by Stephanie Small
Published May 2, 2011
Once you’re done with school, travel can become difficult. If you’ve got the money, you may not have the time, and if you’ve got the time you may be hurting for cash. Honeymoons and “babymoons” aside, Americans aren’t exactly rife with culturally-sanctioned travel opportunities, and those two weeks off most of us get every year is barely enough time to recuperate, let alone go jetting off to some exotic foreign locale.
So why not consider doing your graduate degree abroad? You’ll experience parts of the world you might never otherwise have been exposed to, and chances are you’ll fork out considerably less dough in tuition fees. Besides, we Americans have a bit of a rep for ethnocentric colonialism. So exploring another culture on their terms is a huge step towards understanding our place in the larger system.
Hear from two adventurous Europhiles who snagged their grad degrees abroad and are thrilled they did.
NOTE: No, Europe and North America are not the only continents where one can obtain a grad degree. This article just happened to work out that way.
Why did you decide to obtain your graduate degree abroad?
Douglas Voigt, who studied at the University of Kent in Brussels, explains he was interested in studying European politics, so attending “uni” in Europe seemed like the “best course of action”.
Anna Dimond, who holds a master’s degree from London School of Economics, had been living abroad for the past year, “and London had become a bit of a home base in terms of travels, so it felt comfortable from that standpoint. Also, it wasn't so much that I sought a grad degree abroad in a general sense; I sought a grad degree from the LSE specifically, because of its truly multicultural environment, which I found incredibly exciting from the moment I stepped in the student union in passing, to the time I arrived there again as a student.”
What were the benefits of obtaining a graduate degree abroad?
Dimond had rave reviews for her experience at LSE. “Educationally, the environment at the LSE had an international perspective that was exciting; incorporating and absorbing a non-US-centric perspective into my studies was inherent to the experience in a way that's simply not possible on one's home turf.
Professionally, being overseas during graduate studies situates students in a wider job field, opening up ideas and possibilities that might not otherwise be revealed and socially, it's nearly impossible not to be exposed to new viewpoints, cultures and approaches to life -- these factors radically enhance the school experience as a whole in ways that can't be quantified.” Meanwhile, Voigt was brief and to the point: “I learned far more than I would have in America”.
What were the drawbacks?
While Voigt identified the American prejudice towards foreign degrees, he didn’t have any concerns regarding the educational and cultural experience itself. “American Schools have a prejudice against foreign degrees that is utterly baseless, as far as content, and ultimately resting on an archaic assumption of superiority derived from Ivy League hegemony in the study of virtually every subject - this is despite the fact that what is actually taught in Ivy League or first and second tier schools. I also went to graduate school extensively in a second tier school in New York City and can attest it is almost identical, if not slightly behind the times, to what European schools teach about their own political system.”
Likewise, Dimond could not identify any major drawbacks, adding, “There were a few minor frustrations, however, which were logistical, in terms of loan disbursement and other financial details that become more complicated when other foreign currencies are involved, and emotional, when I would have liked to remain in London to look for jobs, but the visa hurdles were considerable.” Mind you, neither student mentioned electrical outlets or that pesky driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road thing. Hooray for adaptive Americans!
In hindsight, would you have done it again?
Both Dimond and Voigt offered a resounding YES!
“Absolutely, and then some. As a student overseas, there's a sense that anything is possible -- all doors are open. Plus, I learned to fend for myself and define my own educational priorities in a way that US schools don't allow for at the Masters level to the same extent. There's no substitute for that type of learning curve,” said Dimond. The concise Voigt summed up his time in Brussels as “the best scholastic experience I have had.”
Any advice for students considering heading abroad for their grad degree?
“Don't sweat the small stuff -- logistics can be overcome, so if stars align, just go for it. Much like travel of any sort, however, don't expect your school experience to resemble a US college experience, particularly when it comes to resources. Acceptance and flexibility are key,” Dimond explained. “If you want to learn something new and exciting, do it,” said Voigt.
Who’s up for the challenge?
Browse our directory of international graduate programs