On the importance of building community

Surprisingly, although I have repeatedly written about community in my blog, I have never dedicated a full post to it. Well, here you are:

It used to be that when you were born you had automatic community for life. Even if you lived in a big city, your neighborhood was your community, you would go to the same grocers, church, cafés, etc. Now, especially in the increasingly hyper-capitalist suburban individualist world, the concept of community has pretty much vanished.

Maybe because of the importance of community and the lack thereof, the US is obsessed with the concept of community. Sadly, for all the talk, community is another word they cannot spell.

With the different buttresses that community offered mostly gone, the only one that continues (mostly) standing is work. So, work has become -in many cases- our only community touchstone. Gone are the neighbors, the churches, the meeting points. We just drive from our isolated house to work and back. Of course, many folks have strong communities built around church and clubs and different associations, but even these are discrete and rarely connected, which means that you have your church friends, your work friends, your café friends -if you are lucky- and so on, but not the network, the rich tapestry that used to define community.

I have been keenly aware of this problem since I moved back to suburban US in 2005. It would eventually become one of the factors that led me to depression. Since then, I try to build strong communities wherever I go. My efforts other than work, fall on volunteering, church, and of course Film Club! Yes, I chat to some people at the gym, at yoga class, and at my café, but those venues have not surprisingly given any tangible results.

Like pretty much everything else in life, you have to actively work at building your community, it is not going to magically fall on your lap one day, a wonderful support network where you can express yourself and get any sort of help from moving a sofa to a comforting chat. Nope, you have to work for it. But more importantly than working to form your own little support group, your real community will flourish when you build community for others.

Notice that I did not mention family, which is of course the cornerstone of community. But when you move away from home, that most important foundation is only available on the phone or during visits -if you are lucky enough to visit.

The result of the erosion of community systems is that folks are increasingly lonely, alienated, and sadly, eventually depressed. So go work genuinely and honestly on your community, the results will be worth it!

European School of Economics

The European School of Economics is a great little university. I had the privilege of teaching in their Madrid campus for two years from 2018 through 2020. Elio D’Anna, a visionary Italian founded the university with my kind of philosophy, that the student should actively own their learning process, which makes total sense, but it is not how most universities operate.

As I said, D’Anna is Italian, but the university is accredited in England, with campuses (campii?) in London, Milan, Rome, Florence, and Madrid. Students can rotate through the different cities during their studies.

Even more than the philosophy, I loved the small classes, which allowed me to tailor fit the program for my students. Most times, classes were small enough for us to meet at a local coffee shop. Outside of the sterile classroom walls, in a relaxed environment, students become more engaged and participative, and I would even wager better thinkers!

During my time there I taught all levels of Spanish. The students were actively interested in learning and inquisitive, they really engaged, which added to the immersion factor, meant that their Spanish really took off during their time in Madrid.

The school is really international, I had students from South Africa, Egypt, Botswana, all over Europe, Latin America, Japan, and of course local madrileños. The school has now moved to the quiet Retiro neighborhood, but when I taught there, it was in bustling Alonso Martinez Square!

For the beginning of my second year at ESE, I organized a tour/team building activity around Madrid. We organized different activities at the different stops of the tour. We all had a lot of fun and the students bonded and got to know each other!

Sure, a small university obviously has some drawbacks, but at the European School of Economics, the advantages far outweigh any other considerations, I loved my time there and would recommend it to anyone thinking of studying business in Europe!