I knew that studying abroad at Universitat Pompeu Fabra would be different than studying at Pitt for several reasons. However, I honestly may have underestimated how well I would adjust to these differences, despite my prior experience with the Spanish culture. Scheduling classes, conducting group projects, the way classes are taught, student resources; all of these things are very different from the way they are done at Pitt. Starting at UPF I kind of felt like a freshman student all over again. However, I came to accept these discrepancies because that is all a part of the experience, and now I am able to offer advice to those students who come after myself.
This semester I decided to take four classes: International Economics and Business History, International Team Management, Contabilidad de Costes, and Finanzas II. Since I am going to be a senior next year, I didn’t have many options on which classes I could take abroad. That’s why I took two classes in Spanish (Accounting and Finance), but also because I wanted to challenge my language abilities.
While I am glad that I had the opportunity to improve my Spanish skills and meet a lot of local students, I would not recommend this to other students in the future unless they are native Spanish speakers. It took me quite awhile to be able to keep up and pay attention in class because I was always one step behind, trying to first understand what the professor was actually just saying, and then trying to comprehend the subject matter. Spanish is also a high-context language, meaning people tend to leave some things out in conversation, making it even more of a challenge. This is another reason why I would’ve been completely lost without the local friends I made. I was constantly checking with them to make sure I understood the professors correctly and to make sure I had the deadlines correct for my assignments and such.
It wasn’t just the language difference that was a challenge, however. What I also found to be quite difficult in all of my classes was that there were no student resources, no grading rubrics, no expectations, no books. This is the aspect about my study abroad experience that I think I had the most trouble with because at Pitt whenever I have a project, assignment, or exam, I am usually given detailed information about what the professor expects, homework problems to practice subject matter, and review material for exams. In each of my classes I had just one major assignment that counted for a large portion of my grade, yet the professor didn’t seem to stress much importance on it because they would barely explain the project. Students just rely on completed work from prior students in order to know in some realm what to do. In my finance course, we only had one set of problems to do each week, but when it came time for the exams (the professor didn’t even mention the final exam in the last class), the questions were completely different containing material that we haven’t covered. Therefore, I felt very unprepared fairly often, which is bothersome for me because I felt as though I wasn’t able to succeed as much as usual.
Although I may have frustrations with my university and I am glad to be finished with finals, I wouldn’t change my decision to study abroad or attend UPF. I was very stressed and even felt helpless at times, but I have overcame many challenges and am proud of myself for what I have accomplished by putting myself into such an uncomfortable situation.
That would be my advice for the next student who studies abroad at UPF, don’t become overwhelmed by a stressful situation because the stressful moment will pass and everything will be okay. Use what resources you do have. For example, in my case because I had no idea what was happening in some of my classes some of the time, I relied heavily on my classmates. They were not only very willing to help, they are now some of the best friends I made on exchange.
Another piece of advice I have is to branch out and join an international student organization. While it can be comforting to have friends who are fellow Americans, you will learn so much about the world, its thousands of different cultures, and even yourself by conversing with new people that you might be surprised you have a lot in common with. Because of my time in Erasmus, I met friends from Canada, Mexico, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Uruguay, and so much more.
Studying abroad in a completely new country with a new culture from your own can be very intimidating, but it’s all a part of the experience. Taking classes and learning how to study all over again can be stressful at times, but as long as you take advantage of the resources you do have and stay positive, you will be successful and have the time of your life.