JACOB BARBA- I promised to talk about my experiences at UAM one day, and that day has finally arrived. First, a little background: the university lies outside Madrid, about ten minutes’ drive to the north. I take the train, so that translates closer to thirty minutes for me. In Spain, the public universities are the more prestigious, and UAM is one of the most prestigious in Spain. Alcalá, our program’s sister city, also has a prestigious public university, where our Alcalá residents attend.
Most days I take the Cercanías train from Nuevos Ministerios to Cantoblanco Universidad. I wait on the platform for anywhere from two minutes to thirty. The train ride itself is nothing special. I usually don’t have enough time to finish a last piece of work. That usually doesn’t matter, and I try to enjoy my mandated waiting time by looking at the scenery or catching up on an audiobook. Sometimes I’m feeling adventurous, so I do both things at once. When I get to the University, I always walk to the same place. I’m lucky in that, even though I have two classes, they’re both located in the same wing of the Faculdad de Filosofía y Letras.
I’m a History and English major, remember, so I have to take two classes if I want to graduate in time. Those classes are the preeminently available Literatura y Cultura de los Paises de Habla Inglesa en el Siglo XIX and América Latina Actual (desde 1973). For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, the first is a nineteenth century English literature class and the second is about contemporary Latin American history. I really like the second class, even though I do have to wade through a wall of Spanish to understand the content. If you want to see a true work of Surrealist art, all you have to do is look at my notes for that class. I’ve written the phrase “new social order” without any other context at least fifteen times. Still, I have fun with the class.
My English class, on the other hand, is another matter. It’s a whole lot easier to understand, of course, being taught in English. On the other hand, it’s a whole lot less interesting than the complexities of Latin American politics. That’s to be expected; the Autonóma caters to speakers of Spanish as a first language, not American students looking to round out their majors. I’d like a bit more from the class, is all I’m saying. I want to get in deep into Romantic poetry, not just scratch the surface. Is that too much to ask?
My UAM experience isn’t just relegated to taking classes, though. You are in fact reading the words of an English teacher. Okay, well, I direct a conversation class. I have a group of students, most of whom can understand me, and I try to make them confident enough to talk. In my arsenal of teaching methods, I have a chalkboard, some chalk, and an unlimited imagination. They talk, we play word games, I sing songs—badly—and we all have a good time. I don’t know if UAM is my favorite part of studying abroad, but it is absolutely one of the most notable means of assimilating into Spanish culture. I don’t regret my time at the university, and I look forward to the rest of the semester here.