Transy professors discuss differences in education systems

For International Education Week, To Broadway and Beyond is recognizing international students, staff and faculty at Transylvania.

Eva Csuhai, Professor of Chemistry

Csuhai, front row center, facing camera. Taken in 1971.

We had free higher education when I was growing up in Hungary in the 1980s.

[T]axes from the whole population subsidize the education of some students at colleges and universities. While this sounds like a cool notion up front, what it means is that since there are just not enough public funds for everyone to go to college, the country has to select the “best and brightest” for the number of college spots it can afford to subsidize.  Commonly the top 9-10 % of the high school graduates each year.

These students would need to know what specialty/major they are going to go into, since the country’s goal is to educate the intellectuals it needs, thus the fields and number of spots in them are limited. To get one of the coveted spots, the high school students need to take a (pretty demanding) entrance test, in their chosen field. 

[A]n aspiring high school student needs to be enrolled in the best high school possible — to get into those, they need to start preparing around age 10. Then they need to commit to rigorous study of one field for a good part of their 11th and 12th grade years.  If somebody changes their mind, they need to go back to 10th grade and start all over again.

My parents, being the two physicians that they were, made sure I got into the best middle school, so I could get into the best high school.  They also encouraged me in studying to the best of my abilities, and I never had to work for money so I could study all I wanted in fields that I had excellent teachers in.

I had time to do “chemistry club” after school, so I placed 6th in the National Chemistry Olympiad, which guaranteed me a spot in college as a chemistry major.  I graduated from college, got into graduate school where I got a Ph.D. working with a Nobel Laureate, who got me a postdoc spot in the #2 Chemistry department at MIT.  I got a great job, with tenure, at a cool college, in a nice town, where I meet interesting, bright people every day. 

Was it me that did all that, or my parents’ socioeconomic and educational attainments? We might never know.


Iva Katzarska-Miller, Associate Professor of Psychology

Prior to coming to the United States, I was completing my bachelor’s degree in English (called English Philology) in the South-West University in Bulgaria. Being exposed to two different college systems, I often ponder the potential benefits of the two. What follows is my experience with higher education in Bulgaria at the time when I was a university student (over 20 years ago), although I believe that the system has not changed much today.

In Bulgaria, when you apply to go to college, there is an entrance exam that is associated with the major you are pursuing. For English Philology, the entrance exam was English (dictation, listening, translation, grammar exercises, short essay). “Undecided” did not exist and since the first day of classes there was a four-year plan created by the university about the classes you would be taking each semester. I had a cohort of about 45 other students, and we all took the same classes, at the same time.

There were no exams, papers, or presentations during the semester. Our role as students was to show up to class, and take extensive notes. Questions were allowed, but not necessarily encouraged. Then finals week (in reality a period of about 20 days) was crunch cram time. We were given a study guide that covered the material for the whole semester, and we had several days to study for each exam. When you went to the exam, you either randomly drew or were assigned several questions from the study guide. You were given 5-10 minutes to sit down and organize your thoughts followed by an oral examination by the professor.

After the oral exam, the professor assigned your grade, and… it was over!


To Broadway and Beyond is a student-managed blog from the Transylvania study abroad program. Eva Csuhai is a professor of Chemistry. Iva Katzarska-Miller is an associate professor of psychology.