Being in Spain and going to such a large school like the University of Granada is a great experience. Coming from a small school in the Midwest, I’m not used to the large crowds, walking 20 minutes to and from school, or the vast expanse of a university. It’s a way of life foreign to me like the language here, but it’s also something I’ve grown accustomed to enjoy over all these weeks.
Granada, a city of some 240,000 people and a University of roughly 80,000 (5,000 of which are international students), is quite the transition from my school of some 1,500. Here, I’ve blended into the system like a poorly painted watercolor; the colors are still discernible, yet the details are lost. In a sense, I’ve become a name, a face and a number.
My name appears on attendance lists like an item on a shopping list, something to be checked off. You know it was on the list, and in the cart, you see it and you acknowledge it, remembering it was there. And with that name, comes a number– a statistic, money, a percentage. To a university of 80,000, no one of authority knows me except for my professors, and even they struggle to remember my name, much less pronounce it (to some, I’m called “Miguel” or “Paco”) for the time being. For now, I am a numerical value and a name that exists in the vast expanse of technology, meant to be referred to later this year to examine trends and make decisions.
Finally, I’m a face. Imagine those artistically designed pictures of famous people (such as Abraham Lincoln) that are actually collages of thousands of people’s faces. You don’t realize it at first until you look much closer later on. I am one of those thousands of faces that makes up the University of Granada. I blend in, yet I stand out, too. People may see me, but they may not know my name, who I am, or where I am from other than perhaps that I am American.
Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten to know the other faces of that collage, people in my program that come from all over the United States, and other international students, too. We all share the notion of blending in, and we are our own little microcosm of students, enjoying the opportunities presented to us. Yet at the same time, something is different.
Back at Lawrence, I (and any other student) am much more than any of these. Of course I exist on paper and I am a number, but I hold so much more value in the community. I’m not just another face in the crowd, a part of a collage. I am a person that is involved in the community, working with other students and administration to sustain the success of the university, to improve the place we fondly call home. And that’s true not just for me, but for every student there. At Lawrence I can walk to class and pass roughly 15-20 people that I am well acquainted with, all of whom will smile, wave or call out my name and stop to chat, with me doing the same. Here in Granada, I will see maybe 2 or 3 people I know on my way to school.
The academics at Granada are interesting (more on that later) and certainly teach me a lot. Yet in a different manner than what I am used to. Here, we go to class, have discussions and explore concepts. Then we do homework that’s either reading a short story or doing some worksheet problems. It’s easy work that certainly is retained, but it’s nothing compared to Lawrence, as this homework only takes one hour to finish…. not four. The student experience at Lawrence essentially compensates for the highly concentrated and prolonged stress, hard work and nerdiness that inevitably prevails. We all endure 10 weeks of rigorous coursework, a struggle that persists for the whole year, backdropped by a dark abyss of changing, temperamental weather patterns. Yet the best thing of all is we’re all in it together. We all understand each other. When I’m stressed, 1,499 other people are stressed, too.
Yes, we’re all faces in a crowd, but this time the faces stand out, and they’re familiar. What you’re looking at is a family. A family of intellectuals, nerds, individuals, artists, musicians, writers, scientists, academics and friends. For what it’s worth, the University of Granada is a fantastic place with fantastic education, life-changing experiences and so many opportunities and I relish the experience with a hunger not unlike that which accompanies staring at Grandma’s apple pie on Thanksgiving Day. But when it comes down to it, the University has absolutely nothing on the feeling of community that is so easily found at Lawrence.