February 28, 2012

CULTURE SHOCK: Toto, We’re Not In Uris Anymore

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There’s something very rigid about the first day of classes. Regardless of what rung of the education ladder you’re on, the first morning you walk to class with a little thump in your chest. You usually have a few new notebooks. They usually smell nice. Maybe you’ve set your alarm earlier than you had to, just to make sure you don’t end up being that person who shuffles in ten minutes drenched in sweat and tears.

My first day of class in Seville was a little different. I arose early for my 10 a.m. class in much the same way that I would at Cornell. And after a little coffee and a lukewarm shower, I got together my bag and headed out for school.

I arrived tense and alert. I’d been mentally preparing go-to Spanish phrases that I might need throughout the day. I was feeling that familiar first day intensity welling up. In that respect, I was alone.

Only half the enrolled students were present the first day, and maybe half of those were there every day of the first week. The professors were generally accepting of this reality, and even now at the end of February work to accommodate students who did not make it to the first weeks of class.

The implied tone of all this may be misleading.  As an American — particularly as a Cornellian — I was struck by the carefree atmosphere of the first day and continue to marvel at the organized chaos of my classes.

But the liberal attitude toward school is a small part of a larger, more interesting attitude about the relationship between work and the rest of life. My Spanish peers are not lazy, but there is an emphasis placed on vibrant social living that slackens the resolve toward individual excellence—at least for many students. The strength of family, community, and culture are evident. The unemployment rate here is debilitating, but even if Spaniards are not wealthy their lives are rich. The goal of university is not always to propel yourself towards the summit of your individual potential, but to get a steady and secure job that fuels a modest but spirited lifestyle.

As for me, I’m in a constant state of wonderful confusion. Every day feels like the first day of class. I’m just trying to make it there on time.

Skyler Schain is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at sschain@cornellsun.com. Culture Shock appears on Wednesdays.

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Original Author: Skyler Schain