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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Across oceans: Students compare Belgian and U.S. academics

Antwerp is a city located in northern Belgium, a cultural hub complete with a large cathedral and musicians playing on cobblestone streets. Taking a glance around, you’ll find few cars — walking is the preferred mode of transportation.

However, behind the old-fashioned appearance of the city, Antwerp has quite the modern education system.

Sophomore Supriya Khandekar moved to Belgium in the middle of her sixth-grade year. She lived in Antwerp for two years and attended Antwerp International School, returning to Saratoga for eighth grade at Redwood Middle School.

“School was really different in Belgium,” said Khandekar. “I found myself ahead of everybody else when I moved there. It was so much more laid back.”

She said that the school was extremely small, containing about 30 students per grade from grades kindergarten to 12th.

In addition, Belgium has a circular curriculum, in which students are taught a little of everything, instead of focusing on a single subject per year, such as chemistry or biology.

Khandekar said there were not many similarities between Belgian education and the education she receives here.

“We did World History in sixth grade, which is similar to what sixth graders did here,” said Khandekar. “That’s really the only similarity I can find.”

Both Khandekar and her brother, Sujay, senior, learned French while in Belgium, and had to learn a few Flemish words, such as “dank u,” meaning “thank you,” and “goedemorgen,” “good morning,” to communicate.

Sujay, who left as a freshman and came back at the end of his sophomore year.

Sujay explained that Belgium follows the International Baccalaureate (IB) system instead of the United States’ Advanced Placement (AP) system.

Unlike the AP system's five-point grading scale, the IB system uses a grading scale from 1 to 7. The IB exams after a course consists of a 4,000-word essay and 150 hours of service or creativity hours, while the AP system has students take a final AP test at the end of their AP course.

In addition, as opposed to the SHS block schedule, Sujay had eight classes a day, each an hour long.

Sujay said that though his Belgian school’s curriculum was not as intensive as Saratoga’s, there was an emphasis on many extracurriculars.

“There were some pretty exciting opportunities with some of the extracurriculars,” Sujay said. “I swam with the school's swim team, and I got to go to Sweden to compete in a competition between international schools across Europe.”
His sister said she was able to travel throughout Europe as part of her track and field team.

“I went to this competition in Copenhagen,” Supriya said. “It was for all of Europe, which was really exciting.”

Aside from extracurriculars, Supriya said there was a bigger emphasis on foreign languages, music and art.

Also, the teachers expected students to find their own methods of studying.

“It didn’t matter how you took notes. Note-taking wasn’t even required,” she said. “As long as you knew the material for the test, you were fine.”

After two years at the Antwerp International School, the family headed back to California to finish the rest of high school.

“It was a little difficult to adjust,” Supriya said. “But living in Belgium taught me to adjust quickly.”

Supriya explained that the attitude of the students in Saratoga is extremely different, as students here tend to focus more on their studies.

Sujay, on the other hand, did not find it  difficult to adjust. However, because of the differences in material, he decided to repeat his sophomore year at SHS.

“I know it adds on an extra year to my high school career,” said Sujay. “But I can say with confidence that [repeating sophomore year] was one of the best decisions I've ever made.”

Both Supriya and Sujay agreed that living in Belgium was an enriching experience.

“[Living in Belgium] taught me to be a more self-reliant and independent learner,” Supriya said.

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