Monday, July 9, 2018

Money Lessons from 2 Countries - Chapter 1

This month is dedicated to talking about the ways the financial system is different in the 2 countries where I have lived my life. I grew up in Romania, first during a communist regime that believed that all are equal in rights and possessions (except that some were more equal than others, as we found out afterwards), and then in a democratic country that was designed in bits and pieces to mirror centuries old democracies in Western Europe - and not always for the good of the people. In my early 20's, I moved to the US and had to learn all about the financial system in a country that was totally different from the one I was raised in.

I decided to write some of my thoughts and the lessons I learn through my experience, so that both the Americans and Romanians reading these posts can find out what other people have to work with and through when trying to achieve their financial goals. It is my hope that readers from both sides of the Atlantic will take some of the info I share and use it so they can build better relationships with their money, and at the same time appreciate more what they have access to.

This week, I would like to address the school and university expenses in both countries. The similarity is that both countries have both state (public) universities and private ones. The differences are many on all the levels of schooling. I would like to also cover the differences in the Romanian system now compared to how things were set up when I went through my school years. I consider myself fortunate to have been in middle-school at the time of the revolution, when Romania overthrew the communist regime. I have always felt I was born at the right time, because it gave me a chance to experience life during the communism regime while being old enough to still remember it; at the same time, I was young enough when the revolution happened to benefit from the changes and the new opportunities that became available. 

The school system set up by the communists was designed to ensure all students graduated from high school, so all the students were supposed to pass, regardless of their actual level of knowledge or ability to pass tests. Also part of the propaganda was that university studies were not encouraged, because graduating from higher education was a threat to the regime - people became individuals instead of just one of the many average workers. Graduates of higher education were known as "intellectuals" and the way the pay system was set up (all under the control of the government) encouraged factory workers to have no aspirations for university degrees.  

The good thing about the universities during the communist regime was the fact that all education was free, with the only expenses related to the dorms or any other living conditions for the students who went to school in different towns. The hard part was not the cost but the entrance exam, because of the number of candidates for the student places available. When I went to college, there were over 9 of us for each of the 25 seats open in the Tourism Department. It used to be even worse back in the 1980's for Medical School and for Law School - sometimes even over 20 candidates were fighting for each spot. 

In the recent years the criteria have changed and now the entrance exam has been eliminated for many universities, while the grades from different subjects counted for the average considered for admittance. Along with the state universities that have been around for many years (a lot of them for decades and even hundreds), many private universities were founded after the revolution - these last ones not as picky in students admitted, and asking for tuition. The tuition there is a lot lower than what the American universities charge, but it can still be high for the average income in Romania. 

The private American universities, by contrast, are more prestigious and mostly more expensive than the public ones. The main drawback to going to college (for the majority of students) is the amount of student loans one gets saddled with, for many years after graduation. I think that the biggest concern for the families sending their children to college and knowing they will be taking on a lot of debt, is the statistic showing the small percentage of them that will actually work in the field that they are qualified for. Well, this is very similar to Romanian graduates, who also go for the diploma without a real plan to work in that field. This is more obvious for such graduates of business universities (named Economic Studies) and a lot of private law schools - Romania doesn't need that many attorneys. 

Now that I realize how much I can write on the topic, I decided to continue this subject next week, when we will explore some more details of the school system - similarities and differences. 

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