A special series. Comparing and Contrasting: The University — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
[The exterior of the Roger de Llúria building. If I could have expanded the frame to the right more you would see the entrance to the Jaume I building, but with the sun at this time it was nearly impossible to get a good shot!]
During the orientation presentation for my host university, the chair of my chosen program described Barcelona as “a very sexy city”. At the time I remember catching myself mid-thought, wondering if there would ever be an occasion in the States in which I would hear a professor address and auditorium of students describing their city as “sexy”. Duluth is gorgeous, yes, but sexy? Eh….
Barcelona, though, warrants such a description. Filled to the brim with young people and their energy, it is a very happening city that inspires creativity and a sense of openness – not to mention the wealth of nightlife, which acts a draw for many a college student. This first encounter at my host university – Universitat Pampeu Fabra (UPF) – served as the first indication that the college culture here is a bit different than that of the States’. While it seemed small to start, this epiphany has stuck with me in the background of my consciousness, popping up here and there as I experience situations that would have a very different context back home.
[The courtyard of the Jaume I building, one of three that make up the Ciutadella campus. My two humanities courses are taught from this building. On sunny days every spare inch is covered by students and teachers alike.]
But let’s begin with the similarities, shall we? Going to university here is a bit of a status symbol: at orientation students receive a heavy binder with their university’s name or initials on the front and they parade these around as an indication of their achievement. In this way I would consider the college experience similar to that of the U.S. These binders are essentially the equivalent of the apparel we purchase in school stores, bearing the names or insignias of our preferred/attended schools and serving as a symbol to those who don’t know us that we have some sort of connection to this place. Many of the expected behaviors are the same, as well; no food in class, cellphones turned off, arriving to class on time, etc. I also chose this study abroad program because it offered programs through UPF that coincided well with my major at home allowing me to take courses with themes relevant to my studies. In these ways, my experience has paralleled that of attending class back home at the College of St. Scholastica.
But there remain key differences that I have noticed over time. As a stark example, the cost of tuition here is much more affordable. A year of undergraduate study at my host university, UPF, costs around 2,300€ ($2,600) or less, with textbooks rarely costing the unearthly sums we fork over each semester back home in the States. The campus, too, is quite different. CSS has a small but beautiful campus situated on one of Duluth’s hills. It serves as a mini community housing both educational and residential buildings that are all situated in close proximity to one another. Classes are held primarily inside, unless the weather is so beautiful before or after the long winter that the professors cure our cabin fever with a long awaited outdoor lecture. Cafeterias offer coffees, smoothies, salads, snacks and entrees – and our latest upgrades feature bagels and sushi! Overall, it’s pretty self-sufficient and once you’ve managed to find a parking spot there are few reasons to leave until you have business elsewhere.
[The Ramon Turró building, where I go every morning for my Spanish course. In the background you can see a contrasting brick building, which is an old aqueduct that was converted into a library space. UPF is very progressive in that it only seeks out properties that it can refurbish into class space instead of building new.]
UPF features three campuses sprinkled across the city; Mar: the beach campus housing the Health Science courses, Ciutadella: only a five minute walk from my apartment and home to most of the Humanities, and Poblenou: located in the new Tech district of Barcelona it’s home to the Communications classes. UPF also has a partnership with la Escuela Superior del Comercio Internacional (ESCI), a local business school, and so twice a week I walk ten minutes to the other side of Ciutadella Park to attend class (classes here, by the way, only run Monday-Thursday). Buildings are large with open-air walkways and squares in the middle, for the most part. As the climate here is usually sunny and warm, the squares are the gathering places for students and professors alike, offering plenty of space to catch up while catching rays. While there are plenty of cities in the U.S. that could accommodate such designs I found myself marveling at the openness of it all, wondering how inconvenient it would be to try and shovel everything should it snow!
Perhaps the largest difference though, and this is more cultural than collegiate, is the cafeteria space. Much of the dining space is situated outside where people can gather to eat, converse and smoke. And within the cafeteria itself, the option of buying alcohol caught me off-guard at first. I will likely never forget my surprise when as I stood in line to buy gum before my 9AM class, the man ahead of me ordered a beer. The American within me cringed, thinking “Beer before 10AM, ufda!” as the exchange went on unperturbed. I walked to class that day going over the scenario in my head and realizing that I was viewing the transaction through a completely different cultural lens. Here, there is no problem in having a beer for breakfast with a small sandwich, or beer at any other time of the day for that matter, so long as it’s in moderation.
In any case, while there are both similarities and differences in my experience thus far, everyday I am grateful for the opportunity to be here. The courses I’m taking are both stimulating and relevant and the professors are phenomenal. Animated and very obviously passionate about their own fields of study, they make it easy to want to go to class. At this point I’m about halfway through the trimester and I couldn’t be happier!
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports
The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, projects on historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers.
We thank The Department of History and Politics for its generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org The NSR is sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact chief editor Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu