Yesterday, after anxiously waiting, I finally got my grade for my UAM class. Shockingly, I was more than satisfied. Though I’m a pretty average Tufts student, I was shocked at my grade because my relationship with UAM was not exactly easy, and I feel that many of my peers would agree with me on this one. The thing is, Spanish education is very different from what we’re used to at Tufts-Skidmore, and succeeding in that environment required getting used to a couple of things that you simply don’t see at our schools.
I think the biggest shockers when adjusting to Spanish education came from the fact that despite what the professor may have said, I never really knew what to expect. For example, my exam date wasn’t listed on my syllabus and ended up being on a day that we didn’t have class, in another room in the university, and at a different time than when we usually had class–things I wouldn’t have known if my tutor hadn’t told me. Another was the extremely detailed note-taking that went down in class on daily basis. Spanish kids write everything that the professor says: every detail, every date, every name–things we generally overlook or ignore when writing down notes in the states. And to top things off, ALL of those detailed notes are on the exam… I took a literature class thinking we’d be reading poetry, analyzing, and learning history in the process. I made a point of not taking a Spanish history class because I didn’t want to deal with the memorizing, yet I found myself learning Spanish history through literature, and memorizing just as much as I would have had to memorize for a history class.
Adjusting to UAM isn’t easy, but I believe there are some factors that definitely make or break the experience. As I mentioned earlier, my relationship with my UAM class wasn’t an easy one. I had a very difficult time getting used to my 40 minute Renfe (train) ride to school and getting to class on time. If I got there late, my professor would close the door and once that door was closed, no one was allowed in–more than once, I would get to class, see the door closed, and simply go back home. My professor himself was an extremely knowledgeable and passionate tio, but he had a super strong personality that wasn’t like the helpful, smart, quick-witted quirkiness I’m used to. I wasn’t used to writing down everything that came out of my professors mouth, and once my first exam came, I realized there were giant gaps in my notes. Gaps that, thankfully, my tutor helped me fill. After a month or so, I could see my professor lightening up, teaching his favorite things, and enjoying our class. I realized that everything he taught me carried over into some of my other classes, was always a great topic of conversation with my host family, and was helping me see Spain through a more detailed lens. By the end of the semester, I’d fallen in love with my UAM class.
Some said I found love in a hopeless place, but the thing is, the situation was never hopeless. It’s honestly just a matter of taking complete control over your experience at UAM. It starts with picking a class that interests you and that you think you’ll enjoy–a class that will be worth the commute to Cantoblanco. At the beginning of the semester, Mayte had us sign up for at least 3 classes and urged us to go check them out. Even though you’ll have to go into UAM a lot, do it! Being selective about who your professor is and having enough exposure to pick the right one might be what makes or breaks your UAM experience. Don’t be scared of challenging yourself or taking a class on your own, but also be realistic about your level of Spanish. Most importantly, don’t be scared of the students or professors at UAM! Most people are very nice and willing to help you, it’s just a matter of reaching out to them. Try the Spanish note-taking method, and get a tutor to fill in the gaps for you, even if asking one of your peers to be your tutor is the weirdest/most intimidating thing ever. One thing you shouldn’t pick up from some of your UAM peers is their ability to skip class. The program directors will urge you to go to class despite what you see, and I agree. For my last UAM exam, I had all of my tutor’s apuntes and had gone over all of the information with her, but I didn’t have time to study on my own. The only reason I passed the final was because I remembered everything vividly from my professor’s lectures in class!
The ‘study’ in study abroad, like everything else, is what you make of it. Make it worth it. One of my friends shared the tip, “School here is not like it is in the US. Take time to realize what works and then spend the rest of your time basking in the glory of spain.” Though I agree, I’d say it’s more like, through your Spanish school, you’ll get tools that will further help you bask in the glory of Spain!