Erin earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Vermont. Due to the financial burden of university education in the US, she decided against enrolling in a master’s degree programme and instead got a job at the university’s international office immediately following graduation, where she worked as a student exchange coordinator. This was until she became a student at Masaryk University in Brno.
“I spent four wonderful years working at the University of Vermont. My job was to help American students go on international exchanges, which involves very different duties compared to the same job in Europe. European students are very lucky to have Erasmus – there is no such programme in the US, so the main task of coordinators is to help students find suitable scholarship programmes and make sure that the courses they complete at the other university are recognised when they come back,” explains Erin.
Even though she found her work in international education fulfilling and would like to continue in a similar position in the future, she left her job to complete a master’s programme because three years of experience and a master’s degree were the conditions required to progress up the career ladder at the international office where she worked.
As Erin had spent some time studying abroad during her bachelor’s programme and also liked the idea of living abroad for a while longer, she began to research universities in Europe.
“My primary criteria were the cost of living in the country and the tuition fees, so I immediately ruled out the UK and Scandinavia. Finally, I was left to choose between Krakow, Budapest and Brno. These are countries with low tuition fees and living costs and, moreover, if I studied at one of these universities, I would be eligible for a US government loan,” she explains.
One student, several universities
One of the reasons that Erin chose Brno was that she had studied at Masaryk University in 2011 as an exchange student and knew both the city and the university well. With a bachelor’s degree in political science from the US, she enrolled two years ago at the MU Faculty of Social Studies on the Cultural Sociology joint degree programme co-organised by Masaryk University, the University of Graz in Austria, the University of Zadar in Croatia and the University of Trento in Italy.
“The main reason why I opted for the joint degree programme was that I would be a graduate of several European universities and I would complete part of my studies in one of the other countries,” explains Erin, who spent three semesters in Brno and one semester in Zadar.
“When it came to choosing the destination for my compulsory semester abroad, I went straight for Croatia – in the US, I lived right by the sea and it’s probably the only thing that I miss in Brno. On second thoughts though, it would have made more sense not to go in the winter,” says Erin with a smile, adding that the outside temperature was 10 to 15°C (or 50 to 60°F) for the whole winter.
Despite the weather, Erin was happy with her choice as the university in Croatia offered many courses that came in handy when she was writing her master’s thesis, which focused on the perception of European and national identity in students with Erasmus+ experience.
From student to employee
Erin completed her master’s degree with distinction this June but she is in no hurry to return to the US. She was creating content for the Masaryk University Instagram account for international students as a student and this July began working at the Masaryk University Centre for International Cooperation as a summer school coordinator. In addition, she will start helping the MU Faculty of Social Studies promote their study programmes taught in English in September.
“I’m over the moon that I’m working in international education again and that I can stay in the Czech Republic. I have grown very fond of Brno and both the city and Masaryk University have a lot to offer to foreign students. Czech universities in general offer high-quality education and the difference in fees compared to the US is just staggering,” says Erin, adding that a master’s degree in the US would cost her a minimum of 35,000 dollars: “In the Czech Republic, I received the same quality of education and only paid 7,000 dollars.”
For now, a return to the US is not in her plans. Erin met her boyfriend in Brno about eighteen months ago and says she can imagine spending the rest of her life here. In addition to the low cost of living in the Czech Republic, the reliable and affordable public transport, and good food, she also appreciates that the work-life balance here leans a bit more to the “life” side. She is also impressed with the transformation that Brno has undergone over the last eight years: “There are many new vegetarian restaurants and cocktail bars and the city is becoming more and more friendly towards foreigners.”