Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
So, me and Jasper have both decided to start our Master’s this year (or should we say now last year) and we are both doing it outside the UK. Jasper is doing a Master’s in Politikwissenschaft (or Political Sciences for the Anglophones out there!) in Munich whereas Olesya has decided to do Global Communication in the Netherlands, in a small university town called Tilburg.
We both got out Bachelor’s in the UK but seeing as straight after that, we both moved abroad to work, we realised it would be actually rather necessary to get higher education elsewhere in Europe. Not only that, but the price for a British Master’s is unbelievably extortionately high, and I have to say, that does Not in any way guarantee quality so, that’s why we would like to write about our tips and experiences of pursuing higher education abroad, because trust us, it is one of the best experiences you can do and you will get a lot out of it!
Jasper had to jump through a few hurdles to get onto his course. In Germany, the university system is notoriously bureaucratic and you have to get every single document with you about your life to just get registered as an applicant! After that, the next hurdle was to pass the politics department’s own entrance exam, for which there was incredibly little information on how to prepare and massive lists of books to read! In the exam though, there were 200+ people going for a maximum of 50 spots, of which some would have already been filled by those who got a high enough grade in their Bachelor’s, so really there were very few spots available meaning he probably wouldn’t be accepted, a feeling which was confirmed when a load of mathematical questions came up! Yet astonishingly, he received a letter in the post a couple of weeks later saying he had passed and was accepted onto the course… though the international office still wanted him to prove he could speak German and had to do a pair of language tests a few weeks later. Once that formality was done, it was just a matter of waiting 2 hours to be seen by the university’s enrolment staff, just to get a little green card to say he was a student and he was pretty much ready to go. So um ja, prepare the paperwork guys!
Meanwhile, Olesya’s enrolment procedure was really pretty easy. In fact, once she was accepted on the Master’s course (for which there was an online application + sending a few documents) she was officially a student and all she needed was to go to the student desk to pick up a ready made student card. Germany – you need to catch on with this! Keep stuff simple!
In Germany, tuition is virtually free, although you do have to pay a token amount of €50 in administration costs per semester plus another €60 for a travel ticket which you can use on all public transport in and around the city throughout the semester, although you do need to finance your own living costs. That means the workload does take into account the fact that most students have to work and thus Jasper was pleasantly surprised to find out that the assessments he had to do were not so time-constraining – two one-thousand word essays, two exams, and a 30,000 character long essay to write over a timeframe of 6 months. Generally the standard time to do a Masters is 4 semesters, but if you keep failing modules and having to retake them, you have “failed once and for all” at the end of the 7th semester. Jasper only has one lecture per week, but has a number of so-called “debate seminars” where people are encouraged to debate what they have read over the week relating to a particular topic. You don’t have to turn up, but because classes are all discussion-based, you can’t really just not turn up and hope all the notes appear on the VLE!
The cost of tuition for Bachelor or Master’s programme is a reasonable 2.000 EUR a year. However, in contrast to Germany, the Master programmes here are only one year which means a lot of intensive studies and about 10 assignments to hand in all at once at the end of every month. If you’re good at working under pressure, this could be a good option! Speaking to some German students here, many came to study in the Netherlands because ‘you learn the same stuff, just quicker!’
The studying is done in a lecture based format and there is a big focus on group work. Also, the learning is more practical based than in Germany so the theoretical concepts you learn about almost always have a practical (and relevant) point to them so it makes it easier to write assignments.
The Germans are quite a studious and sensible bunch, although they were still happy for Jasper to organise a meet-and-greet pub crawl after just a couple of days after getting to know him! Moreover, given the length of some courses and outside commitments, many of the students are a little older, with many in their mid-twenties rather than early-twenties. Also it’s not uncommon to find older people in your classes, plus there are a number of third-semester students retaking first-semester modules. As a result, student culture tends to be a little more individualistic with more people doing their own thing.
The Dutch do like a drink however they drink in a much more sociable way than getting drunk. They will happily drink some beers in bars or at home, but they really don’t overdo it. I have never seen anyone passed out or throwing up on the streets at 4am but maybe because most ride their bikes after nights out, they know how much drink they can handle.
They’re also a lot more friends oriented and don’t really make the effort to get to know any new people. They would much rather chill at home with their flatmates than in bars socialising. However, the international student scene is very popular and it’s really not hard to find some great, like-minded people. There are many international organisations which organise a lot of events so if you want a true “student” experience, you will definitely get it here in the Netherlands. Whether you have time for it though is another matter..
2 Brits studying abroad – if you haven’t guessed it already, we were never thinking to do a Master’s in UK. It may be a good option for some – especially for those who (are stinking rich) and want an English-language education, but that you can get now pretty much anywhere. However, let’s take a quick look at higher education in UK anyway.
The price of a master’s in England is very very expensive… but it does depend entirely on what course you’re doing. On a cheaper literature-based course, you’d probably pay around £5000, but for a sciency based degree, it’d be more like £15000. In Euros.. this is quite a lot!
The style of teaching is done in a very independent-like manner. Don’t expect a lot of contact time nor too much support from the teachers. However, the Master’s too are only one year so it will be quite an intensive period of study. What we should also add here, is that to work in the UK, you don’t actually need a Master’s diploma quite as much as to work in other European countries.
As for the student life, people get very, very drunk over here. And don’t wear a lot of clothes. And we are not just talking about the nightlife. Jasper had people who went to his lectures in their pyjamas. No joke. Although it is getting slightly better, Great Britain is a great binge-drinking nation! And it something that follows me and Jasper quite a lot when talking to internationals.
So there we have it! Some pointers about studying abroad for those who may be thinking of being a student again! Olesya wrote a more detailed interview about studying in Holland here.
It is something that took us both kind of by surprise when we decided to do this step, however we are both fully enjoying our time and benefiting more than we ever thought we would.