Abroad in Seville: Classes in Spain

The education system in Spain poses quite a contrast to the education system found in the United States.

In my second week of classes at the center, I’m starting to get a hang of how the education system works here and am starting to notice the differences in the approach to education.

The first three weeks that I’m in Seville, I’m taking classes at the center during intensive period, meant to be an immediate immersion experience to improve my Spanish language skills. During this time, I’m taking a class called Advanced Spanish Present-Day Usage in which I’m learning tons of vocabulary and expressions that only people who were born in Spain or who have grown up here would know.

Many of them don’t make any sense if you do a direct translation and therefore are quite difficult to memorize. Dientes de leche, for example, means ¨baby teeth¨ but if you did a direct translation from Spanish to English it would read ¨milk’s teeth.¨ Each unit presents a different theme in which my professor relates situations that we may encounter on a daily basis to the vocabulary that we’re learning. It is a very applicable and useful class as well as being entertaining and comical a majority of the time.

Another class I’m taking is a module focused on writing. I’ve been learning how to compose emails with varying diction based on the audience; how to summarize an article, book or movie; and how to write a cover letter and resume. Every day in class I learn things that may not necessarily be pertinent to the class material but nonetheless are useful for living in Spain.

My last class for the intensive period, called Cultural Realities, is meant to help me adjust to living in a country with a very different culture. In this class, we make comparisons and contrasts between the American culture and Spanish culture as well as address any difficulties students are having while adjusting to life in Spain.

During the intensive period, classes are from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. However a, neat little break called mediamañana breaks up the first class. At 10:30 a.m., class is dismissed for a little break during which many students go to nearby cafes to have coffee or tea and perhaps some breakfast. Then at 11 a.m., everyone returns to class. This break is representative of the European culture. Taking one’s time and enjoying life are important to Sevillanos. As my professor told us, there’s an ulterior motive as well – everyone is tired by 10:30 a.m. so we need to tomar un cafe to wake us up so we can get through the rest of the class.

Thus far I’ve had one exam and two essays due. The exam was as I expected as far as difficulty and content; it mainly included vocabulary and expressions, and the grading was quite fair. The two essays, which were fair as well, had many comments and points for improvement. After receiving an initial grade, I can make corrections and receive up to five more points on the essay. This system makes improving my grade as well as my grammar and content much easier.

While classes at the center have been going well, I’ve yet to see what class at the university will be like. Last week I took a tour of the university and learned about the Spanish education system and specifically about being a student at Universidad de Sevilla (USEV). To attend USEV, it costs 1,000 Euros per academic year, an incomparable amount to what American colleges and universities charge. Furthermore if you receive an ‘A’ in a class, you get to take class for free. While the price of being a student is better in Spain that in the U.S., many students don’t attend classes and therefore their grades suffer.

 The professor from CC-CS who gave us a tour said that a lot of people don’t know what to do when they graduate from high school so they take classes at USEV since it’s so cheap. Then they decide that they don’t want to go to class and never end up graduating or continue taking classes at the university for far longer than they should. Also many students live at home or rent apartments rather than living in student housing.

Roaming the halls of USEV, I noticed papers posted on bulletin boards. After asking about them I learned that grades are posted for the public to see. The grading system is quite peculiar. A zero to 10-point scale is used in which zero to five is failing and above five is passing.

My mouth and my fellow students’ mouths dropped open when we read on the bulletins that a majority of the students were failing, indicated by the word suspenso. I was struck by fear at the though of taking classes at the university. If these students who are native in the language are failing, then what will it be like for me who is not native in the language? Of course, it varies from student to student so I will just have to see how the class is for myself.

I can just picture it: I walk into a classroom filled with Sevillanos talking to each other. I’m lost. I have no idea where to sit but just choose a random seat and try to blend in with the other locals and not appear like an American. The teacher starts speaking and at first I have no idea what he is saying but after a couple minutes it clicks! I can do this, I think. I’m taking a class in Spanish with only native speakers and no one can stop me!

A student at Lehigh University, I studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the spring semester of 2012. I posted about my adventures and cultural experiences at SenseSeville

Next time, I'll discuss my trip to Gibraltar. 

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