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Claudia: Differences

September 13, 2010

It seems that everywhere I go, I am drawn into conversation about the American higher education system. People are baffled by a number of things related to the aforementioned. Nobody can imagine that I have friends who pay $50,000 every year to go to school, and they wonder how anybody manages to pay back loans. In Denmark, Johan told me that not only is school free, students get paid an allowance every month to cover living expenses. It seems to be relatively similar in both Sweden and in Holland (though, from what I gather, it’s not entirely free in Holland). It sounds too good to be true to get paid to go to school, and in a way, I guess it is. Also, he told me that it’s almost unheard of to go to school away from your home because there are only a few universities in Denmark anyway, so you go to the one that lets you into the degree program you want to study.

I feel like I really appreciate the choices that we have in America, though we have to pay (dearly) for them. When I started my college search at the end of my sophomore year of high school, I had, literally, thousands of options, and I could go to study whatever I wanted. In the UK, students know exactly what they are going to do before they finish high school. There is hardly any room to change your degree, and almost nobody does it. My RA actually changed from theology to political science, and she said it was very very hard to convince the university to let her do that. I STILL have no idea what exactly I’d like to do with myself when I graduate. I don’t have a specialization area for my major, I don’t know if I want to go to graduate school, and I certainly don’t know where I would like to do that. These 18 year olds have their lives planned out, and they all seem pretty damn confident about their choices. I changed my major one semester into my freshman year, and while it set me back a little bit, nobody argued with my choice, and it was, in fact, supported.

People looked at me so strangely when I told them I had taken an English class, a Latin class, a few environmental science classes, and a dance class during first semester last year. The liberal arts idea is not a common one around here. I think I would die if I had to take all science classes all the time. Okay, that’s melodramatic, but my decision to study abroad and learn about something totally new and interesting is the case in point: I needed a break, especially since next semester will actually be all science all the time. I find it difficult to focus my thoughts on one thing for quite a while without the extra stimulation of concentrating on something completely different. I think that is why I am continuing with my Latin major.

Another major difference: sports. Coming from a Big 10 school such as the U, it’s sort of hard to separate athletics from my education. The facilities dominate campus, the athletes are riding around on their scooters, and the student body is abuzz on game day. Anytime I try to explain athletic scholarships to my friends, they just stare at me quizzically. Why would we go to see non-professional athletes when we have perfectly good professional teams? Why on earth would a college pay people to come to the school if they’re not the most gifted academically? I suppose we wonder these things ourselves, sometimes (i.e., football players get big scholarships and free mopeds…). But the athletics bring in money that can be used to support academia (like how Bruininks worked to get stadium donors to also donate to a scholarship fund). I like having sports on campus… it’s a way to bring the students together, but I can definitely see whence the European confusion springs. It’s hard to understand why a university would spend so much money on sports!

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