Hostel, sweet hostel
For me college has been a love-hate relationship. I love to learn new things, visit new places, and start new projects; I hate paying for my new things, my new places, and my new projects. It has always been a struggle at the beginning of a new semester to find that extra hundred or so dollars that seems to just have not made it into your budget. Whether it is that heating bill that you put to the back burner, a late fee, or a scholarship that you mis-estimated, I have always been squeezing my wallet for that extra chunk of change. Sure, it is uncomfortable when you have to check under you car mats for another 10 cents to make it through the toll booth, and sure it can be embarrassing when have to decide whether you want to get gas for the week or go out to eat with friends, but I consider it a learning tax. It's the price I pay for a good education. Since I made the choice to go out of state and to learn from a very expensive university it was my doing to take on such a financial burden. But what of other students in other countries?
I have heard from American friends traveling in Europe about the "free" education. It isn't really free but rather a collection or tax that the country applies and allows for qualified students to go to the university with out having to pay. I know from my German and Swiss friends who studied abroad at Georgia Tech of the luxury and appreciation they have for the system. Theirs is a variant that uses a competitive examination to determine the lucky few who get to attend the university and in what. They have both reminded me of the appreciation they feel for their government for such an opportunity, as it would not be possible without their support. In turn I feel that they are appropriately conscious of the value of an education and due to the competitive placement are aware of the fact that it takes work to have such a luxury.
I was pondering these questions from the bus on my way to Concordia
, Argentina. I was attempting to make my way to the natural hot springs but, as the temperature outside was so low, it seemed more of a fanciful dreams that reality. Appreciation is something that comes from experience of 'without' or with that constant struggle of knowing that it could all disappear. As I immersed in steamy water and began to strike up some conversation with some University students, I was reminded of my earlier questions. How does the government support the fiscal responsibilities of students in this public university? How do the students view their education? My two friends were Alejandro and Nahoul, recent graduates of electrical engineering from Buenos Aires
University and fairly fluent in English. When I asked about education the conversation became fierce; it was obvious that they had decisive opinions and needed to let off steam. Nahoul explained the Argentine system, any student was guaranteed a place at Buenos Aires university if they passed a basic placement exam. From the positive side it eliminated the class imposition of fiscal responsibilities for an education, on the negative side the university system was over crowded with students who had no intention of ever graduating- once your in, your in. Alejandro admitted that he had more than one friend that had been in school for over six years and was still under 30 hours of passed classes. For some the university was a way to avoid real life- payments, a job, and a future. For the others who took the education seriously, the packed hallways, croweded parking lots, and lack of decent faculty meant that they had to suffer. Nahoul would have preferred that the university restrict entry. He and Alejandro suggested the German idea of a difficult placement exam and from those scores student would either go to a trade school or to the university. He went on to say that if the students did not finish the schooling within the recommended time, then they would need to begin paying for their education. Both felt that this idea of graduate or pay would seriously relieve the congestion of students who didn't value their education.
In turn I answered their questions about how I pay for my education. They were both surprised to learn about scholarships and student loans. They were shocked to hear that not every Americans "daddy" pays for them to go to school. I spoke about the hope scholarship and other state incentives given to students. All in all I felt that some of the mis-conceptions about our two cultures were broken down and maybe one of us was enlightened.