Christmas dinner conversations with my grandma were especially intriguing this year: the horrible American obsession with sports, the decline of America's universities, the ridiculous price tag of university education, the lack of work ethic in American students in comparison to international students, and how all of these issues are somehow leading to the "inevitable doom" of my generation. As a granddaughter, I meekly listened and nodded my head. But as a Bowdoin student, I could not be happier with my university education, and I have hope for our generation.

Of course, I do not want to generalize about all American universities, nor do I think it would be helpful. Yet I know how hard I worked to get into Bowdoin, and even my mother feels that my generation has a stronger work ethic than hers did. So is it an issue of my grandma's nostalgia, or something more substantial?

To professors, administrators, American students and international students, I have posed the question: What distinguishes the American university system? Why does it arguably contain some of the best universities in the world? How do international institutions compare, and as American students are we really "doomed" as a generation? I will focus on the three most frequently-mentioned elements in these conversations: money, sports and work ethic.

One consensus is clear—the U.S. has some of the world's greatest institutions simply because of money. It is not necessarily that American students are much smarter or better prepared; American elementary and high school public education notoriously lags behind other developed countries. Many U.S. universities are private and can afford the programs, world-renowned faculty, and new facilities which are too expensive for publically-funded universities. Prior to the economic downturn, Harvard's endowment made it the second largest nonprofit organization in the world, behind only the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Outside of the U.S., most universities are government-funded or heavily subsidized.

Additionally, Americans give back to their alma maters more than in any other country; in the United Kingdom, where universities tend to be publically funded, efforts to gain capital from alums have only recently increased, following the American model. Money is rapidly running in and out of private American universities; I asked one of my professors if the $50,000 price tag for an institution such as Bowdoin was necessary. He responded that to maintain all of the resources that the College offers, in addition to the subsidies that we receive, it is.

Several critics claim that American universities would be even stronger without sports. As someone who loves sports and participated in soccer, tennis and swimming in high school, I admit that the centrality of sports in American culture is sometimes extreme. It would be difficult for any institution to stop that culture from creeping into the university system. While sports have less of an influence at Bowdoin, our obsession is nonetheless alive and well. (The Bowdoin-Colby hockey game sold out!) Sports provide an opportunity for cohesion, school spirit and the "work hard, play hard" mentality that pervades at Bowdoin and many other colleges. Schools with Division I athletic programs can bring in money from their community that may otherwise have not been gained, allowing less well-known schools to bolster their academics and reshape their image.

This phenomenon is sometimes called "The Flutie Factor." After Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl, Boston College saw their applications rise by 16 percent from 1984 to 1985. There are many factors that could be attributed to the rise in applications, but in any case it is clear that sports allow for both monetary and community support for universities. In a liberal arts context, one of the most common arguments is that sports contribute to the "whole person" work ethic which is so important in higher education.

This "whole person" concept is a cornerstone of the liberal arts education. Yes, I never attended school and "after-school" until 10 p.m. like many elite high school students in South Korea. I probably would not be able to work 14 hour work days, seven days a week, for 10 months of the year like the cruise crew members who were serving dinner to me and my grandma during our conversation.

Yet I realized that while I may not be physically able to work that sheer number of hours, the work ethic encouraged by the College changes us on many levels. Critical thinking, reading, writing, sports, arts, music, cultural pursuits, volunteer work, community involvement and political action are all things we learn at Bowdoin. With the education I receive at Bowdoin, I am able to apply to a variety of jobs and to interact with the international community. I have the support of the Bowdoin. I can continue my education outside of Bowdoin, and I can adapt to the constantly changing world. I am able to be creative and willing to innovate. Being at a university allows us to study as well as become the people who can deal with the challenges facing our generation.

By no means am I saying that international universities do not offer many of these opportunities. And clearly there are flaws in American university education. Yet it cannot be denied; we are lucky to be Bowdoin students. All I ask is that we take advantage of that opportunity, and that we engage in conversations about our education. Maybe my grandma was right in saying that we need to open our eyes to our education. But I hope that I can some day prove her wrong about my generation, and the education I have received.

Amanda Gartside is a member of the Class of 2012.