My Class at la Universidad Autonóma de Madrid
In addition to the Advanced Spanish Grammar class and two literature classes I am taking at the Tufts-Skidmore Program, I am taking one course at the UAM, la Universidad Autonóma de Madrid. As a Spanish and International Affairs major, I am fascinated by Latin America, so I was excited to have the opportunity to take a history course about Latin America since 1973, América Latina Actual. I also thought it would be interesting to study Latin America in Spain and see how their perspective differs from what I have learned at Skidmore, in my high school in California, and during my experience studying human rights and social movements in Argentina last semester.
One of the biggest differences I have noticed between class in general in Spain and the United States is that my professor does not make Powerpoints or write on the board a lot. He also asks the class a lot less questions than a typical professor in the United States would—it is more of a lecture-style class and if anyone has questions they raise their hand and interrupt him. He does not pause to see if we have questions.
Although it has been a bit of an adjustment for me trying to follow a class intended for native speakers of Spanish without any kind of visual aids, it is going pretty well, and I have made friends with people in the class who are very open to sharing their notes with me. There is also a woman who always types everything the professor says who sits in front of me, so sometimes I peek at her notes if I don’t know what’s going on. Class also tends to start about ten minutes after it is supposed to, and it seems like it is more acceptable to come in late or leave early without saying anything to the professor.
Another difference is that the professor does not assign homework or reading for each night—at the beginning he gave us a long list of books that he recommends and said that three of them are the most important for the class—so we are responsible for deciding how we are going to structure our reading throughout the semester. We have one final test and three writing assignments, one group project about a movie and two analyses of texts he will hand out in class, which are both due on the day of the final. We are free to turn the assignments in early if we choose to, but nothing is technically due until the last day of the term. This makes it a lot harder to stay on top of the reading and assignments because I am so used to teachers structuring the semester for me.
I have found that the discourse surrounding Latin America is very different in Spain than in the United States or Latin America. If we are not reading primary sources in class, most of the texts the professor recommends are by authors from France, Spain, or the United States as opposed to from Latin America, which tends to influence the class perspective. On the first day, my professor handed out a map of Latin America so everyone could see where the countries he was talking about were. Everyone in the class was saying they had no idea where countries like the Dominican Republic were, which surprised me, especially because I have been teased by Spaniards that no one in the U.S. knows anything about geography. I asked students if they learned about Latin America in school, and many of them told me they were taking this class because they mostly only talked about Europe and the United States in their history major.
There has also been a lot of ongoing tension in the class between my professor and an international student from Chile. The professor consistently calls Augusto Pinochet “President Pinochet”, and the student keeps correcting him to say that Pinochet was not a president, he was a dictator and that no one in Chile ever refers to him as a president. The professor argues with her and says that Pinochet was in fact president, and she has responded by saying that no one refers to General Franco as President Franco and that only fascists call Pinochet president. His refusal to accept her arguments and her superior cultural knowledge of Chile has been a bit of culture shock for me because I feel like professors at Skidmore, and probably Tufts as well, are generally pretty open to students’ comments, especially if they have a valuable perspective.
Although there have been some awkward moments, I am really glad that I chose to take a course at the UAM. It has been a great way to meet Spaniards and other international students and to see what life in Spain is actually like away from the Tufts-Skidmore bubble.
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