Estela Marcinkevičiūtė, a third-year student of International Business in English at the Business School of Vilnius University (VU), has had a rather atypical academic journey. Her three years of studies and student life have been full of adventures, academic challenges, and extraordinary cultural experiences at three universities in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and the United States.

Estela is convinced that spending part of one’s study time at a foreign university is rewarding not only in terms of academic development but also as an opportunity for personal growth, international experience, and future career prospects.

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The American education system was the most suitable for Estela

Studies in the Netherlands were full of tension

It all started with her first trip to the Netherlands for one semester of study.

"I decided to go abroad for a semester for the first time to be closer to a boyfriend, who, by the way, I’d also met during a short-term Erasmus+ exchange in Greece. I had already set my sights on a university in Germany, but I had a hunch that it wasn’t where I was meant to be. Then, I discovered the University of Groningen, VU’s strongest partner from an academic point of view and one of the top ten universities in the EU. I was never scared of studying, so I thought I’d give it a go in an academically challenging environment," says Estela.

Studying in the Netherlands indeed presented plenty of challenges. Estela says it was very difficult to study, and by the time she got to the third lecture of one subject, she already had to take a mid-term exam because it was taught in blocks – with three subjects in seven weeks, followed by another seven weeks cycle of other subjects to complete the semester. "Retaking a subject 3-4 times was the norm at that university. Luckily, I passed on the first try, but I definitely went through a roller coaster and constant tension," she recalls.

The American education system was the most suitable

However, the difficult experience in the Netherlands did not deter Estela; it just made her more resilient. Soon after, an unexpected opportunity to participate in International Student Exchange Programs (ISEPs ) came up, and she decided to give it a go without much thought.

"I didn't have time to think; I just filled in the application in between preparing for the exam session. I have followed the principle of ‘see an opportunity, grab it’, so I did the same in this case. I chose a university that was closer to cities and airports this time because I really wanted to see as much of America as I could. I didn’t want to go to the countryside and completely shut myself off from the world, to be only with students, which is often the case even in the most famous colleges," she says.

So she was invited to study at the prestigious Goucher College in Maryland, a one-hour train ride from the capital, Washington DC, and two hours from New York.

"In America, the studies were different. I felt like I was back in high school with homework on Monday due on Wednesday. All homework is submitted through the e-learning system. There was a lot of reading to be done, and the preparation for the lectures was compulsory every time, as was the attendance, which I really appreciated. There were four exams in each subject, every three weeks, but I didn’t feel any tension because everything was clear, the learning was continuous, and you knew exactly what you had to study," Estela recalls.

In America, the most valued aspects of the course were the students’ consistent work in lectures, the responsible submission of assignments, and their timely completion. It would not have been possible to pass showing up only in the exam. "I liked the American system the best, even though I had to work hard. I didn’t feel the same pressure as I did in the Netherlands. There, my grade average was the highest possible – 4.00, or an A in all subjects."

Growing as a person in Hong Kong

Estela’s next trip to the City University of Hong Kong was inspired by her roommate in America, who kept telling her how much she missed her home country and how full of life, movement, flavour, colour, and excitement Hong Kong is. It’s no wonder Estela chose one of the strongest business schools in Asia – thanks to its high rankings and her friend’s recommendations.

"Compared to the Netherlands and America, studying in Hong Kong was moderately difficult. Not much preparation was required before each lecture, but audience participation was assessed. It was not easy to prepare for the exams, but the quality of the studies and the teaching was very good," she concludes.

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However, what impressed Estela the most was the wealth of student initiatives and events offered by the university. She took additional training in self-education and psychology, met many interesting people from all over the world, climbed mountains, camped on a beach among the mountains, ate snake soup, learned Cantonese, listened to traditional Chinese music, and watched the most impressive musical entirely put on by the students themselves. In the end, she says, she grew as a person in Hong Kong.

Vilnius University was not replaced by another university

When asked which university she felt most comfortable at, she said she liked the American learning system and living conditions best, while in Hong Kong, she appreciated the nature of student life and initiatives, but she wouldn’t wish the Netherlands on anyone because of the constant stress and tension caused by her studies.

In Lithuania, Estela appreciates the flexibility in some aspects of her studies and the opportunities for closer communication, support, and cooperation with her lecturers and the administration. She believes that the voices of VU students are listened to much more than those of students at other universities where she studied.

"I wouldn't switch to another university for the whole duration of my studies, primarily for practical reasons – because I study at Vilnius University in a State-funded place and I am a Vilnius resident myself, so I don't have to pay for accommodation. In addition, VU offers really cool opportunities, such as studying abroad for half of the study period, which I haven’t seen at other universities, and this is a huge advantage," says the third-year student of VU Business School.

She finds the lecturers at the Business School genuinely committed to their work, and it is a pleasure to learn from them, listen to them, and develop as a young professional. "There are some interesting initiatives; for example, I attended a VU-funded play about Lebanon with a Lebanese actor, and I took part in a training on future competencies organised by Lina Uturytė. There is plenty to do at VU. Sometimes, you just have to look a bit harder for it," she says.

Self-confidence has grown, and now nothing is impossible

Estela admits that studying in a foreign country is challenging, but it also offers many lessons, both academic and life-related. She says these experiences have made her more open-minded, confident, and ready to tackle any challenge. These experiences not only opened up new perspectives but also helped shape her worldview and aspirations.

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"It's worth spending part of your study time at a foreign university because it will give you a completely different understanding of the world, yourself, and others. Studying under different systems requires you to learn to adapt, but the flexibility that comes from this experience builds confidence and makes it seem like nothing is impossible. Moreover, studying abroad allows you to meet a lot of wonderful people who will undoubtedly influence your life and your worldview, broadening your horizons," says the student.

She is convinced that this experience will also serve as an advantage in the labour market, as students will be able to adapt to a completely new environment, grow, and create value in it.
After her studies, Estela plans to pursue a master’s degree in innovation and set up her own marketing agency. Studying abroad has left a long-lasting impact on her life and has been an important step in her personal and professional development.

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