European v. American Universities


Hi, Anteaters! Nobody would say something like that in my country: I studied in three different universities in Europe (mainly in Italy) and so, since I’m here, I was able to catch the main differences between the European university system and yours.
Some are obvious, some are well hidden, but in most cases they could be useful for you, in order to get the best from your system and avoid negative sides.
First: Campus.
Although European universities are different from each other with distinct architectures, sizes and accomodations, they are usually organized in separate buildings, sometimes with a park or a recreation center somewhere, a huge library, some computer labs, and a lot of people trying to find a place to park their car.
Some of those structures are really beautiful, sometimes ancient buildings with Renaissance paintings and statues.
For those who study philosophy or literature, it must be exciting to feel centuries and centuries of history whispering from the walls, or to have class in Michelangelo’s study room, for instance!
Here, instead, everything is brand new, usually organized as a city itself, rather than a mob of sparse buildings and structures. Virtually, a freshman can enter a campus and exit for the degree, without going anywhere else. Everything vital is inside here, although most of the parties and good surfing waves are some miles away.
UCI, in particular, is really modern and well designed: no visible wires, big streets, big green parks, parking zones, dorms and student houses close to classroom buildings, and all sorts of amenities.
Pros: you can enjoy a full student’s life and meet a lot of people not only in classes, but also around campus and house villages.
Cons: it’s a little bit dispersive, and somebody can feel lost like a Middle East farmer in Manhattan.
Second: Teachers.
California magically attracts a lot of brilliant people from all over the world, thus potentially offering to students an excellent level of instruction.
Yes, I said potentially, because American students are not accustomed to studying really hard compared to us, nor to deeply focus on a particular field of study, and so teachers tend to act consequently.
In Europe not every class, but at least two-thirds of them are really hard. Teachers just take for granted that students are there to study, not to party, and sometimes they load us with a huge amount of homework, or with wearying final projects.
Related to this, here’s the third point: Students.
Relationships with teachers or faculty members are more informal, and usually students are aware that teachers are paid with their fees, so they don’t compromise the quality of teaching, disposability, and coherence between lessons and exams.
American students pay a lot to study here, while in most countries in Europe, you need something between 10 and 15 hundred bucks for one year of fees, with social initiatives help you with grants.
Fourth: Community.
In Europe, universities are simply places to study: we have unofficial sparse clubs or meeting groups, but nothing compared to UCI: fraternities, sororities, religious clubs, ethnic clubs, sports teams and so on.
The first day of welcome week was enough to understand that you are an Anteater, a member of a community, someone that buys a UCI sweatshirt, brooches and pants just to feel part of this community; you are interested in official UCI soccer, baseball and basketball teams, you find friends in clubs, you live and buy food and take coffee and have sex and do your laundry inside a campus, inside a community.
Well, I really like it, and that is something in Europe that is missing. Sometimes, though, it seems only a false surface.
Fifth: Research.
Here the university is a REAL opportunity to pursue your career: maybe an uncle in the right position is still useful, but if you’re brilliant and want to progress in an academic career, America is your paradise.
Doors are open. Teachers and reseachers are well-paid compared to European colleagues, and they often get other jobs and collaborations with local companies. When your work is well rewarded, you are more than happy to keep it.
Leading into the sixth difference: Money.
UCI’s monthly budget would be enough for Perugia University (mine) to go ahead for decades, although they share almost the same number of students.
The campus is expensive, the contour activities and services are expensive, technicians are expensive, the number of teachers and TAs overwhelmes European numbers, and so it’s not a surprise to get to that budget conclusion.
Anyway, someone like me not accustomed to potential money wastes would say: is there a better way to spend that amount of cash?
Why European students, on average, are at least as brilliant as American ones, without so many resources and a company-like business plan for everything?
The American University system is good for one reason: after you paid so much, you are willing to be competitive in the real world, and earn consequently.
Well, at least be sure that so many resources are given to the right people. I’m not good in quotations, but anyway, someone like Ovid would say: ‘Non ite mittere margaritas ante porcos’

Simone Brunozzi is a fifth-year ICS major from Italy.

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