THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS? AN AMERICAN EDUCATION IN EUROPE
Why do people dream about studying in North America? What specificities of the North American approach to university education make American and Canadian universities both highly desirable to students and widely respected by employers?
Throughout the 20th century, many of the most distinguished professors and researchers at American universities were actually Europeans. Some were fleeing the devastation of World War II. Consider the dramatic case of Princeton University. A reputable but otherwise inconspicuous backwater, suddenly became the centre of the Mathematical universe as Einstein, von Neumann, and Gödel joined the Institute for Advanced Study. All were war refugees, all were fleeing fascism. In like manner, the University of Chicago became the centre for Atomic Physics and the first nuclear chain reaction was successfully achieved and controlled by Enrico Fermi, another war refugee, just below the university's football stadium.
But besides the distinguished, big name faculty, what makes North American universities so special?
The majority of contemporary students might be less keen to unravel the secrets of the atom or the incompleteness theorem of logic and might fancy exploiting the profit making power of the Internet. Serious scholars, of the kind hankering for recondite but fascinating corners of Medieval History, or Classics, or Biophysics or Anthropology may still be around. The point is, the success of American (North American, that is, both US and Canadian) universities, lies in their ability to provide initiation and open access to these universes of knowledge, with minimal bureaucratic hurdles.
American universities and Liberal Arts colleges, in fact, not only allow; they explicitly require you to gain that breadth of interdisciplinary exposure. A typical American or Canadian student meets the so called "breadth requirements" by engaging in a set of courses in widely different fields.
Which courses exactly he or she decides to follow is the individual’s choice and that is the beauty of the system, but interdisciplinary exposure is demanded. Frequently, students in any discipline, whether in a B.A. (Humanities) or B.Sc. (Natural Science) programme, are required to take at least one full year of a foreign language, one year (minimum) of a Social Science, one year of a Literature or Humanities survey course (for example “Introduction to Western Civilisation”) and at least a one year intro to Natural Sciences and Math.
This generates first year undergraduate backpacks containing books as diverse as Homer’s Illiad, Français pour les debutants, Calculus II, Intro to Economics, and Shakespeare’s Tragedies. This would be a pretty typical selection of books on a first or second year undergrad’s bookshelf. The gist of the matter is that students become well-rounded and get a chance to chose their courses based on their affinities and needs.
It is not uncommon for students in North American universities to not declare a specialisation until the very last semesters of their undergraduate career. This does not carry any stigma, as the goal of a liberal arts education is not to produce the consummate specialist but an individual capable of independent thinking, substantiated analysis, compelling argumentation, and life-long learning. Even medical students are expected to do a preliminary undergraduate degree with at least some exposure to humanities. This is ordinarily referred to as “Pre-med”. Pre-law is also an undergraduate degree in the Liberal Arts.
The Liberal Arts approach to education can be summed up by the Latin adage by the poet Terence: “Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum”. I am a man, nothing human is foreign to me.
What are the advantages of studying in Europe?
For centuries, the European education has been respected and admired. Ever since the founding of the first university at Bologna in the eleventh century, Europe has shaken the world and the way we view it through the genius and boldness of its scholars. Vast expanses of discourse and thought have been generated and rehashed in the classrooms of European universities since the Middle Ages. This body of work represents the core of what we call “Western Civilisation”. Europe undoubtedly holds a key position in the intellectual, scientific, and artistic history of humanity.
For generations students from all over the world have come to Europe to pursue higher studies, and to explore the history and high culture of this densely packed continent, offering so much contrast and tradition. Studying the achievements of the Romans, the Renaissance, and the luminaries of the Enlightenment in America is wonderful, but nothing beats actually experiencing the monuments, the historical sites, the original art collections at the locus of their creation.
But what if it were possible to combine the best of both worlds?
There is of course one way to have your cake and eat it too, to marry the advantages and flexibility of the American system with the sophistication and the historical traditions of Europe, and that is to study at an American university in Europe. American universities in Europe can offer you the best of both worlds: Instruction in English with immersion in a foreign language, engaging lecturers involving you in debate together with refinement of traditions, art collections, galleries, architecture. In the following section, I would like to speak about just a few of the most distinguished American university programmes in Europe.
The American University of Paris
The American University of Paris is renowned as one of the oldest and most respected American universities in Europe. Founded in 1962 and fully accredited, it is located in the 7th district of Paris, only steps away from the Eiffel Tower. With just over one thousand students representing more than 100 nationalities, it is one of the most international universities in the world. The language of instruction is English but students are required to gain intermediate fluency in French by graduation time. The school is particularly distinguished in its Global Communications, Art History and Comparative Literature Departments. Special importance is attributed to interdisciplinary studies, with programs like Philosophy, Politics and Economics or History, Law and Society offering students an opportunity to study a variety of subjects, all at the same time.
Richmond, The American International University in London
Richmond is an accredited, American liberal arts college, located in London. It offers programmes dually accredited in both the US and the UK. The University offers on campus accommodation and the student body is comprised of over 100 nationalities. Unlike most UK universities, which tend to specialise you from the outset, Richmond reproduces the North American undergraduate experience, allowing students to build their programmes inter-disciplinarily.
The Liberal Arts core at Richmond offers options for exploring History, International Relations, Economics, Scientific Reasoning. Significant course offerings exist to develop expository writing skills. Richmond is known for its programmes in Business, Film Studies, Psychology, and International Relations.
Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany
Jacobs University was established as a private, English medium university, recreating the intense research atmosphere of North American universities. The university seeks excellence in its teaching, and most importantly, in its research. It has a high reputation in the Natural Sciences and Engineering. Its small size guarantees a high level of personal attention and interaction with faculty.
Besides Mathematics and Sciences, the University offers degree programmes in Psychology, Business, Global Economics, International Relations, and Integrated Social Sciences. The University has reputable post-graduate programmes and takes research seriously.
Of note: Jacobs University has a rolling admissions system and considers students for entry all year around.
Suffolk University, Madrid Campus
Suffolk University is a global community of learners, with a proud history of bringing together students from around the world and helping them become leaders in their chosen fields. Suffolk’s main campus in Boston is in the heart of the city, and Suffolk’s branch in Madrid, Spain offers a variety of courses which correspond to the first two years of undergraduate study. Students become immersed in Spain’s culture and language, yet follow a U.S. regionally-accredited liberal arts academic program with classes in English. Upon completion of the coursework in Madrid, students make the internal transfer to Boston to complete their bachelor degree requirements. As the only university in downtown Boston, Suffolk gives students unparalleled access to everything this ultimate college town has to offer. Suffolk’s College of Arts & Sciences and Sawyer Business School offer more than 60 academic programs at the undergraduate level.
Florida State University Valencia Programme
This is the study abroad programme of the Florida State University, which allows students to pursue courses in Spain and achieve Spanish fluency while earning credits towards their degree in the main campus in the United States. The university has developed partnerships with local faculties and the students get a real Spanish student experience.
“The Academic program gives students the opportunity to earn credits in general requirements, elective, business, Spanish language, humanities and much more while experiencing Valencia, the surrounding areas of Spain, and neighbouring European countries.” Class sizes are small.
Highly effective people exploit synergy. The mix of European high culture and American Liberal Arts curricula is a winning combination as an educational experience and as a preparation for a globalized workplace. The programmes we have listed here, certainly have the potential to open your mind and open many doors to your career.