September 27, 2019 | Feature
football and feelings abroad
voices of brown from granada
While I sit more than 3,000 miles away from Brown’s football stadium, in Granada, Spain (where “football” means something very different than it does across the pond), I’m surprised to say I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the very American game.
It’s strange, but I think I really miss football, especially as the Brown-Harvard game approaches.
Football is big in my family—my great-grandfather played pro football for the Providence Steamrollers in the 1920s. Despite this, watching college and high school football has never really been my thing. Most fall weekends when I was at Brown, my dad would ask me if I was going to the game, only to be disappointed to hear I had an article or essay due or wanted to go to Newport. Why, then, if I had voluntarily missed so many games, do I feel I am missing out on the experience now?
When I was a sophomore with a fear of missing out on an “epic” tailgate, I decided to attend the Brown-Harvard game—the one and only collegiate sports game I have ever attended, if you don’t count my boyfriend’s intramural softball games.
I only stayed until the end of the first quarter.
My new white Adidas got muddy. I didn’t get any of the free food. On my way out (I was late for a cappella rehearsal), I ended up helping a drunk first-year I didn’t know walk home after they had literally stumbled into me while exiting the stadium.
The game wasn’t what I had expected, but it was, oddly, something I enjoyed. I loved the weird camaraderie that came with wearing the same colors, cheering for the same people, and yelling “Grade Inflation” at Harvard—despite the fact that we have that at Brown, too. I would have liked to go to more games last fall, but the season and the semester flew by.
As the “big game” approaches this year, I again find myself feeling like I’m missing out on something.
Of all the things I’m missing back at Brown, an away football game that my team will probably lose (sorry Brown Bears, no hard feelings) seems like a very strange thing to single out. Of course, it’s not really the football I’m missing so much as the tradition and the jokes about not going. It’s the fear of missing out, knowing that this year my friends will probably go without me.
And it’s not just the football game. I miss Brown, Providence, and the United States in general. I miss burrito bowls and late-night talks with friends. I miss my parents and their weekend visits to eat out on Federal Hill. Although college football isn’t my jam, I do miss watching the Patriots and would love to just once find a tapas bar that plays a Sunday night Pat’s game.
It’s the small things that I miss most, and it was the fear of missing these moments that made me think, for one small moment before I flew across the ocean, “Why am I going? Why should I pause my comfortable life to go to a place I have never been, where most of the people speak a language I don’t understand?”
Lots of people go abroad—I’m not doing a one-person program. So, I set out to ask other study-abroad students here in Granada how they were doing, what they were missing, and why this experience is worth the “missing.”
For some, study abroad programs are as quintessential to the college experience as football games, if not more so.
“I always knew that I wanted to study abroad,” said all the students in my program whom I spoke to, in some variation, when I interviewed them for this piece. I’d answer the same. This is something I have always wanted to do.
“This was pretty much my only opportunity to come abroad,” Skylar Iosepovici ’22 told me as we walked through Granada’s busy and narrow streets after class. As a mid-year transfer student who will start her first semester on Brown’s campus next spring, her options for this fall were to stay at the school she transferred from, take a semester off, or do a Brown program abroad. She chose the last option.
Because she’s only spent time at Brown during a summer program and two quick visits, Iosepovici isn’t missing much from campus. But there are a lot of things she misses from home. Specifically her mom, she said, but her family in general, and, as a Bon Appetit fanatic, some of her favorite foods, especially sweet potatoes, which she has yet to come across in Spain. Still, she feels grateful for the opportunity to be here, to put herself out there in a way she may never get to do again.
Adam Stein ’21 is also in the Granada program, currently enrolled directly at the University of Granada. He, too, has always known that going abroad was a part of his plan, and is even considering another abroad program next spring.
“I came in to Brown as an IR concentrator, so having an international focus to my education has always been a priority to me, and studying abroad was definitely a natural part of that,” he said.
Stein’s prior travel experiences have made life here in Spain easier for him. He’s spent summers in Spanish-speaking countries before, but he’s still facing difficulties adjusting to a new place.
“I feel like I have seen so many of the same people for such a long time, it’s weird not being there when things are happening and there’s always kinda that feeling of being out of the loop,” he told me.
Academically, things are different here, too. The University of Granada (UGR) is a large public institution (like most of Spain’s prestigious schools). It’s an old school (founded in 1531 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) and a big school, with over 47,000 undergraduates. Brown, in comparison, has 7,000 undergraduates, and, while old for an American school, was founded more than 200 years later.
“I’m realizing a lot of things at Brown I took for granted academically: how easy it was to register for classes and to figure out what I could use as concentration credit,” Stein said. “Whereas here, it’s a free-for-all.”
Other students studying directly at the University (something I had neither the guts nor the skills to do, as I have only taken two semesters of Spanish at Brown, and UGR studies are notoriously difficult) agreed that Brown is easier to navigate academically, especially because shopping period doesn’t exist here.
Where Granada has a one-up on College Hill is the actual hill part. Sitting at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the city is etched partially into the mountainside.“The hill here is much longer and much more painful,” said Rachel Souza ’21. I fully agree. If I don’t return to campus with great calves, I’ll be shocked.
Natalie Fredman ’21 lives in the same building as Souza, and farther away from the University buildings where she goes to class. UGR, much more so than Brown, is spread throughout the city, with buildings nestled in every corner and on almost every hilltop.
“What I miss about Brown is just being close to the people I care about, my classes, my clubs, and activities. It was really easy to meet up with friends, impromptu. Even though I complained about living in Perkins, it isn’t that far at all,” Fredman told me. Current sophomores, take note.
Despite the spread out campus (and who are we kidding, with all the tapas we’re eating, we could all probably use the exercise) and the academic differences, Spain and UGR offer an amazing study abroad experience.
Spain is the most popular study destination for other European students studying “abroad” in other parts of the continent, as part of a program called Eramus. It was also the most popular study abroad destination for Brown students in 2017, tied with the United Kingdom.
The University of Granada, specifically, is well respected, drawing students from around Andalucia. It is home to a medical school, law school, and the Center for Modern Languages, where I am taking classes this semester. Granada’s program was the only one that I could qualify for in a Spanish-speaking country, given my limited Spanish knowledge.
Part of my “why”—and the reason many other students choose Spain, and Granada specifically—is the language itself. As someone pursuing journalism, learning to communicate clearly with many different people is vitally important to me. More generally, after four years of studying Latin in high school, I’ve learned that I like studying languages for their own sake. I just like how languages work.
Granada is a particularly good place to learn a language because it’s a bit off the beaten path. Smaller than Spain’s largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, and even smaller than Andalucia’s biggest city (Seville), Granada feels different from the rest of the country. “I choose Granada over Barcelona because I wanted to be in an immersive environment in which people would mostly speak to me in Spanish,” Souza said, explaining that in other, larger cities, if someone assumes you are American, they will speak to you in English.
Beyond the general motivation to try something new or learn a new language, I still wonder if it is the small things that will most impact our lives here. A new favorite flavor of gelado (strawberry), the street art brightening my walk to school, and the view from the top of the Albaicin are some of the small joys I have experienced since I got here. These memories are what I want to bring back home with me in December, to share with the people I love.
Maybe I will enjoy the “football” (i.e. soccer) games here, maybe I’ll accumulate stories of them to look back on and carry with me. Granada’s professional team was just promoted to the premier league, after all. Earlier this month, they beat Barcelona (one of the best teams in the world) in an upset that is still featured on the news. I haven’t gone to any games yet, but I am planning on attending a few times before the semester is over. Around this time next year, I could be missing Spanish “football” games the way I’m missing the Brown-Harvard game today.
Chris Wiggins ’21, a friend of mine since our first year, also felt that studying abroad was always in the cards for him. “As it got closer to junior year, I thought a semester away from campus would be really nice. Something a little less stressful, and [I could] have a little more fun,” he explained.
As for what he misses most about Brown: “The single table that I sit at, at the Ratty, every time I go. It’s at the back corner of the Ratty, near the panini maker, and it has an outlet behind it, and it’s where I’m the most productive out of anywhere else on campus,” he reflects, adding that he misses his friends, “very casual hangouts,” and Bajas…in that order.
Wiggins admits, however, that he doesn’t miss the stress of campus. Brown is a great place, but it also makes him feel like he’s never doing enough, stuck in a perpetual “rat race.” And the weather—well, the Providence weather isn’t great.
Sitting across the table from him over a drink and a large plate of churros, I asked what he liked most about Spain so far.
“Am I allowed to say the cheap alcoholic beverages and tapas?” he asked as he dipped a churro in chocolate and the sun set behind the plaza.
It really is the small things. I think I’m okay with missing the game now.