As an American Studies major, one of the things that excited me most about going abroad was engaging in intercultural conversations. I was curious to learn about Spanish history and culture, but also curious to hear what Spaniards thought of American history and culture. I had all kinds of questions, like what do Spanish kids learn in school about Columbus? Are they going to think I voted for Trump? What’s the deal with the Spanish equivalent of the SAT that requires high schoolers to pick their track before they even enter college? Madrid may seem familiar as a New Yorker used to navigating cities, but there are certainly a lot of cultural differences that continue to fascinate me. I knew I had to get myself involved in university life here in order to get some answers!
After the unfortunate scheduling complications that meant I couldn’t take a U.S. history course at the university like I had hoped to, I found the next best thing, teaching conversation classes at La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. The UAM is one of the most esteemed schools in the area, located in Northern Madrid. I signed up to teach every Thursday afternoon with my friend and fellow blogger, Madi, featured in the picture with one of our lesson plans. We were lucky enough to be assigned a group of students in the English language department. This makes our job easier, as we’re easily able to converse with the students in either English or Spanish. The focus is on English conversation, helping them apply what they learn in class to real life conversations, and I’ve been very impressed by their skill level as they are all in their first year at the university.
We started off the semester asking the students what kinds of things they wanted to talk about in the coming weeks, noting that as Americans in Spain we’ve realized there are a lot of contexts in which we know so little vocabulary! In my previous Spanish classes, we’ve of course learned the basics, but when it comes to specific situations like trying to find the right medicine at a pharmacy, I’ve found myself at a loss for medical words. Some of our students asked about vocabulary sets like these, but our first session was full of wide eyed questions about university life in the U.S.: “Was high school just like High School Musical?” “Are frat parties as crazy as they look in the movies?” “Why do you live on the same campus as your classes?” It was funny to hear all these questions and realize that I had so many just like them about student life in Spain. It’s been special to have this space of cultural exchange with Spanish people our age that we can really relate to. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the UAM campus, eating in the dining hall each week and trying to soak up all the lively student culture around me.
In the previous weeks, we’ve discussed everything from college lectures to dorms to dining halls to technological vocabulary. We’ve had a blast playing games like Family Feud and this week we’re planning to learn more about Spanish pop culture and celebrities and hopefully get some suggestions for the best music, movies, and TV shows. The class environment has started to feel like chatting with friends, helping each other practice language and getting all of our dire questions answered about cultural differences.