The American Scholar from Catalonia
Exactly three months and 11 days ago, I arrived in the United States. It was a long journey, because Danville, Kentucky, is not the most popular place to travel to. I flew from Barcelona to New York, spent the night at the airport sleeping on my two suitcases, then continued to Louisville the following morning (with a stop at the Charlotte airport included). Some International Student Orientation Leaders (ISOLs) picked me up from the airport and drove me to Centre College.
The campus that now seems small seemed huge that day, and I had problems finding the Campus Center when I wanted to have dinner. That first night I slept soundly. The next day my experience as an American Scholar started.
I am from Spain—Catalonia, in fact—and if I could meet Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose “American Scholar” essay took on new meaning for me after arriving, I would tell him that there is nothing to worry about: America is no longer dependent on “other lands.”
Regarding the technology sector, the U.S. is one of the leaders on a global scale, and probably in other fields, too. Maybe the history, culture, architecture and literature of this country are newer than those of Europe, but in a few centuries they will have grown. Maybe Emerson would be happy to know that now it is Europe that often is dependent on this big country on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. He would probably be even happier to know that we are leaving some of our traditions to adopt the American ones. (I admit, though, that this makes me a little sad.)
Traveling from Catalonia to America and studying at a college like Centre has been, by far, one of the best experiences in my short life. Emerson said that “the masonry of today is the way to learn grammar” and any other skill in general. One of the reasons I wanted to study abroad in an English-speaking country was to learn the language better. You can spend your whole life studying English, and your writing and reading skills can become pretty good, but your speaking will always be terrible until you travel and force yourself to use that language.
Let me say that it can be exhausting the first days when you need to concentrate all day to communicate with others and you feel that your brain is going to explode. After three months and 11 days, I still have a lot of work to do.
“Life is our dictionary,” suggests Emerson, our encyclopedia, our library, the biggest information source we have. However, we are not going to learn anything if we just wait for things to happen. We are not going to learn anything unless we pursue it. Action is our best strength, because the “true scholar grudges every opportunity of action past by as a loss of power” to convert new experiences into knowledge. “A scholar loses no hour which the man lives,” because everything we learn, no matter if it seems useless, can be helpful when we least expect it.
However, being active, trying new things, and accepting challenges can also result in failure. If Emerson agreed that “too often, a scholar errs,” imagine how many times a mere 21-year-old student like me is going to do things wrong, fail on her intentions, and need to start again? But I do not think this is bad, as long as all this effort is invested on following a goal, my own goal.
If Emerson could listen to me, he would say that I am a romantic. Maybe I am, but I do not care, just as any of us should not care about what others think or do.
Something I have learned from Americans is that they are the most individualistic people I have ever met. They are moved by their own interests, and what other people think about them has less influence than it has for people in Spain.
The first week I was at Centre, somebody talked to us about critical thinking, and I thought that my semester here could be interesting. Maybe this is because I did not know that my days would be a succession of infinite hours at the library reading Dickinson’s poems, Chaucer’s tales, and the differences between collectivism and individualism for my psychology class.
Apart from that, it has been interesting. The small classes at Centre allow students to participate, to share knowledge, and to be active in class. It is more than being what Emerson called “bookworms.” This experience is about creating your own knowledge.
This study abroad experience will always be part of my life and is an experience I will not probably repeat again. It is also an adventure I would like not to end. All my memories will “remain for a long time, immersed in my unconscious,” as Emerson would say.
These four months have allowed me to learn a lot, not only as a student but also as a person. Living in another country challenges your preconceptions and forces you to adapt to new situations, meet new people and communicate in another language. You have to be active to survive all of this, and if you do, then everything flows.
As Emerson would say, “Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary.” Let’s live then.
by Meri Escola
Stephen Swan, Centre’s international student advisor, first discovered this gem as a post on Meri’s Facebook page and asked her if it could be shared with a wider audience. While Centre College is known for its phenomenal study abroad program that sends an average 85 percent of students all across the globe, it is also proud to host many students who come to Danville for their own study abroad experience.
Of her original post, Meri said, “Some months ago, at the end of the semester, our professor asked us to write about our experience as American literature students. We had to choose an author or an important work we had studied and explain what had meant to us. I chose the ‘American Scholar’ by Emerson to explain my experience in the States.”