College in the United States is an almost-sacred phase in life. From applications to acceptance letters, to the nervous excitement of move-in day, students dream of the unprecedented freedom and future they seize in four or more years. Reluctant parents drive away in the sweltering August of freshman year, watching their biggest investment of effort and tuition money cast off on its own.
At universities like TCU, students join organizations, spend time around the beautiful campus and find an increasing number of opportunities to advance their future career goals. Upon graduation, the time comes to join alumni associations and come back for football games, possibly as a season ticket holder. How could the unique experience of college be any different?
How surprising it was, then, to learn the habits and practices of Spanish university students upon arriving in Seville over a month ago. Classes, student involvement and social experience are radically different and challenging to an American accustomed to TCU’s trademark feeling of total immersion.
Spanish students value class attendance much less than Americans. While absence policies are rigid and the grading system is harsh, anyone unable to pass a class can retake the final exams at the beginning of the following term. The revolving door assessment system helps students learn and develop, yet encourages a culture of missing class and devaluing the great feats of studying important to Americans.
The best word to describe a conventional Spanish campus is Spartan. Students participating in the TCU in Seville program attend Universidad Pablo de Olavide (UPO), housed in what was formerly an industrial labor training facility. Academics are the central and often only focus of university life. UPO is unique among Spanish universities for maintaining a working gym, playing fields and student housing, and yet it struggles to justify the worth of extra services to its administration and funders.
A valuable student activity far less common in the United States is an emphasis on international programs. Standard in Europe, a high proportion of foreign students learning language, translation and reaching out with and through Spaniards to form a common culture is promising for better learning. If Americans hope to be leaders and citizens in the global community, an increased focus on foreign outreach in education is essential.
Friends in college are defined in ways ranging from organizations to freshman dorms to chance meetings, and almost all relationships form through participation in a college-related location or activity. Spanish students and youth culture have friends at school, but rarely outline their social lives by their collegiate identity.
Extended family, friends of friends and a massive generational involvement in entertainment and nightlife bring young Spanish groups together. Gravitating toward a cluster of people of the same gender, college-age friends have crowded and public social lives.
When I return to TCU in the spring semester, appreciation of college’s many opportunities in academics and activities will come more easily, while the outlines of its limitations will be more difficult. Beyond their differences, Americans and Spaniards alike will continue to revel in the most empowering and dynamic years of their lives.
Pearce Edwards is a junior political science and history double major from Albuquerque, New Mexico.