Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Campus life

Gainesville is not a typical city. It's also not strictly a college town. I moved here eight years ago and stayed long after I graduated and most of my friends moved away.  People live here. There are people, families here that have no connection to the school at all. But make no mistake- at the heart of Gainesville lies a really big University campus. Not just a collection of buildings that students go to- it's an area that is visually separate from its surroundings, but it's not only the red brick that gives it its look- it feels different. In Warsaw, the buildings of all the universities blended well with the rest of the city. Some were more spread apart, others grouped together in mini campuses. But this is nothing like what you see here. University of Florida not only makes up a large part of what  Gainesville is area-wise, it also was a driving factor behind it's growth. A lot of people are here because of the school, the population count fluctuates. The city transit with all its faults is advanced because UF pays millions of dollars every year out of the student tuition to keep a lot of those bus routes running. In exchange, students ride free, get additional service confined to the campus area and are able to get home safely at night on the Lator Gators that take them to some of the most popular off-campus complexes after an evening of clubbing. But UF does a lot more. There are cultural events, speeches, concerts, exhibits movies and shows. Some if not most are free and open to the public.

 What was really striking to me when I first moved here was that my American friends, graduate and law students didn't want to have anything to do with the main campus. For a lot of them, seeing some of the younger kids, the undergrads, going to these events was very "uncool". What did they do then you may ask? House parties and pub hopping downtown. We've had a diverse group of  friends many of whom had traveled, gotten advanced degrees, came from other cultures and countries so a lot of it was fun too, don't get me wrong. But I could never understand categorically closing yourself off from any type of experience like this. And as you may guess, doing the same things over and over gets pretty boring. I'll admit, that first few years in Gainesville was to me as much about having the college experience I never had as it was education. In Poland going to school was a different experience all together. It was less about community, learning about yourself, exploring other cultures, learning about others. It was school and work and life. I lived at home. And last but not least I was in a wheelchair, so getting around town was never much of an option. But Gainesville did open me up to those youth driven possibilities and I got to have my American college experience (minus living in a dorm) that I used to see in the movies. And I guess a lot of international students share my sentiment as they often come to these open events out of curiosity and the need to try something new, while Americans 21 and up are rarely there.

My American school friends were too "mature" and "cool" to bother, but was also very surprising is that a lot of people that are local don't know or care about any of those things that go on right in their city. They choose to ignore all together as it doesn't exist and couldn't name or find a single campus building. And I don't mean the halls or labs, I'm talking about the museums that we have a few of, the theaters and performance venues.  I understand it's often difficult to go to some of those things if you're no longer connected to the University in any way. But is it better to stay home every night and watch a movie on cable? Is it better to go drinking at a bar or with a roommate? I chose to see Carmen. And Evita. And Pussy cat Dolls and the Blackeyed Peas. And the Blue Men Group. And Elton John. And the Magic Flute. And Chicago. A few dance shows I can't even name. Some of these would never come to town if it wasn't for UF being here. Gainesville will never be New York, so if we wan't culture, we have to embrace what the University gives us. It's presence makes Gainesville a very unnusual town. It'd be very small without it. You can choose to accept the city's young and student nature or you can ignore it but why? How can you ignore something that is so essential to the place you live in? I decide to benefit from it and take it for what it it is. I make it work for me. No matter how "uncool" it is.

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