STUDYING while abroad: Learning with Locals

Upon my arrival in Madrid, I was unsure of how rigorous or heavy my course load was actually going to be. I was slightly concerned since I had received an email from my Spanish advisor reminding me that the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid was considered the “Harvard of Spain”. But along with these feelings of uncertainty came excitement, this educational experience was here to give me an alternate perspective on the subjects I’ve been studying back in the States.

A frequent pattern I have found throughout all of my professors is their continuous interest in the “American Perspective”. At Carlos, I was allowed to take classes with local students from Madrid. For the students to get the most out of their lecture, the professors find it important that the class understands the lecture at hand from all cultures and perspectives. So after any major concepts or examples, the professor will stop class to ask the American students to compare what we are learning to what we know from the United States. At first, this was extremely bizarre to me. I’ve been accustomed to the large university classes of Pitt where the only interactions during lectures were if a student had a question. Over time, these quick cultural comparisons became more interesting and opened many doors for me to interact with locals that would approach me after class.

Classes, in general, are relatively the same aside from the interruptions. The major difference I have noticed between the school systems is we very rarely receive homework in Spain. The mass majority of our grades weigh on one exam and you are expected to keep up with what is going on in class without guidance. I have found this to be similar to very few classes at Pitt that I have taken but not completely unheard of. One thing that I have come to enjoy about the Spanish educational system is that instead of just lectures, a lot of the classes are practical based. For example, I am in a digital marketing class where while we are learning about the concepts in the lecture, we are expected to be using these skills on our own social media platforms and recording our progress. I loved this idea because not only is it teaching us how to apply the things we are learning, but it also is bettering our media presence for professional platforms as well.

The most important advice I could give to any student studying abroad in Madrid is to sit in front of the class. For some reason, local Spaniard students will continue their conversations throughout the lecture and the professors will not stop them. It is also helpful to be closer just in case your teacher has a thick accent and is tougher to understand. Aside from this, try to keep up with your schoolwork week-by-week. This way, you have the opportunity to explore and travel on the weekends while still staying on track academically.