University Council Blog Ellora Sen

Comparing the American, British and Dutch University Systems
Ellora Sen

My name is Ellora Sen and I’m a University Council member for the 2019-2020 academic year. As an international student that is pursuing a bachelor in another country, I truly wanted to experience the education system of the country I have chosen to spend my next three years living and learning in. This is one of my main motivations for joining the council.

Having grown up on the East Coast of United States (Boston area), I am well acquainted with the American system of education. I attended a boarding school in New Hampshire, which definitely embodied the intimate liberal arts college atmosphere typically seen in the US. In part, it was the ideals, system, and structure imparted on me during my high school years that built my initial understanding and values of education. Especially, seeing the university application processes and big decisions made by seniors above me each year!

When my turn as a senior finally arrived, I made the decision to step away from this system and embrace my father’s roots by attending a British university in the far North of England, Durham. My family had experienced a brief stint in London when I was younger, and it was during this time my sister and I gained British citizenship. Although I enjoyed the social atmosphere of my new home across the pond, I found the British educational system to be extremely confining. While on the surface my BSc Natural Sciences degree gave the illusion of interdepartmental fluidity, my course commitments for biology and philosophy oftentimes clashed. The rigidity made coursework difficult as I was unable to enjoy the content of either without this being at the expense of the other.

In hindsight, I had attempted to create my own version of a ‘liberal arts degree’, the concept of studying a variety of subjects before narrowing down to one field. This concept was common in the US, but the UK’s more rigid educational system simply did not suit me. It was during this time my family moved to the Netherlands because of my father’s work with the large Dutch tech company Phillips, and truthfully my family’s growing discontent with the state of America’s political climate *cough* Trump.

Seeing my dissatisfaction with my current British university, my younger sister, who at the time was studying at an IB international school in Eindhoven, introduced me to the “university colleges” in the Netherlands. When I realized that Dutch universities also teach in English, I explored this new concept of “university college”. It allowed me to combine different fields of study in a personal way by offering a broad variety of courses in your first year followed by specializations in the next two years. I was thoroughly impressed, especially considering the high-quality education at affordable prices. Erasmus University College seemed like a perfect fit for me. It provided me with incredible resources at Erasmus MC for my biology interests and a strong social sciences department for my interest in humanities. This led to my major in neuroscience and minor in critical philosophy.

After my first year at EUC and living in Rotterdam, I was very satisfied with my choice and my academic content. My science classes were small and intimate, which allowed me to learn easily and quickly. My philosophy courses truly challenged the preconceived concepts and notions that I built throughout my life. This is exactly the kind of exposure and analytical mindset I hoped to achieve by studying my bachelor outside the US.

My only qualm with EUC was that I felt isolated and cut off from the main university campus. This is why I joined the Erasmus University Council, so that I could meet other students and better understand the Dutch educational system- I want to be able to experience and contribute to the Erasmian way of life.

After two years of studying here and half a year in the council, I truly feel immersed in this country and my study. I hope to continue contributing and learning at EUR during my remaining time here.