All semester the program staff has been advising us on how to succeed academically. Get tutors, have Chavela look over your papers, save your work on your computer and portable disk drive, and DON’T WAIT ‘TILL LAST MINUTE TO START YOUR WORK. Needless to say, the latter is the most difficult one to follow. Despite having a tutor and not being a bad student etc etc, I managed to put myself in a situation where I had three 10-page papers, eight 2-page papers, a presentation, and three exams all due in this week and I’m only done with half of my work. Yeah I know, but no worries, I’ll get it done.
So dear future students, here’s what to do so you don’t end up like me:
- Be smart about your travels. I wasn’t. For the past two months, I spent every weekend out of Madrid. If you’re not in Madrid two months before exam time, you’re not doing work before a crucial time in the study part of your study abroad experience. I would suggest making a budget and a list of places you want to visit in and out of Spain within your budget. Then, plan your weekends based on your academic calendar. I didn’t make an academic calendar so I didn’t write down when my UAM exam fell and ended up booking a flight thirty minutes after my exam. Since you can’t take exams early here in Spain, I had to lose that flight and purchase another ticket. Fail. Don’t let it happen to you! Also, don’t be scared to be the first to start talking trips in the group, if you organize them, people will jump on!
- Manage your time wisely. This goes along with being smart about your travels. When you’re in Madrid, make a point of getting a little bit of work done throughout the semester so it doesn’t accumulate. For example, I could have finished one of my mini papers every week, but I didn’t. Fail. I could have read my UAM book on the Metro/Renfe. But I didn’t and have to read it all in like a night. Fail.
- Organize your priorities. Exploring, traveling, and night life, I could argue, are equally important parts of the study abroad in Madrid/Alcalá experience as is studying. Getting the most out of this experience is simply a matter of mastering the Spanish art of balance. So do go out, travel, and explore! Just make sure you’re getting some work done, too. There’s absolutely nothing worse than sitting inside for two weeks in different libraries around the city frantically finishing work. Trust me.
- Get a tutor. They will be especially helpful during finals!
- Reach out to your program buds. UAM/UAH classes are something else. The best thing to do to understand them, succeed in them, and enjoy them (other than getting a tutor) is to band together with your program friends and make a study group. My friend Spencer Rubin (Tufts in Madrid 2012) explained to me how his study group worked this semester for Historia del Cine: eight program kids banded together, sent each other their notes if they missed class, got together to study for exams, and reviewed and explained concepts to each other. Pretty sweet system.
- Make sure you’re clear about your assignments. What was the spacing for the Imaginando paper? Are fichas supposed to be 2 or 4 pages? How do you cite papers in Spain? Are not the sort of questions you want to be asking yourself the week your papers are due. Check out your prompt and ask whatever questions you have to your professor as soon as humanly possible. If you have to come up with your own paper topic, odds are, your professors will be more than happy to help you with it or point you in the right direction!
- If you have the chance to have someone look over your paper, do it. Whether it’s your tutor, Chavela, or Pepa over your art history paper, DO IT. This means you’ll set an earlier due date for yourself, that someone will have checked your content to see if you’re on the right track, and that your grammar will probably be flawless. How could you turn that down!?
- Take advantage of libraries and coffee shops. Don’t try to do work in your room, we all know nothing ever gets done there! The UAM and UAH libraries are great places to work. You also have the Circulo de Bellas Artes library which you can easily get a membership through the program, the Biblioteca Nacional de España which is conveniently close to the program center, and the program center itself. As for coffee shops, Juicy Avenue, Starbucks, Delinas, and VIPS all have WIFI, are close to the program center, and are much better alternatives than your room.
With these tips, you won’t find yourself freaking out about work during exam week! For the rest of us, we’re almost there!