Universal knowledge

The first time Jiab and I came to Granada to check it out as a possible new home, we decided to visit the University of Granada (UGR).  We wanted to see what adult-education programs they might have available, especially for learning Spanish.

We hailed a cab, and I told the driver we wanted to go to the Universidad. Cuál (Which?), he asked. “La Universidad de Granada,” I shrugged and said to clear his confusion. Pero, cuál? (But, which?) he again asked, and I was lost.

It turns out we were thinking in American university terms, where there is usually one central campus, often sectioned off or away from the rest of the “real-world” city. With a 500-year-old university like UGR, however, it’s all over Granada.

Over the centuries, the university kept acquiring new places, new spaces, to the point that it’s less accurate to say UGR is in Granada than to say Granada is built around the university, taking any space the university isn’t.

There is no doubt Granada is a university town. There are upwards of 80,000 students spread about the city, constituting nearly a third of the city’s population. Many of them are here for the Erasmus program, an EU-wide student exchange program of which UG sponsors the most visitors, so one can hear most every Euro-language spoken as you walk about town.

In the student-dominated quarters, there is a “we don’t need sleep” vibrancy. When we looked for an apartment, we were guided toward one just a block from one of the larger campuses. The advantage of the place was that we would have had our pick of late-night shawarma and other foods just outside our building door; the downside (which was one of the breakers for us) was that the apartment was above a hard rock club that went late into the night. It’s common that apartment listings here are divided to say “only students” or “no students.”

Even if we don’t want to live physically in the midst of the students, we can’t help but tap into the vivacity of youth life. We’ve adjusted to the Spanish (and even more so, Spanish college) hours, and there is a permeating positivism and looking ahead to better times in the air that is infectious. We’ve come to embrace, like the students, that we can’t say where we will be or what we will be doing in a couple of years, and that unsurety is more exciting than scary.

When we meet up with other non-students, the University’s influence is still pervasive. Most directly are the professors and other academics we have befriended. There are two sisters, both PHD economists, who are as fun to have a night of drinking and gaming with as they are to discuss their latest research or programs of study (side note: they have a third sister, whom they tease is the “dumb one,” who is a PHD in mathematics and teaches up north). I have learned that meeting people in a bar and asking “What do you do?” might lead to a three-glass discourse on hydroponics, sustainability, or a comparison of linguistic semantics. I’m usually out of my element, trying to grasp the tiniest corner of understanding, and I love it.

It’s all so…hopeful. There are worlds to conquer, both in understanding the physical world we live in and the depths within ourselves to see how far we can embrace intellectual challenges. There are always practical (what do we do with this knowledge?) and ethical (what SHOULD we do with this knowledge) dilemmas with each step. It’s a long hike of the mind.

The experience takes me back to my own college days,and perhaps even more, to when I looked at colleges with my sons. Given my removal by that time from the ivory towers of learning to the grayer world of practical living, I was so jealous of my sons who were about to embark on an exploration in college that most every adult I speak with would love to go back to for a second chance (unlike, say, middle school where I have yet to meet a single adult who wishes to go back there).

Now, instead of just pining for that college experience again while sitting at our daily desks, Jiab and I have taken advantage of our new freedom to wander back there.

University of Granada – Modern Language Center – where we took beginner Spanish last fall 2018.

We signed up for a language course at the university. We’ve also taken an online Art History course offered by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and then toured museums in Granada to obnoxiously give our half-informed opinions with the perfect combination of arrogance and ignorance of just-learned college students. We are seeking other courses and fields to similarly sample to then presumptively and (laughingly) declare ourselves knowledgeable (or rather, savant). I’m even revisiting prior learning. Having read short excerpts of Don Quixote (or like many, saw musical/cartoon versions and then said I read it), I am poring through the entire book; I’ll get back to you in a couple of years on it.

From the beginning, Jiab and I labeled our retirement as a third life, a time to wander and wonder. I am grateful that Granada has given me a great place from which to look at the universe and wonder. It’s all so positive and forward-looking, giving me both a sense of accomplishment and hope with each new intellectual summit climbed (and real summits too, if you live in Granada).

My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner. Like most adults, I never lost that desire to chase rainbows; it’s just that the grayness of perfunctory everyday working and living seemed to bury the colors with the illusory promise that I would get a shovel and dig them out again “later.”

I am lucky enough to have the later, now. But I also didn’t have to settle for a completely gray color-scheme then, with color delayed until now. It was important enough to me that I should have (and could have) devoted more time to mind-wanderings and wonderings. An online course here and there, a dedicated hour per day set aside for non-work reading, even more visits to the museums that my big city had.

Those are my recommendations for you , whether you are retired or still working towards it. As a famous Jimmy Stewart movie said (sot of),  it’s a wonder-ful life!

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