The High School Years Are Way Different For People Outside Of The US, And These People Are Telling Us Why

It's time to learn about what "high school" is like in other countries, y'all.

heathers scenes where they gather together and say "oh my god, here we go"
heathers scenes where they gather together and say "oh my god, here we go"

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After years of being bombarded by images of what high school is like in the states, we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to dish on what schooling during the teen years is like in their countries.

kids passing notes down a row in a classroom
kids passing notes down a row in a classroom

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Here's how they described schooling around the world.


Aerial view of a high school campus in Australia

"Awesome, fun times. Water wars with other schools' kids was a regular. Teachers were largely supportive and great at making us passionate about all the subjects. There were cliques, but after two years, all cliques kept their various styles but melded together."


Phillip Wittke / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Another Aussie shared their experience.

four teenage girls in uniforms walking down a walkway together

"I grew up in Australia. The main differences I can think of off the top of my head are 1.) Uniforms, we weren’t allowed to choose our own clothes except on free dress days. Some girls would roll up the band of their skirts to make them shorter and flirtier, though!

2.) No school lunches. It was bring your own from home, buy from the canteen, or starve. And no lunch room, although there were plenty of benches outside.

3.) I don’t remember there being noticeable cliques. Of course, there were groups of friends who stuck together with similar interests, but I guess as we were all in the same uniforms and weren’t allowed to have wild-colored hair or piercings, it wasn’t that noticeable?"


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three women leaning in to see something

"After elementary school, i.e. the end of fourth grade, your grades will decide what kind of secondary school you'll go to. (The recommendation isn't legally binding, meaning that even if your child doesn't get a recommendation for the highest level of secondary school, you can still send them, but they'll most likely have a hard time academically.)

The system is 3-tiered. 1. Hauptschule. Ends after 9th/10th grade. 2. Realschule. Ends after 10th grade. 3. Gymnasium. Ends after 12th/13th grade."

Hello Africa / Getty Images

"Now, to what it is like. School normally starts around 7:40 a.m., a period lasts 45 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. Most schools will have their 'big break' (15-20 minutes) after second period. Unless you have afternoon school, usually the school day ends after sixth period, around 1 p.m."

Secondary school in Germany

"English is your first foreign language, and you will need to choose another at the end of sixth grade. Usually, it's either French, Latin, or Spanish (depending on your profile, see above, you might have to pick a 3rd foreign language later).

Classes are smaller. My graduating class was 62 or 63 people.

There are extracurriculars or clubs (AG, Arbeitsgemeinschaft), but they're dependent on finding a teacher that's willing, and there's no extra credit for attending.

Grades go from 1 (very good) to 6 (insufficient). There are no Scantron or multiple-choice tests."

We-ge / Getty Images

"There are electives, like literature, psychology, philosophy, astronomy, etc. but not before 11/12th grade."

two teenage boys working on a robotic project in a german high school

"You pick two to three 'Leistungskurse,' kinda like AP classes for your last two years of school. The rest, that you didn't drop anyway, are 'Grundkurs' level classes.

School uniforms aren't really a thing, and for the most part, dress codes are neither. Obviously, you're supposed to dress appropriately, but no one gets sent home for wearing spaghetti straps or yoga pants. Afaik, the only kid I remember ever getting sent home to change, was a boy whose jeans were so filled with 'fashionable' holes they were practically one big hole. But even that may have been because the teacher that sent him home was his neighbor."


Willie B. Thomas / Getty Images


Secondary school in Trinidad

"I grew up in the Caribbean, and my high school experience was lit af. You live, you learn, eh, thank the good lord it was not traumatic. In my high school, cliques were irrelevant. My friends and I were all cool; of course, each high school has its share of snobby stuck-ups, but as I said before, they were irrelevant. Nobody really cared about cliques. When I graduated, I learned a lot, and I do miss my high school sometimes. Looking back, those were the best of days."


Nandani Bridglal / Getty Images

4.United Kingdom

two teenage girls in uniforms working with science manipulatives

"In the UK, we had a uniform, but our school's was literally just black, with a logo hoodie rather than blazers or anything, I went to a state school that won best independent state school in the north one year — and we regularly beat the other schools in terms of results — and was considered 'outstanding' by the Ofsted (the board which reviews all British schools).

Despite all this, we had conspiracy theorist history teachers, one of whom spent a whole lesson on the JFK assassination, we had year-8's (12-13-year-olds) dealing drugs in school with teachers that knew about it, and the sanitary bins in the toilets were always literally overflowing. One thing I've always been jealous of in American schools is that you don't have your entire school career judged of like 10 hours of exams. In the UK, that's typically what happens when it comes to GCSE and A levels."


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A couple of BuzzFeed Community members likened their UK high school experience to The Inbetweeners.

teenage boys dancing in "the inbetweeners"
teenage boys dancing in "the inbetweeners"

Bwark Productions Young Films / Via

"I grew up in the UK, and the closest representation I can think of when it comes to school is The Inbetweeners. It is scary how accurate it is to English secondary schools — the sex pest who claims they know it all, the one who will clearly vote Tory and take things too seriously, the one who's not all that clever, the knobbish teacher who follows his own rules, even the teacher who gets too comfortable with the students (for the record, in my school it was the IT teacher)."


Teenage boy trying to flag down two teenage girls who walk right past him on "The Inbetweeners"
Teenage boy trying to flag down two teenage girls who walk right past him on "The Inbetweeners"

Bwark Productions Young Films / Via

"Inbetweeners is a much better example of UK school than Skins or anything! Bunch of horny idiots lacking any social skills.

I went to a Grammar school in the SE of England, which means I had to test to get in. Year 7-9 (11-14) was pretty standard, the whole class would attend together, maybe sets for maths. Year 10/11 was GCSE, so we had our own individual choices and schedules, but still core subjects like math, English, and science. My school also had a sixth form, which was basically year 12/13 for A levels. You took three or four subjects only and only had to be in school for classes. We could also ditch the uniform at that point but still had to dress for 'business.' So, a bunch of 17-year-olds looking like work experience mostly!! This was all 20 years ago, though."


5.South Africa

South African students working at their desks in uniforms

"In South Africa: age 3-5=creche, 5/6=grade R, primary school=grade 1 to 7, high school=grade 8 to 12.

We wear uniforms, bring our own lunches to school, more academically focused.

School year is from late January to mid-December, divided into four terms with short school holidays between each term, December being the longest with at least six weeks off. Most schools don't have lockers (more a private school thing). You had to lug your school bag from class to class with all your books for the day in them."


Jacoblund / Getty Images/iStockphoto


lockers in a high school hallway

"I’m Canadian and went to a very large suburban school in a medium-sized city. What now shocks me about the school is that my parents let us go at all. The football coach’s son was a drug dealer. When I was 15, someone set fire to some crash mats outside the gym, and the school was closed for two weeks while they fixed the resulting damage. One year, a guy started running into the school every day and grabbing female students, molesting them, and running out. This went on for weeks before they caught him.

Minor incidents were smoke and stink bombs getting set off while they pulled the fire alarm, a protest by native Canadian students that turned violent, and the regular bullying that happens in schools. I even remember being at a school dance, and a guy was bragging that he could get his cousin to bring a gun over in 15 minutes. Fortunately, no one asked him to prove it.

I must have learned things because I went to university, and I had friends and the sort of social life a smart, very sarcastic teenage girl who doesn’t do any clubs or sports has. But now, I remember how stupidly unsafe it was, and I hope it’s better, but the drug dealer is a teacher there now."


Chris Jongkind / Getty Images

7.The Netherlands

outside of a school building in Amsterdam

"In the Netherlands, you start school at the age of 4, but in the first two years, you don’t learn how to read or write. Then, you learn at six years to write, read, do basic math and some history, geography, English, and art.

After those six years, you can go to different schools. It depends on how high you score on a test and the advice of your teacher. There are eight different levels, but there are similarities: Everyone studies Dutch, math, English, German, biology, geography, history, and maybe some other things I can’t think of right now. But how high your level tells how many things you have to study, like French, Greek, Latin, and other things. The higher levels take longer, five or six years. The lower levels take four years.

If you graduate from the four lower levels, you go to a school that is specialized in jobs that are more practical like nurses, car mechanics, working in restaurants, with animals, technical, or ICT. If you graduated in the higher levels, you can go to the university and become a doctor, a lawyer, all those kinds of jobs."


Robert Vt Hoenderdaal / Getty Images


three teenagers talking in the hallway at school

"I'm from Serbia. Here we have two types of high school — general, like yours, and many different vocational (culinary, economics, science, architecture, etc.), after which you can find an entry-level job without college. Classes, or itineraries, are fixed; you don't choose classes for yourself, and one classroom equals 25-35 students who spend four years together as a unit.

We tend to know each other better. I always found it weird not to know your classmates like in the US. Oh, and we can choose to go to whichever school we want, doesn't matter where we live. The bad side is that extracurricular activities are limited, our schools are made just of classrooms, bathrooms, and gymnasiums; if you want drama, music, and sports activities, you can join your local clubs outside school, and you have to pay monthly for those. That's the thing I always envied about American high school — you have a club for everything, including the school paper which I would love!"


Gilaxia / Getty Images


students sitting in class taking notes

"I did freshman year at a private school in Brazil. First, uniforms. The school I went to was particularly anal about the uniform being complete down to the pure-white shoes. Second, we only went to school for half of the day. Either you were a morning student or an afternoon student, but you weren’t there for 8 hours.

Third, some schools in the area had special programs, like electrical engineering, that you could enroll in to kickstart your post-secondary education. Sports weren’t a big deal, kids were just as cruel to one another, and what you got away with depended largely on how much money your parents were willing to dish out.

One thing I found interesting was that the young teachers fraternized with students outside of school, sometimes inappropriately. I distinctly remember doing a body shot off of the same girl as my physics teacher at a party."


Fg Trade / Getty Images


Teens talking in class in a classroom in Sweden

"In Sweden, there is a different school system. Year 7 to 9 is high school, which we call it in best translation. Then, we continue our studies in a new school with a new 'main' class, such as theater, home economics, or a whole bunch of other selections. It's about three years, depending on the subject.

And, of course, there is the usual basic subjects such as math or English. (We study English here, btw.) High school was mellow as shit, but after that, you really need to do your work. Otherwise, you have to redo a year."


Johner Images / Getty Images/Johner RF


students sitting in class learning in Israel

"The high school I attended in Israel was a private boarding school for kids who are gifted and/or excellent in school. You might think that putting 200-ish teenagers with massive IQs and, therefore, massive egos and emotional problems, is a bad idea, and you'll be actually only half right.

The people who went to my school graduated either intellectually and socially intrigued and enhanced, or deeply, deeply scarred and traumatized. Unfortunately, I'm in the latter."


Gil Cohen-magen / AFP via Getty Images


Finland upper secondary school

"Finland, and went to a music-oriented one. There's a lot more freedom and responsibility: You pick around 25-30% of your curriculum based on what you're interested in, but the rest are mandatory courses (math, history, at least one foreign language, Swedish, etc.), and it takes around three years to finish.

During the last year, you take your matriculation: You take nationally standardized tests in a few subjects, and those grades factor in when you're applying for university.

Socially it's also a bit different since most people at least have some sense of 'wanting' to be at that exact school. The biggest jerks either might go to another school or start growing up and being less jerky."


Aimur Kytt / Getty Images

13.New Zealand

New Zealand students lined up outside of their school for a photo opportunity

"I went to school in New Zealand in the '90s/early 2000s.

1.) Our school year begins in late January/early February at the tail-end of our summer. The end of the school year is November or early December, so Christmas falls during the summer holidays.

2.) Most high schools (usually called secondary schools or college here) have uniforms. Only a select few allow people to wear their own clothes. But a few times a year, we would have a 'mufti day' where we could pay $1 to be allowed to wear our regular clothes for the day. The money raised would go toward projects or building upgrades for the school.

3.) Each year, there was a School Ball (a bit like a prom) for the Year 12 and Year 13 students (the oldest levels in the school). It was a fairly big deal; a lot of girls convinced their parents to pay for beautiful dresses and professional hair and makeup. Hardly anyone went with dates, though. Most of us just went in a group with our friends."

Chris Jackson / Getty Images

"4.) At the end of the school year, there was a prize-giving ceremony that students and parents went to, and prizes were given for various academic, arts, or sporting achievements."

New Zealand students playing rugby

"The top academic student in Year 13 would get a 'Dux' award. I got a massive trophy for being the student involved in a ton of clubs and extracurricular activities who also did well academically.

5.) In other ways, it was just like how US high school seems in the movies. There were people who were more popular than others; there were bullies. There was homework, detentions, lockers, a lot of the typical stuff."


Peter Meecham / Getty Images


Indian student and teacher working together with science equipment

"I grew up in India. My high school experience was nonexistent lol. It was basically a lot of schoolwork, some sports on the side, and then a lot of tuitions (classes). I wasn’t necessarily pushed by my parents to get good grades, but more so by society, and pretty much everyone I knew got good grades, so there was a lot of competition.

The school that I went to unfortunately had teachers that favored some specific students, and I was not one of them, so I had to work extra hard. Honestly, I don’t even know how I managed to do the work that I did way back when or even had the energy to."


Dimple Bhati / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Who do you think has it the best? What are your own experiences like? Talk about it in the comments!