Almost forget? I’m actually taking classes here! Learning! School! Well, I am a student here at the Pontifical University of Comillas, which is essentially a small private school with a few campuses throughout Madrid, depending on the course of study. I am at the humanities campus, which is located significantly outside of the city, so that I have an hourlong commute to school every day. Yes, it’s terrible, and I cannot tell you the number of times I have either missed the commuter train out to school, missed the metro to get there on time, or simply walked out of the house way too late to have any chance of punctuality. Let’s just say that I will never complain about a ten minute walk to class at Georgetown again. Luckily, my commute does offer a few upsides, such as fantastic people-watching and ample time to read and listen to music.
As for the school itself, it is much different than I expected. Being at the smallest campus of a private school means that all the Spanish students know one another, and us international students stick out like crazy. There are only three buildings on the whole campus, which contain classrooms, a small library, bookstore, and cafeteria. But the truly strange part about the experience are the Spanish students’ schedules. Each student has a course of study, and their schedule is pretty much predetermined based on their major and year in school. This creates situations that feel eerily similar to high school, where everyone sticks together for four or five years moving through the same classrooms with the same professors. As for us extranjeros, we mostly just hope for the best. All of my classes are in Spanish, and while that was really tough at first (and still absolutely is), I have gotten used to it for the most part, and all of my professors are really understanding about the any language difficulties I might have.
Here are some fun facts about Spanish uni:
- You don’t actually have to be on time for class, which is pretty fortunate seeing how my train rarely runs on time. In fact, their definition of “on time” is completely different than ours at Georgetown. The earliest that students walk into the classroom is exactly on the hour of the start of class, otherwise most students are 5 to 10 minutes late, as are the professors! Sometimes, people can be up to 20 minutes late without batting an eye.
- Most likely, the whole grade in a Spanish class is based solely on participation and a final exam, usually about a 30–70 split, which sounds horrible, but is honestly preferable when all I have to do here is pass my classes! Also, this setup means that homework is minimal if not nonexistent, really opening up my schedule to enjoy the city, explore, and take weekend trips without feeling guilty or having my grades suffer as a result. To put it simply, one night early on in the semester, my host mom corrected me when I used the word tarea for homework, saying it’s actually deberes, which can loosely translate to “shoulds,” (as opposed to “musts”) and I think that really encapsulates the Spanish mentality on homework.
- Wikipedia is my new best friend. While I prefer to take class notes by hand, I always have my laptop out in class, either to translate vocabulary to understand my professor or to search the entire topic itself to help me gain some context and not fall behind in lecture. I am taking two philosophy courses, and I would be absolutely clueless without Wikipedia’s extensive explanations on the “-isms” and biographies of German philosophers from the Enlightenment, because let’s be real, those subjects are hard even in English.
- There are also some really cool things that have happened in class! One of my professors was a child prodigy, the youngest Egyptologist in Europe and the youngest hieroglyphs decipherer in the world, and knows something like 12 languages. Also, at one point in my philosophy of art class, we analyzed a single text in four different languages, all of which were spoken in the room: German, Spanish, English, and Italian. As cliche as it may sound, even at this tiny campus in the suburbs of Madrid, I feel like a student of the world!