For the past year, I’ve taken part in a survey from the Swiss government on employment. Every three months they call me and ask me questions about my job–how many hours I work, how much money I’ve earned, if I’ve applied for any new jobs, etc. I love data so I’m always happy to help out with such things.
Yesterday was another one of these phone calls. They are testing a new survey instrument, and so they had a new panel of questions and this one included educational questions. While the survey taker was speaking English and I was answering in English, it was like we were speaking past each other:
Survey: Did you complete any schooling past the compulsory schooling?
Survey: What did you do?
Me: I went to the University.
Survey: You didn’t get a matura first?
Me: In America, everyone goes to the same compulsory schooling. We call it high school and there’s no differentiation in the diplomas.
Survey: And you can go straight to the university after this?
Survey: I’ll write down High School diploma.
Survey: And then University?
Me: Yes. I got a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.
Later I explained that I attended another university for a Master’s Degree. She then wanted to know my husband’s education (bachelor’s and master’s also in political science), and my parents’ education (Dad has a PhD in political science and my mother has a bachelor’s degree in nursing).
Now, for me, this was kind of interesting because the Swiss Gymnasium program, which leads you to the university, always seemed like the Swiss equivalent of high school to me. But to her, they were not the same. Which makes sense, because only 20 percent of kids get accepted into a gymnasium program. The remaining 80 percent go to either a blue-collar vocational training, or a combined apprenticeship-academic program, where you can go to a college after graduating, but not a university.
Now, I hope my answers made enough sense that their survey makes sense, but things don’t always translate straight across. Even when speaking the same language. In the US there are differences between colleges and universities, but the difference is in the degres they grant, not in who can get in. You can go to a great college or a lousy university, or vice versa. Here it’s different, and, I admit, I still don’t understand all of it.
When US politicians say they want to be more “like Europe” with their “free college” I just laugh and laugh because a. there is no way to be “like Europe” because each European country is different and while the university is free here, unless your kid is in the top 20 percent, he’s not getting in. Pretty sure US parents wouldn’t go for that.