6 Life-Lessons That 5 Years at University Taught Me
Tl;dr: not all systems work equal; internationals are considered differently; people hang out with like-minded individuals; teachers don’t question the readings; university is not like in the movies; university is a giant waste of time and money.
As I’m leaving university for now (I will come back to it), I’m drawing on the lessons I have learned spending years studying in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
1. Not All Systems Work Equal
Some universities teach knowledge, some universities teach you how to think.
Some universities ask you to spend 20 hours in weekly classes, some universities ask you to spend less than 9 hours.
The low volume of courses and work was my first observation upon arriving in the Netherlands.
I had previously studied for one year in a university in the French-speaking part of Belgium where studying meant spending a lot of time in classes and memorizing books for exams for 5 weeks, only to forget most of it the next day.
Studying in Belgium is hell. The failure rate is extremely high, students compete with each other which hinders cooperation, and many teachers fail their students for the pleasure of it.
One professor in pharmacy was known to question her students on the footnotes of the books she asked them to read.
After I failed business in Belgium (and nearly throw myself into the river), I ran away to the Netherlands.
Since I didn’t know anything, I expected to have the same volume of studying to do as what I had had in Belgium. To ease my way into getting a degree, I chose the easiest topic to study: communication.
But my expectations were wrong.
Upon arriving, I discovered a whole new world, made out of research articles, research journals, research questions, and scientific interpretations, things I had never been taught in Belgium.
This is how I learned that when it comes to studying, systems in different countries are not equal. A bachelor of civil engineering from X country is not worth another bachelor from another country.
I didn’t know that. In fact, I am not sure many people know that.
2. Internationals Are Considered Differently
In an auditorium, you have the local people on one hand, and the international people on the other. This reflects in where people sit in class.
As much as you want to learn the local language, as much as you want to integrate yourself, you will never be considered like a local if you are an international.
Cultures, even in between neighboring countries (hell, even in neighboring cities) are different, and while you can learn a culture, you can’t never fully embody it.
This is why international students are emotionally (and financially) more fragile than their peers, as confirmed by research. This always made a lot of sense to me, as an international student.
While all of my Dutch classmates spoke better English than I did, they still had a preference for hanging out with the Dutch students as they had more things in common and could bond better and in their local language, preventing de facto any international student to join them.
As such, the life of an international student in a foreign university is…quite lonely, and far from the habitual clichés, you see in the ads for the Erasmus program.
It doesn’t mean it’s bad.
It doesn’t mean we suddenly need to terrorize the local students with some insane inclusivity rules.
It just means that internationals will have to make more efforts to get the best out of their studies and be ready to see some activities (such as frats) being closed to them because only available to the locals.
3. Qui Se Ressemble, S’Assemble
It’s French for “who looks alike get together”.
If you take a bunch of people that don’t know each other and put them in an auditorium, they will be more likely to go towards some individuals than others.
It’s non-scientific, just my observations.
As such, I have made a list of criteria I believe people follow when they seek new friends.
I never really felt that some criteria were more important than others.
In the end, people hang out with the people they feel connected to. These criteria offer some sort of connection by providing cultural artifacts and characteristics that people may have in common, share, and subsequently bond on.
Culture: you always have a bunch of Spanish, French, English native speakers, Germans…that ultimately always end up in a group together: the Spanish group, the French group, the English native group, the German group, and the locals of course, as explained in the second lesson.
Another criterion is gender: if you take a bunch of people that all speak different native languages, the girls will first go talk to the other girls while the guys will go talk to the other guys.
Another criterion is physical resemblance. Even though it’s not politically correct, I never could help but notice that fat people hung out with other fat people (please do consider checking my article on the carnivore diet. Being fat is not a helpless disease, it is the result of poor dietary choices and the absence of exercise, which can be easily and in 100% of cases, fixed with the use of a carnivore diet), that hot girls hung out with hot girls, that “gym guys”, tall and muscular, hung out with the other tall and muscular “gym guys”, etc.
I should add though that tall people hung out with the tall people, and that the short people like me hung out with the short people.
I did try to befriend a tall guy, but he was 2 meters and I only measure 172cm. He couldn’t hear what I was saying.
Why am I speaking about this?
Because I do believe humans have a propensity to go towards people that resemble them, in terms of appearance, or in terms of culture, and I believe that being aware of it can make help break these barriers.
THAT is what I consider the exact definition of being “open-minded”.
As much as people can brag that they like “international environments”, they most likely don’t.
The enormous majority of people are attracted by what they know, not by what they don’t know.
Don’t be like the enormous majority of people.
4. University Teachers Don’t Question on the Readings
I have never done any reading at any university because I considered I had some other sh*t to do, like writing this blog.
Yet in the few courses where other students made me feel guilty enough not to read anything, I did do the readings.
A giant waste of time.
Teachers never asked anything about readings at the exam. They asked for knowledge that has been studied in class.
From this point onward, one should seek to only study what has been extensively discussed in class because that is what the teachers will question about.
5. University Is Not Like in the Movies
You won’t make lifelong friends. The parties won’t be as crazy, the topic won’t be as interesting and the bell won’t go off in the middle of an explanation of the teacher like in most movies.
University is a place where happens what you make out of it. You need to strive for yourself and go get the opportunities by yourself.
Unless you are a hot girl of course.
6. University Is a Giant Waste of Time and Money
Overall, unless you study something practical (ex: nursing), something STEM-related (engineering, math, physics, computer science), or anything in the top universities of the world, university ends up being a giant waste of time.
There is nothing university will teach you that you won’t learn in books, and the ongoing societal decadence made it like you almost learn nothing at university any more.
Looking back, I would study something completely different than I did or I wouldn’t study at all, but just learn computer code by myself.
Mind that I’m writing from a European perspective, meaning that I don’t even have student debt.
Had I grown up in the US, I would have done this, or would not have studied at all.
The Bottom Line
Overall, these are my observations and my thoughts, they belong to me and will most likely not apply to you.
Whatever you do though, I believe you should ask yourself a very important question before deciding to go to university or not: where do you want to go with your life?
Do you want to be a billionaire and have a yacht? Are you willing to work for that? Or would you rather work for a company? Or for the government? Do you have the vocation to help others? To defend the environment? Would you like to play in movies? To write books?
Take your desires seriously, even if your friends, parents, and teachers don’t. Desires at 18 become regrets at 50.
If you want to be a pilot, go online and search for the qualifications you need to become a pilot, even if everyone laughs at you when you state this desire.
Take yourself seriously. Take your desires seriously. This is your life and you have the right to do whatever you want with it.