20 Apr Alexandru Hutu, the only romanian student at the Minerva Schools US
They are young, ambitious and incredibly smart. We are talking about young Romanian students who are pursuing their higher education around the world, who have the courage and perseverance to follow their dreams and pursue their passion in places that are far from their homeland. As part of its campaign “Romanians in the World’s Auditoriums” Transylvania Reporter will present to you, every week, the life stories, passions and accomplishments of the most valuable and appreciated young Romanians, who are now studying at the most prestigious universities in the world, or who have chosen to continue their education in the most surprising places in order to widen their horizons and create meaningful life experiences.
Alexandru Huțu is the only Romanian student who has been accepted so far at Minerva Schools, a newly founded university, with an innovative concept and with more competition for admission than Harvard. Before being accepted at Minerva, Alexandru studied for two years at Transylvania College, in Cluj-Napoca, and he eventually chose to leave the country in order to pursue his dreams. His passion for travel made him choose a university that allowed him to study from any place in the world, Minerva Schools.
Reporter: You are from Timisoara. How did you end up in Cluj for your last two years of high school? Tell us about your decision to study at Transylvania College.
Alexandru Hutu: I decided to move to Cluj and enrol at Transylvania College because I was no longer motivated to study in the public school I was attending in Timisoara. I needed to make a change, so I decided to choose a different education system for the completion of my high school studies. One of the challenges I faced was the fact that I had to live alone, but that experience has actually helped me a lot to adjust to life in college.
Reporter: At Transylvania College, you studied every subject in English, following a curriculum approved by Cambridge. Was this an advantage for your college application?
Alexandru Hutu: the university I’ve chosen is not so keen on following traditional admission criteria (e.g. standardised tests in the usual subjects taught in high school), but the two years I spent in a completely new environment had a great impact on me. By studying in a more open system, my way of thinking was transformed and I felt that I was, in a way, more in control of my own education.
Reporter: Tell us about the „Work experience” program, I know that you had two weeks every year for various internships. Where did you complete yours?
Alexandru Hutu: I completed my internships in a film studio in Bucharest, and also at a foundation in Timisoara, which organises an art biennale. I also found other opportunities, outside the school’s Work Experience program. I worked in a sports equipment shop and at a local TV station. All of these experiences have helped me to understand what it means to support yourself while earning the minimum wage in Romania. They also gave me the opportunity to meet people in the industries in which I am interested.
Reporter: What subjects did you choose to study in high school? What was your focus?
Alexandru Hutu: After studying in a high school with a Maths and IT focus, I was curious to try different subjects, unfamiliar to me. At the same time, I was eager to learn more, in a formal way about certain fields I was passionate about. So I chose Economics, Business Studies, Media Studies and Maths. Economics and Business Studies because I thought they were interesting and they would useful later on, at university, and Media Studies because I’ve been learning about photography and cinematography on my own since I was 12. Maths was a given, but I ended up regretting that choice and I gave it up after one year, which you can do in the British system.
Reporter: When did you decide to leave for the States? Tell us about your departure.
Alexandru Hutu: I actually wasn’t considering The United States when I was looking at potential universities to continue my studies and I didn’t expect to end up here. At the beginning of my high school studies, when I was still in Timisoara, I was sure that I would go to college in the UK, my plan was to study photography at the University of Edinburgh. At the beginning of my last high school year, when I prepared to apply to university, I was trying to find a Liberal Arts and Sciences program which would allow me to study an array of things, without limiting the information to one field of study. That’s how I ended up applying to University College Maastricht, in the Netherlands and I was already looking for housing. A few months later I learned about Minerva Schools, a university founded in 2012, which offered a similar program and also included a component that was very important to me: travelling. At Minerva, in the freshman year we study in San Francisco, and then every semester we move to a different country. In addition to that, what won me over was the fact that such a young institution was trying to revolutionise the higher education system.
Reporter: What made you choose Minerva Schools, a newly founded university? Do they offer a similar concept/philosophy to what is offered at Transylvania College?
Alexandru Hutu: I wanted to be part of the change process, of this daring experiment. As it was the case at Transylvania College, I am going to be again part of the second generation of alumni. I am motivated by the fact that I can contribute to the growth of the institution, that I have a voice and the power to improve, even by a little, the system.
Reporter: How difficult was the admission process? What is your advice for those who are planning to pursue their higher education in The United States?
Alexandru Hutu: Admission at Minerva Schools is different than the regular admission process at American universities. Rather than focusing on SAT scores or certificates in academic competitions, Minerva analyses—among other factors—the applicant’s creativity, communication skills and passion. Even so, it is the most competitive selection process in the world, with a 1,9% admission rate last year. I am not familiar with the traditional admission system in the States, so I am not able to offer advice in this regard.
Reporter: Did you feel welcome within the university? What’s your experience so far? What do you like? What don’t you like?
Alexandru Hutu: There’s a very diverse community here: I have colleagues from approximately 50 countries. There is no majority and nobody is marginalised. It’s been a big adjustment for me to see how positive everyone is over here; we are a tight-knit community, warmer and closer than what I was used to in Romania. There’s a positivity that is almost extreme at times, but it is a welcome change.
Reporter: What do you study?
Alexandru Hutu: All the students at Minerva study four courses in the first year. The purpose of these courses is to help us improve our communication skills, critical thinking and creativity. Next year we will choose a major, which could be anything from Social Sciences to Maths, and in the third year, we focus on a specific field, such as Politics, or Artificial Intelligence. All courses are organised as seminars, with a maximum of 18 students in attendance; the professors cannot speak longer than four minutes at a time.
Reporter: Do you live on campus?
Alexandru Hutu: We are all housed in a former hostel in San Francisco, located across the street from the Twitter and Uber offices, but we don’t have a campus per se. All the courses take place online, in real time, on a platform that is proprietary to the university. This way we can travel year-round, and our professors may teach from anywhere in the world. For example, I am now on vacation in Mexico and I have courses taught by professors in Canada or on the East Coast. Starting in my second year, each semester will take place in a different city: Seul, Hyderabad (India), Berlin, Buenos Aires, Taipei and London. We could actually attend the courses from anywhere in the world, as long as we had an Internet connection. However, living in a new place for a few months, getting to understand a different culture offers us a profound experience, a perspective that you cannot get as a tourist.
Reporter: Describe a usual day in your life as a student
Alexandru Hutu: My classes start at 9 AM, Monday through Thursday and I have to admit that I often wake up at 8:55, put on a T-shirt, I open my laptop and join the class. In the more productive days, I go to a coffee shop with a few colleagues and join the class from there. After attending the two daily seminars I usually go somewhere in town to study. Minerva has implemented the “flipped classroom” concept, which means that we all have to be prepared for class, ready to participate in discussions, with the lesson already learned. I usually prepare one day in advance for a class. My favourite place to study is the coffee shop in the Twitter office building, especially on Tuesdays when they have a 2$ taco special. My main source of food is the non-stop doughnut place across the street, where I buy way too many sandwiches each week. We spend our weekends walking around town, hiking in the hills in San Francisco, or going on road trips through California or nearby states, in a rented car.
Reporter: Was there ever a moment when you considered attending a local university? What would have been your choice?
Alexandru Hutu: No. Seeing what happens in state schools and hearing all kinds of stories from universities around the country I felt it was best to avoid being part of a broken system, at least until I could contribute to its reform.
Reporter: What would you like to become?
Alexandru Hutu: I have two very different answers to this question: an idealistic one, where I am traveling the world with only a backpack, without being stuck in front of a computer screen for 12 hours a day, and a more realistic one—a career in the field of education, or in politics. I hope I can somehow combine the two.
Reporter: What do you do in your spare time? I know that you are passionate about photography and cinematography. Is it just a hobby, or is it more than that? Would you like to pursue a career in these fields?
Alexandru Hutu: Indeed, I have been passionate about photography and video for about 7-8 years and I’ve acquired skills I can always use, but for now I am not considering a career in these fields. I have a Youtube channel where I’ve posted hundreds of videos throughout the years which have about 2 million views, but lately I kind of retired from doing this, it is a closed chapter in my life for now. In my spare time, I try to travel as much as I can. In my opinion, no activity allows you to grow quite as much as travelling does.
Reporter: Under what circumstances would you return to work in Romania?
Alexandru Hutu: I would come back home under any circumstances, as long as something could be improved and I could contribute to it. I hope my attitude remains the same, despite what’s happening right now in the country. I do feel, however, that there are more opportunities in Romania now than in any other developed country.
Reporter: What do you miss most when you think of Romania?
Alexandru Hutu: the nice atmosphere in the cities where I lived—Timișoara and Cluj. People were not in such a hurry there, the restaurants with open air terraces in the historical city centres were always full, all summer and I could safely walk everywhere around town, no matter how late at night. I also miss my childhood friends and my grandmother’s cooking.
Reporter: Did you ever feel discriminated while in the States, because of your Romanian nationality?
Alexandru Hutu: No. Americans are not that familiar with Romania, other than what they’ve heard about Dracula, or about the recent protests. I think that those who are tarnishing Romania’s reputation in Western Europe have not yet made it here, and I feel that I am responsible for building a good reputation for my country, being the only Romanian student at Minerva.