Small School vs. Big University: Cultural Differences in Spain

Guest Post by Emily Miller

When Albion College students leave for a study abroad program, they hear seemingly endless lectures on culture shock or experiences of adapting to different cultures. By the end of most of these lectures, I felt like I understood exactly what they were trying to tell me. I received similar lectures all summer long from every available relative of mine who thought they were an expert on travel. I got bored of hearing it over and over again.

Even though I’d heard it multiple times, I never really thought I would have trouble dealing with culture shock when I came to Spain. I mean, I knew I was headed off to a European country, and I had done my research about cultural differences. I was sure that I was prepared, beyond prepared even. I’m sort of a serial-over-preparer.

Then I arrived in Spain. I realized there was a big difference between Albion College and the University of Granada that I had seriously overlooked. While Albion College is a school of around 1,300  students, UGR is a school of over 60,000 students, which meant that I was being thrown into a big-school atmosphere with absolutely zero preparation.

Big school versus small school is an old debate played over again and again in the United States, one that I heard a thousand times when I was applying to colleges. But being a student from a small school suddenly transplanted into a large one made me feel like a very small fish in a very large, Mediterranean pond.

Here are some of the most key differences I’ve noticed between my small home school and my temporary, large university in Spain.

1. I will never, ever, know all of my classmates or people in my school. Most of them are still strangers to me. . Unlike at Albion where I can’t walk five feet without bumping into someone I know, I rarely ever recognize anyone here while walking around town or campus.

 2. You have to pay for extracurricular activities. Not all of them, and this might be a specific Spanish or European or even Granada thing, but the activities and clubs run through the university will set you back €55 for the semester.

3. There is no central campus. In fact, there’s not even really a campus at all. All of the University buildings are spread out throughout the city here, and most students have all their classes in the same building. But there’s no central quad or even student center that acts as a hub for students. It’s one of the things I miss most about Albion.

4. Because of the above, it means all the students are spread out throughout the city. If you thought the walk from Whitehouse to Mitchell Towers was bad, wait until you have to walk twenty minutes or more through the city at four in the morning on your way back from where all of your friends live.

5. The nightlife is absolutely insane. Now, this is probably partly due to the European setting and lifestyle differences, but in Granada the students generally don’t come home until seven am from a night out. In fact, sometimes they stay out late enough to grab breakfast before finally falling asleep. I’m not even sure if it’s a good kind of insane, but I feel like I’m sleep-deprived enough that the consequences of this lifestyle haven’t really hit me yet.

These don’t even begin to include all of cultural differences between the United States and Spain. And I can safely say that even though I was so sure I was prepared for the culture shock and changes, living abroad in a foreign city isn’t something you can ever fully prepare for. You have to adapt once you’re here. There are so many differences and small changes that you could never find out about online, so many things my endless number of aunts and uncles could never tell me about. Living abroad forces you to experience things first-hand.  It makes you slow down and think about your actions, observe the people around you and learn to makes small changes to your routines or habits to blend in more.

I  wouldn’t give up the experience of living in Granada for all the money in the world. It’s so incredible to be here for the semester. But I know when January rolls around and I’m moving back into Albion for the rest of the year, I’ll be glad that Albion is the school I call my home.

Photo by Emily Miller

About Emily Miller 46 Articles
Emily is a senior student from Lake Orion, Michigan, majoring in English and Spanish. She is also the current Editor-In-Chief of The Pleiad. She loves the smell of old books, practicing yoga, and feminism. If there was a universe where green beans didn't exist, she would want to live in that universe. She is also a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Follow her on twitter @emilyelizamillz or on her personal blog.

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