Different Country, Different College Experience

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If you have attended the same school for your whole life, in the same town with the same people, it is easy to believe that the environment you are accustomed to is the only option. However, when you step out of the bubble of your traditional environment and insert yourself in unknown territory, many differences are highlighted. For instance, in the case of attending universities, students studying in America are used to football games, tailgates, Greek life, living in small dorms, and making friends with strangers, however the college experience for people in Spain is vastly different. Social aspects and extracurricular activities are not at the forefront of the educational experience, friends from home remain the most important, and continuing to live at home with the family is more normal than moving away to go to school.

Ingrid is a Catalan student attending the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) who makes it clear that there are some key differences between the culture she grew up around in Spain, and the culture American students grew up around in America. Although Ingrid points out many similarities between the two types of students such as wanting to pursue degrees in higher education, utilizing college as a time for personal growth, and seeking opportunities to explore different parts of the world, there are three main underlying differences between the way she accomplishes those tasks, versus how a student in America would.

#1: Outlook On Moving Away For College

One primary difference between Spanish and American students is the attitude towards moving away for college. Although Ingrid explains that she moved away from her small village town to attend the UAB, it was only because she had no other options seeing as though there are not any prestigious schools available in her hometown.

Being hesitant to move away for school is a key attitude difference seeing as though more than half (58%) of students out of high school in America go at least 100 miles away from home for college. According to Ingrid, the majority of the people who she went to high school with stayed in their hometown to continue their higher education even though it meant going to less impressive universities.

In contrast, American student Shayna who attends the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), insists that everyone she knows chose to go to college far from home. Shayna personally left her hometown state of Nevada in order to attend an out of state university. A supplementary difference to this observation is the interest in, versus resistance to, American and Catalan students have towards the idea of living with strangers. According to Niche findings, only 28% of American students knew the person they would be living with prior to attending college, the majority however met their roommate by chance on websites such as Facebook. In opposition, Catalan students are likely to continue living either at home with their families, or away from home but still with familiar faces.

Psychologist Geert Hofstede explains this phenomenon through a cultural dimension which he refers to as “Uncertainty Avoidance”, or the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations. Spain reflects a high score of 86 on this scale whereas the United States shows a 46, statistics which can be supported in terms of being less likely to voluntarily live with new people in a college setting, versus being very open to the idea.

Although Ingrid is not living at home while she is in college, she lives in an apartment next to campus with her cousin because she likes the familiarity, and confrontation is therefore avoided which dilutes any potential stress. She also makes it a point to return to her hometown every weekend in order to see her family, who misses her very much.

Finding college roommates in the US

On the other hand, Shayna used an app through her university which allows you to chat with other students or opt to be assigned a random roommate. She chose to live with someone she did not know at all because the ambiguity did not scare her and she was interested in making a new friend right away.

#2: High School Friends vs. College Friends

A second key difference is the importance of high school friends and college friends. Although Ingrid went away for college, she explains how the “friends” she has made there are more situational such as for studying purposes. Her ties with her friends from home remain much stronger and more important than those of the people she has met thus far in her three years of college. This is very different from what American students experience because ties with high school friends quickly disappear after graduating and relationships with college peers become much more important. Shayna asserts that being in her third year of college, she now rarely ever sees or talks to any of her friends from high school, despite having spent many influential years of life with them.

This difference between the two students can be explained by psychologists Kluckhohm and Strodtbeck’s value orientation of “Time”. This is broken up into three dimensions: past, meaning that people focus on the time before now, and on preserving and maintaining traditional teachings and beliefs, present, meaning that people focus on what is now, and on accommodating changes in beliefs and traditions, and future, meaning that people focus on the time to come, planning ahead, and seeking new ways to replace the old. A Catalan student such as Ingrid can be viewed as having a past orientation, where she values history and established relationships because she chooses to spend her time with the people she has known for the longest amount of time and feels to already have a strong relationship with. On the other hand, the perspective of an American student such as Shayna is different and her mindset on friendship can be assessed in terms of being more present oriented, where the immediate moment carries the most significance and therefore spending time with the friends she meets in college is the most important, just as when she was in high school spending time with those friends was of upmost priority.

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#3: Presence of Social and Extracurricular Activities

The final key difference is the level of importance placed on social and extracurricular activities. At UC Santa Barbara the website clearly states “Co-curricular activities play an important role in the quality of life at UC Santa Barbara. Social and cultural activities outside of class give students opportunities to meet new people, gain leadership skills, provide service to their community, and receive a well-rounded education”. The purpose of these activities is personal-growth, fun, friend-making, as well as acclimation to a new environment. With over 500 student organizations, there are endless opportunities to get involved on campus and find people with interests that are similar to your own. Additionally, the option to join Greek Life plays a large role in making such a big campus feel more like home. There are over two-thousand students who are a part of a fraternity or sorority where they are provided with academic support, leadership opportunities, community service experience, opportunity to form close friendships, and more.

UCSB uses many social media platforms, predominately Twitter, to promote student involvement in extracurricular activities such as sports. Friendly school rivalries keep the audiences large for these soccer games, as fans get excited to watch the match ups between the two great teams.

According to the UAB website “There are different organizations and programs in the involvement area with volunteer work, cooperation and student representation and cultural activities, that you can get recognized as academic credits”. Life on campus is based more around institutional channels which give students an opportunity to play a role in the community. There is less of an emphasis placed on the social aspects of organizations such as parties, and more placed on the educational and societal benefits, hence the possibility of academic credits.

UAB remains such a prestigious school in Spain and even in the world because of the emphasis put on the education. Many times, it is easy to get caught up in the social aspects of attending college, however here the students are able to happily balance time dedicated to their education and the campus groups and organizations they are involved in, seeing as though both aspects work together to produce well-rounded, educated students.

Each of these campuses are different and unique in their own ways. Much like traveling abroad to a country you are not familiar with, it is hard to imagine what being a student at each of these universities is like unless you actually submerse yourself in the environment. No matter which of these two beautiful campus, or any other you may attend, one thing is for sure, the students love where they ended up!


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