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American versus European Universities

Updated: May 19, 2021

As you can imagine, US colleges and public European universities share similarities, but vary immensely culturally and institutionally. I began my college career in 2017 at UCSB which I resided for two years. Then as my friends and fellow peers were "studying abroad" I thought why not just finish college abroad too?

After a successful application, I was accepted into an entirely different program at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The past year and a half I have spent here have been magnificent yet still shocking at times, which has pushed me to grow as a person. I wanted to share with you a comparison of my experience' attending university in the US and in the EU. Along with how I have managed to rediscover my passions and change my life for the better. See how I fell in love with my life all over again!


Life at UCSB was incredible, to say the least. I value my time spent there very much. I got to experience all the best aspects of American college life firsthand at a beachside college. I spent 2 years living in Santa Barabara first living in the on-campus dorms then the second year, living oceanside on Del Playa (the main party street of UCSB) in Isla Vista.

Two years at UCSB were filled with fun, adventure, and some studying of course. Life in Santa Barabara was very much connected to nature. We would spend our free time laying in the sun, being active, playing sports, surfing, hanging at the beach, hiking, and the occasional shopping trip to the downtown area. The best thing about being at a beachside college was being able to socialize and party on the ocean.

Parties were super essential to the college lifestyle and consistent throughout the week, we would often go out 5 to 6 days of the week! Even though the “daygers” in the sun were so incredible at the time and the nighttime-themed parties were crazy, it was very much so a culture of binge drinking, especially at such a young age. I was leading very unhealthy lifestyles there my first year with the dining halls, late-night food orders, and binge drinking, leading me to ‘the freshman 15’ of course. However, it is completely normal for any young adult’s first time away! My favourite thing I now appreciate about the parties was the regularity of meeting people since most everyone would go to the same few parties each time, especially once I officially joined the greek life in the spring of my first year!

I am so grateful to have met many amazing people, especially in my sorority Pi Beta Phi. There I was able to bond with others and had a group of girls I could count on any time of the day. Although attending UCSB was wonderful, I was craving the cultural differences that I experienced growing up in Europe. Life outside of lectures and parties was lacking for me. After having taken time off from school to recover from an eating disorder and having travelled a bit, I had the idea to return to Europe. I have been living in Europe on my own, for almost 2 years now. I’d like to share some of my experiences at University in Europe and what I have experienced this far, below!


Moving to a new, foreign city, knowing only one person, was a huge leap from the comfort zone of my closed campus lifestyle at UCSB. In many ways, it was a tough decision to make but one of the best decisions I ever did choose to make. There are many major differences between universities in California and Maastricht (including the word “uni” or “university” instead of “college”) yet still, some characteristics are shared.


Lifestyle & Travel: Travel is a passion of mine that I think everyone can benefit from and should experience. The ability to travel was the main driving factor of my moving to University in Europe. Travel in the EU is affordable, faster, and hassle-free, making it a frequent activity for many. The freedom and lifestyle, that comes with it are incredible. The experience! The food! The history! New experiences enrich our lives for it can be true that routine is the killer of the soul, and there's nothing better than the feeling of experiencing something entirely new in a new place. Travel opens your mind because you’re gaining a new sense of perspective and appreciation. Most importantly it is not just where you are but who you’re travelling with! Bonding and making memories come along with navigating through a new land with your friends, it truly brings people closer than ever.

Biggest Differences

Housing & Campus: This is an issue in every college town but especially in Maastricht for there is no University run dorm option to live in. Every student is in charge of finding their housing via housing websites and Facebook groups. Not living amongst other students was a huge fall especially during your first year in University. The setup of Maastricht incorporates the buildings within the city so there is no closed campus, which depending on your faculty’s location, you won’t see your peers studying another major as much as you do in America.

Prices: This was a huge benefit! Studying in Europe especially if you’re an EU citizen is almost free. My first year at Maastricht University was $17,000 less than the cost of in-state tuition for a UC California school. University is more accessible and available for people of all ages in Europe than it is in the US because unlike the US universities are supported by the government to educate their younger population. In the US it is privatized making tuition very often unaffordable to many students who wish to study.

Student Life: Like UCSB students here like to party! Perhaps not as many consecutive days as I’ve witnessed at UCSB, but with the drinking age of 18, students here go out to bars, restaurants, and clubs, on top of house parties. Students here often attend events at the one major club ‘Complex’ or in a more underground setting at the ‘Mandril’, mixing with the community at large. However, even with so many opportunities to go out, there was no collective single place with massive amounts of students together like how I experienced in the US. In the US the college students often party at private fraternity or clubhouses, where they don’t mix with the general population.

University Structure: Classes and coursework, was another huge difference for me. time spent in class and lectures was less than ½ the time spent in class, on campus at UCSB. Per course we would have a maximum of 2 meetings per week compared to UCSB’s class structure of more face-to-face class time. People are more self-taught and more is required outside of class time in Maastricht. Another major difference was that you did not have the freedom to choose your courses for the courses are chosen for you during your first two years based on your program. It is also not possible to take a class from another faculty you might be interested in. You do not have as much freedom to customize your coursework compared to UCSB’s freedom to choose, which is a downfall of University abroad.

Tough Moments

Cultural Differences & Making Friends: Living with people from different countries is hard in the beginning, for there are many cultural and social mannerisms you may not recognize inside your own culture. I experienced this first hand having become friends with and living people from around the world. Figuring everything out on my own in a new county, with new languages, new rules, and procedures; cultural barriers become more frequent. All you can do is be accepting, kind, and willing to learn. Respect everyone’s standards, because there is never just one right way to do things!

Distance: Living across the world from my family was also incredibly difficult and oftentimes gave me feelings of loneliness. In a time of technology, a simple phone call or facetime session makes all the difference. Especially texting your friends and family daily was key to reduce feelings of loneliness for me, even if they responded 7 hours after the initial text. The time change is a real struggle!

Opportunities: Moving to a new place abroad means discovering a new you. When you're exposed to a new culture with new people, you discover a part of yourself that has never been explored before. By moving I have been able to realize my true self, potential, my interests, hobbies, and I rediscovered my passion for writing with! Knowing yourself better is something that everyone should look for and work towards. Spending half of my time in Duesseldorf has also given me the chance to establish more connections there and the chance to join the modelling agency I have been loving working with, IMM!

Being honest with yourself, and taking a step back to look at your life can lead you to an answer. Are you happy here? Are you where you need to be? Whether that be looking for a new University, a new challenge in your career, learning a new industry or needing to find a new job because you're relocating your life. Moving out of your comfort zone and to someplace new can change your connection with yourself and your life. Take me as an example, and try something new, you might fall in love with your life once again.

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