college I thought I was ‘a seasoned traveler who knew how to navigate life abroad’. In some ways, sure, I know how to survive abroad…but I learned the hard way that I wasn’t an expert on thriving as an international student.
I differentiate between the terms ‘exchange student’ and ‘international student’ because they signal different types of students and very different types of experiences. The easiest way to explain it is that an exchange student is one who typically goes abroad for a short period of time (i.e., summer, semester, academic year), usually through a university sponsored program or a program offered through a private study abroad provider and international students are students earning their entire degree outside of their country of origin.
As a first-time international student, several things stood out to me from day one of my program.
First, as an exchange student, there was a lot of support before and during my exchange experience. As an international student, I was treated like a local student…which meant I was responsible for find support services for myself.
Likewise, specifically related to academics, I learned early on was that an international student is more or less responsible for their experience. In other words, the European universities tend to do less handholding than American universities and as an international student, I was expected to behave like a European student.
I also experienced differences in what it meant to be a university student. These were things that differed between the US and European educational systems I studied in. Some of the differences were related to the classroom environment, the way we were graded and what made up our final grades (i.e., homework, participation, etc. — or lack thereof), and the very different relationships students and professors have in Europe compared to the USA.
I wished someone had warned (and explained to) me about these and other things before I bombed during my first semester in grad school (I mention the consequences of not knowing about these things here). That’s why I’ve dedicated a whole chapter to the student experience in my book, “Grad School in Europe: Choosing, Applying to & Financing A Master’s Degree in Europe”.
There’s surely no need for you to make the same mistakes in grad school that I did!
If you’re thinking about going to grad school in Europe, or need tips on navigating the application process, download this free ebook here.