In which I graduate from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

I’m lying of course.  Even I can’t do a degree in three weeks.  But ….. I have been a distance learner at this seat of learning, and I’ve loved it.  I’ve exchanged my 1970s student life, putting the world to rights in the refectory or the students’ union bar for on-line discussions with Anglophones with the hugest variety of life experience.  I’ve exchanged echoing lecture theatres for my own study, where the lecturer delivers his or her piece at exactly the hour that suits me, and repeats it on demand.  I’ve exchanged official reading lists for comments and suggestions from fellow students, based on newly discovered shared interests.

All this is thanks to FutureLearn.  They publicise courses on every subject you can think of, and lots that you can’t.  Some are paid-for courses right through to professional qualification or degree level.  But many of them are not. Universities in every continent run short free courses and they want us to be their students.  If only I’d seen Hanyang University’s Introduction to Korean before we went two years ago!

No matter.  What I saw a few weeks ago was this – Getting to know Catalonia: An introduction to the Catalan language , culture and society.  What timing!  Emily and Miquel are buying their first home together and Emily’s had promotion in her job in Barcelona.  Catalonia’s going to be part of our lives.

It didn’t begin well, and I whinged to Emily that I’d signed up to a piece of propaganda from the Catalan Independence movement (‘What did you expect’?).  In fact however, we’ve had an overview of economics, history, literature and the arts and popular culture and it’s a solid grounding for further study.

What’s made it has been the fellow-students.  I’m sure some people do what’s set in front of them and are happy to leave it at that. It’s probably all they have the time or inclination for.  For a hard core of us though, it’s our colleagues that have made the difference.  The civil servant in the Welsh office at the time when their bilingual policies were being developed; the Catalan who observed that there is no ‘standard’ Catalan, so in the media, do you use the language of the Balearics, the North West or the Central provinces, or even (who knew?) the Catalan spoken in Alghero, Sardinia ?  The Irish chipped in, and Swiss Germans, and other linguistic minority groups.  All this provoked lively discussions about language, and languages that have been suppressed (as Catalan was, unsuccessfully, and as Occitan was in France, largely successfully).  Every topic has had us helping each other out.  Most of us are woefully badly read in Catalan history and literature, so we share ideas about more accessible material.  Away from the lectures, the tutors barely show their faces, and that’s fine.  It is a free course after all, and we have proved that self-help works.  In just three weeks we’ve established a learning community where we have given something, and taken a lot, and are the richer for it.

I’ll be on the look out for my next free course from FutureLearn soon.

Every time I open the coursework, this is the image I see. An ariel view of a human tower in the making: Catalan cooperation at its finest.