Yes, I do actually study.

When I was back in the US gushing over my friends’ study abroad photos, blogs, Instagram posts, etc., it looked as if they were basically taking a semester off to explore the world, which drove me insane as I was stressing out over papers and exams. It seemed like a dream world over there on the other side of the ocean. And it is, in many respects. I have the opportunity to travel on the weekends to places I’ve been wanting to see my entire life, and I without question have less work than I do at TCU, except that I have to do the work in Spanish.

But this isn’t vacation abroad. It is in fact study abroad, and I do actually have to study. So for my fellow empollones (nerds), I thought I’d share a bit about my school life in Sevilla. I am attending the Universidad Pablo de Olavide, or la UPO for short. The campus, so they told us at orientation, is not a former prison. But as one of my classmates joked, it was a male-only school during the Franco era, so they were basically confining all the bright young men with revolt potential. At least, I think that was a joke. Anyway, UPO doesn’t have the visual appeal of TCU, but the education is good and that’s what counts.

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UPO has a big international center, and our class is the largest they’ve had—over 400 students!  (The school has about 10,000 total students, comparable to TCU). Most of the students are American, but we have a decent-sized German population too, and I’ve also met students from Canada, Japan, and Poland. There are even a few Baylor Bears here (boooo). UPO offers courses in both Spanish and English at the international center; however, we pretty much take classes only with other international students. There is an option to take a course with Spaniards, but I’m not sure most students’ language skills are quite up for that. Before receiving our official schedules, we had to take a placement exam, but since it was multiple choice grammar and two writing sections, nothing oral, it made my Spanish look much better than it actually was at the beginning of the semester. The listening/speaking skills are coming, I just have to be patient and keep practicing. I am taking 15 hours here, the maximum we can take, plus a 1-credit hour study abroad course with TCU. I’ll relish this spring before getting back to 18-hour semesters at TCU.  Four of my classes are in Spanish (my second major), and I’m taking one course in English for my international economics minor:

The Global Economy- I know I’m here to learn Spanish, but this is one of my favorite classes. We’re taking a more “political economy” approach rather than the straight economics I’m used to, so this is the closest thing I have to getting my political science fix (I really miss my major, y’all, it’s the best). We started with some foundational economic theory (Adam Smith and the other big names), and now we’re looking at how the international community has dealt with the expanding economy in the face of post-WWII globalization. Fascinating. Oh, and my professor is British and his accent is super distracting. But in a good way 🙂 And it’s hilarious listening for British colloquialisms.

Advanced Spanish Conversation- Speaking is my biggest language weakness, so this class provides me with great extra practice. We have different themes to help us get comfortable with various tenses, plus it’s a good class for building vocabulary and varying sentence structure and word choice.

Spanish Civilization and Culture-  This class is an overview of major topics in Spanish culture, including geography, climate, politics, economics, family, food, flamenco, and bullfighting. Our professor is really nice and very good about making sure we’re following his Spanish. Before this class, I had no idea how diverse Spain is—it has the cultural/geographic diversity comparable to the US, but spread out over way less land. Did you know that the northwest of Spain can be compared to Ireland’s geography, there are both deserts and a Sierra Nevada, and Spain has two autonomous cities inside Africa (Ceuta and Melilla)?

Women and Spanish Literature XIX and XX Centuries-  This course is definitely challenging but very interesting. Here I’m learning about the changing role of women in Spanish (and world) society over time, using literature as a lens for historical and sociological study. This class is the reason that I still actually have substantial homework. 245-page packet of readings plus 4 novelas. When I told my host mom what we were reading, she said those were difficult books for Spaniards because of the antiquated language. Well then. Thanks for the encouragement, Puri. So far we’ve read two of the novelas, Rosario de Acuña’s La casa de muñecas (The Dollhouse) and Benito Perez Galdós’ Tristana, and they weren’t too bad. But if it were easy my Spanish wouldn’t be improving, right?

Spanish Phonetics and Phonology- My hope is that this class, which studies the sounds of the Spanish language, will help me improve both my listening and speaking skills. It’s cool because writing out words/phrases phonetically is a code, almost like another language. It’s definitely difficult just because the whole concept of phonetics is completely new to me, but I know it’ll be a good experience. The professor is really funny, or at least he tries. He always says, “¿Sí, o sí?” to make sure we’re understanding. I guess “no” isn’t an option, haha. Also, repeating vowel sounds makes me think of My Fair Lady. “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!”

I may not live in the library as I do at TCU, but there you have it, proof that I do indeed write papers and study for tests and worry about grades even in Spain. Even though my host mom tells me that weekends are for descanso, for rest, and not for homework. But this is coming from the same person who didn’t get why I had a mini panic attack about the need to research grad schools right now. I don’t think she understands my type-A perfectionism, haha. For me though, school is a way of life, and while it isn’t the only important thing, my classes have already taught me so much about Spain that helps me relate to the culture I observe on a daily basis.

-Steph

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