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The American Competitive Edge

By billienkatz

American students are fed through an educational system, which stresses that taking classes and earning a degree are no longer enough to succeed in the workplace, much less, be able to provide for oneself and one’s family. The two semesters of classes we take each year are important, but there’s always a race to see who has the more impressive resume and who holds the internship with the most work hours during the academic semester. How then, do we define students? The standard dictionary definition of a student is: a personal who is studying at a school or college. Based on this, how would the dictionary define a GW student? Surely they would have to include interning on Capitol Hill, working at the next big start-up or non-profit headquarters in the heart of DC, or even just taking classes and attending seminars led by some of the biggest names in our country.

Using this above context as what I consider most college students to be, I was stunned to learn more about the educational system here in Barcelona. The entire conversation began in my Human Development in the Spanish Socio-Cultural Context class when we were discussing the stages of school children go through and how this may be similar and different to what we experience in the United States. Using our own personal student frameworks the conversation easily drifted to the rigor of internships and previous work experience, and my Spanish born and raised professor, had no idea why we thought students should be working.

As it turns out, a Spanish college student (say someone studying at the University of Barcelona) wakes up in the morning, sits through a few hours of class, goes home and does some homework, and then repeats the entire cycle again the next day, and the day after, until they have a degree in their hands a few years later. There is no consideration of working within the field you eventually want to forge a career in, and there is certainly no fear of competition when it comes to applying for jobs.

For all the flack Americans get for being lazy and not wanting to work hard, I find it interesting that our students are putting increasingly more pressure on themselves to be prepared for a future of jobs and success, as compared to other countries such as Spain that really has no “need” for resume building. If the United States adopted this, maybe high-powered professionals would be filling their own mugs of coffee! And, for all GW students scrambling around looking for summer plans, can I suggest a quick relocation to España?