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Reflections on American Vs. European Education

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All my friends want to come study in America because it's so easy," my Belgian friend Nicolas told me last week.

At the Solvay Institute, an undergraduate business school in Brussels, he spends 34 hours a week in class - 11 courses in advanced math, physics, chemistry, economics, business, and leadership. If he fails one, he has to repeat the year.

Not semester, year. He would have to retake every single course. Nicolas's schedule is so grueling he has no time for band or basketball. His life is basically on hold until he graduates.

Contrast that to the 15 hours I spend in class every week and you understand why he teases me about college in America.

I lived in Belgium my whole life until coming to Maryland for college, and the only thing I ever heard about higher ed is that it was a back-breaking test you had to go through before you were allowed to work. "It's four years of sacrifice," my teachers told me.

In high school, I had 39 class hours a week: Latin, Greek, Calculus, Geography, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Philosophy, English, French, Flemish, History - you name it, I studied it. "L'Universit," I was told, was more of the same, just harder. Well, I never gave myself the chance to find out. When I graduated from high school, I grabbed a plane to Maryland and enrolled at Mount Saint Mary's. During my first year here, I worried that I had taken the easy way out. My paltry five classes a semester seemed so pathetic at first - the reading was easy, the tests were a breeze. Harder is better, I reasoned.

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