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Al-Salem '17: The grass isn’t always greener on other Main Greens

If you ever see me waiting for the shuttle on a weekday evening in the dead of winter, you will most likely hear me whine about the godforsaken 10-minute. In fact, more often than not, whenever and wherever you see me, you will find that I am probably complaining about something or another related to the University.

In general, I’m the kind of pessimist who tends to look at the bad before I really appreciate the good. It’s an aspect of my life that I am actively trying to change, and while I have improved tenfold on my general negativity, I’ve always been sour toward Brown. My little sister, who is an avid fan of Brown, always dismisses my complaints as stemming from my inability to appreciate what is really good in front of me. But now here I am studying abroad in another city at a massive university, and I realize that she might have been completely right: I didn’t realize how good I had it at Brown.

Now, before I get into it, I just want to preface this by noting that I have always been eternally grateful that Brown accepted me into its arms at all. I could have never left my country and been at a totally different school if it weren’t for Brown’s acceptance — and I have always acknowledged this. That said, the combination of Providence’s gloomy atmosphere and the student body’s homogenous style of thinking put my feelings toward the University on high-shift negative gear. I always stepped onto the campus with an “if only” mentality about little things Brown could be better at.

Then I arrived at the University of Edinburgh campus, and I realized how important the little things I take for granted at Brown are in a student experience. While its surrounding city, campus facilities and dormitories are better than Brown’s, everything internal about the University of Edinburgh severely pales in comparison to Brown. I arrived on campus during orientation week thinking I’d be guided along the way to help me settle in, but everyone from the residential assistants to the professors who were assigned to “help” me took on a “figure it out yourself” attitude I had never encountered at Brown.

Firstly, I arrived on campus with absolutely no guide to where everything was. At one point when I asked one of the students wearing a colored shirt that read “ask me,” I was told to look at the signs because she wasn’t entirely sure. By the time I figured out how to connect to the internet (which you must manually connect to every time you step off campus), I had found that there was no specific location on the academic portal to find your schedule. I thought that was weird until I was told course schedules are not finalized until the very first day of class — which meant one of my classes, which had previously worked well with my other classes, had a conflicting schedule. When I emailed the course secretary regarding this (because the course had no schedule at all), I wasn’t guided to a solution. I just received an email restating my question.

The course secretary, by the way, is one of the five people including graduate students and professors who may teach a course to you. No one week features the same person, and this makes it even harder to try to connect to the course on any level. It feels more like people are reciting something off paper until the next people arrive and less like professors are completely engaging with what they are teaching you.

These little things are how I have learned to appreciate all that Brown does for us. Things as simple as paper syllabi at the start of classes and the accessibility of professors create a positive, helpful atmosphere. Every which way you look, there is help readily available.

It has honestly been simply bizarre chasing after faculty members and administrators to get something as simple as a class schedule. It’s literally a game of having to do exactly what they ask of you without being told how to do that. Steven Velazquez ’17, another Brown student on this study abroad program, put it best when he said, “Brown holds your hand but tells you to design your own academic plan. Here, there’s a very strict academic plan to follow, but they close the doors on your face if you need any help figuring it out.”

All this said, I do not expect the rest of my life to be as organized and guided as I had learned to appreciate at Brown, but this experience of seeing how other universities are structured taught me how valuable Brown is. I still don’t like the city of Providence, but I’m going to be coming back to Brown kissing the feet of all the administrators who do so much for students. I’ll appreciate how much the University cares for each individual student, and I will remember that the grass is the greenest on the Main Green.   

Sara Al-Salem ’17 can be reached at


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