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 good (at least for the upcoming years, I’m not excluding going back at some point to study topics I haven’t yet for the fun of 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.
That was what first stroke me when I arrived in my first year in the Netherlands: the low volume of courses we had.
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.
Needless to say, it was hell, and that the failure rate was extremely high.
But I didn’t know any better.
I had decided to go to the Netherlands after that failed year in Belgium because I enjoyed moving around and meeting new people.
I hence expected to have the same volume of studying to do as what I had had in Belgium, which is why I had chosen one of the easiest topics to study: communication.
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.
When it comes to studying, systems in different countries are not equal, and a bachelor of civil engineering from X country is not worth another bachelor from another country.
I didn’t know that and still today, I am not sure many people know that.
2. Internationals Are Considered Differently
Doesn’t matter at which university you study, you have the local people on one hand, and the international people on the other, and this is partly reflected in where people sit in the auditorium as well.
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.
Cultures, even in neighboring countries (hell, even in neighboring cities) are different, and while you can learn a culture, I don’t believe you can ever fully embody it.
Research has shown that international students were emotionally (and financially) more fragile than their peers. 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 and 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.
And then you always have this guy that will throw parties at his place, that will go hang out with the girls.
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 (maybe to practice eating together…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.
Now, I already see people asking if skin color played and my answer is “I don’t think so”.
One of the examples I take is this white girl that had grown up in China, and that had a propensity to hang out with other Chinese from the university, making the cultural factor relevant instead of the skin factor.
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.
Why am I speaking about this?
Because I do believe we do have a propensity to go towards people that are similar to us, in terms of appearance, or in terms of culture, and I believe that being aware of it can make you break these barriers to go towards people you wouldn’t normally go, and be genuinely interested in them.
THAT is what I consider the exact definition of being “open-minded”, and 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, unless one is interested in the topic of course.
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 (in the majority of cases) question about.
5. University Is Not Like in the Movies
You won’t make lifelong friends, the parties won’t feel as good, 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.
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.
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) because 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.
Even becoming vegan.
I don’t recommend it of course, but if that’s your choice…I can do all but approve.