UNIVERSITY OF EURAIL
When I chose to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill it wasn’t because I loved the school, the campus, or any specific program – although their Journalism School did teach mad skills. It was because, at the time, my Step-Dad was up for a job there, and had he taken it, college would have been free.
Instead I got student loans, girls who brought hair dryers on camping trips, and cheese grits.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the South, it was more that I just didn’t fit in. Example: I showed up to my first English class wearing flip-flops, surf shorts and a tank top, only to be confronted by a room full of J.Crew clones. They must have thought I graduated from Ridgemont High and been accepted as part of an affirmative action program.
I did what I could to make the most of it. Found some fellow watermen and founded the Carolina Surf Club, started a T-Shirt business to help pay tuition, joined (and later unjoined) a frat, but by my Junior year I had applied to film school in Los Angeles and was planning my exodus. That’s when my parents convinced me to study abroad in Spain instead.
Adios pulled pork. Hola paella.
At the Universidad de Sevilla they do things a bit differently. At the start of each semester they give you a syllabus and a reading list, and they don’t take attendance. If you come to class or not is up to you. And at the end of each semester you can either sit an exam or turn in a paper that makes up 100% of your final grade.
Once I worked this out, I immediately bought a Eurail Pass, packed my books and hit the road. Or tracks, as it were. Back then you could use an Erasermate pen to mark off trips on your pass. If the Conductor didn’t punch it (and they usually didn’t) that meant you could erase on arrival and your trip was free.
So I took a lot of trains and learned a lot of things. Very important things like, some foods are best left uneaten, or “please” works even better when you say it in the local language, and hot showers are a luxury. But also that people just about everywhere else in the world have it tougher than you, so shut-up already about your slow internet and do something useful with your life.
When I eventually caught my last return train to Sevilla, I polished up my papers, got a friendly señorita to fix my pluperfect verbs, and turned them in. All that reading in train car classrooms must have paid off, because when my grades came back, I got straight A’s.
Which just proves, there’s no better way to learn, than to travel.