Thoughts From Abroad
Published on: 07/18/2012
Editor’s Note: This column was originally published by The State News and is republished with permission.
Spartans appear to be taking over the world. In my two months abroad so far, I have not only been inundated with countless Facebook photo albums and blog posts connecting me with friends everywhere from Spain to Azerbaijan, but I have also crossed paths with many MSU students and alumni.
The circumstances are so diverse they almost beg for inclusion in some kind of global studies pamphlet.
For example, around the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I went to London and had coffee with a group of MSU friends who were on a German language program in Mayen, Germany.
For my research project in a materials science lab at the University of Cambridge, I worked alongside two doctoral students who were both recent graduates of MSU.
Last weekend, I went to Paris and wrote fiction in cafés with a fellow MSU English student, and later had crepes and visited the Eiffel Tower with two fellow MSU biochemistry majors.
While I was hanging around outside the Notre Dame Cathedral, an American couple asked me to take a photograph for them, and despite the fact that none of us were wearing Spartan garb, I discovered not only that I was in the presence of an active MSU alumnus, but also that he had grown up a block away from the high school I attended in Detroit.
We had a conversation over the best lamb gyro in Paris, and I returned to Cambridge with the conviction that our university must have both one of the best-traveled student populations in the world and also one of the most outstanding alumni bases a school could imagine.
There’s something different about running into a fellow Spartan overseas than there is, say, at a Tigers game. You’re instantly the closest of friends, connected by something that needs no explanation. It’s a great feeling.
At some level, until now, I had always taken my allegiance to MSU for granted. I’ve been coming to Spartan Stadium for football games since I was a toddler, and some of my earliest memories are of Beaumont Tower and that colorful “hamster cage” parking garage, which always seemed a lot farther from campus than it really is.
My family has a rich history of green and white, and so, for me, meeting an MSU alumnus was never much of a big deal. When there are so many around, it doesn’t seem particularly special.
Only when one finds oneself in a strange new place do the words on a T-shirt take on that deeper meaning.
According to the MSU Alumni Association’s website, “The MSUAA helps marshal the collective impact of nearly 500,000 Spartans around the world through lifelong connections with Michigan State.”
That’s a lot of impact.
Not yet being an alumnus, I can’t say much about the community beyond what it has done for me as an undergraduate.
I can thank it for its scholarship contributions, which have allowed me to attend MSU in the first place.
I can acknowledge its continued involvement in all areas of campus life — athletic, academic and so on. I can commend its ability to keep half a million people connected across the globe, which has helped me feel at home even in a place where I don’t speak more than a dozen words of the language.
Actually, I guess that’s saying quite a lot.
So as I head into the last month of my time in the United Kingdom, buckling down to finish my courses in Shakespeare and Jane Austen and easing off the train ticket purchases, I urge my fellow Spartans, home and abroad, to consider the advantage we have in our hands.
The drawback of attending such an enormous university is that one can never hope to meet all of one’s classmates.
On the other hand, the benefit of being a member of this expansive community more than makes up for that fact.
I know now that I — or any of us, regardless of age, major, background or profession — can travel to just about anywhere on the planet and have an instant connection or two. Or a few hundred thousand.
And that, my fellow Spartans, is as good a reason as any to plant that big green “S” flag in the ground and say, “This is Sparta.”