Academic Life in Spain


If you’re only keeping track of my semester by reading my blog, it may appear to you that I only travel and never do any actual schoolwork! You will be happy to know (at least if you are my parents or an OU professor) that I am in fact taking classes, and that they have provided me with yet another great opportunity to improve my Spanish as well as to learn as much as I can about the local culture.

I have been blessed with a wonderful schedule – I have classes from 10:30 to 2 four days a week, with one morning class, a 30 minute break, and then one afternoon class per day. I do walk 20 minutes to get to school every day, but getting to wake up at 9 every day has been spoiling me. I actually wake up earlier on the weekends so that I can travel and explore!

I have also had the great fortune to take classes in a variety of areas – I’m taking one on the history of Spanish art, one on the European Union, one on the Muslim legacy of Andalusia (a region in the south of Spain), and one on Spanish for health care professionals. All of my classes are taught by Spanish professors and conducted all in Spanish, which has been amazing practice – when learning a language, once you have enough base knowledge, I think there is nothing more beneficial than simply using it as much as you can. This semester has been fantastic to that end, and my classes are the best part!

This semester, I am getting credits for my Spanish minor, and it has been an awesome chance to learn completely different things than I have been in past semesters. I have loved many things about these classes, but my favorite is how applicable the knowledge is. In my art class, we will discuss Spanish painters and their most famous works, and then I will go to different cities and palaces and museums and get to see the works in person. I’ve been to Toledo, the city that served as El Greco’s greatest inspiration. I’ve seen famous works in El Escorial (a Spanish palace) and in the Picasso museum in Barcelona. Best of all, Madrid (which has basically been my backyard for this semester) contains the Museo del Prado, the Museo de la Reina Sofia, and other small museums like the house of Joaquin Sorolla that contain some of the most famous artwork in the world. It is an incredibly cool feeling to spend days learning the life stories of various artists and intensely studying their famous works before getting to see them with my own eyes the next day.

Also very rewarding is my class about the Muslim legacy of Andalusia. After taking that class, I now see the Muslim legacy everywhere in Spain – in the architecture, in the clothing, in the food, in the festivals, and even in the words. Nowhere is this legacy more prominent than Andalusian cities like Granada, Córdoba, and Sevilla (which I will visit this coming weekend). In the first two cities, it was amazing to be able to point to an architectural detail and name the century it came from, as well as the group ruling Spain at the time. Everything I visit becomes that much more interesting when I have the historical information to back it up.

My class on the EU has been rewarding in a different way; I have always loved discussing international politics and analyzing current events, and every day at the beginning of class, we do just that for roughly half an hour. Then, I get to learn about how the EU, one of the worlds largest and most successful, international organizations, works. It is incredibly interesting, and every day when I leave, I feel like I’ve gained more valuable knowledge about how the world works. (As a terrifying side note, it has been alarming to keep track of the presidential race back home and watch everyone here doing the same. Many Spaniards know just as much about the candidates as we do, and if you think they haven’t noticed Trump, think again. His rise in popularity has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the world – I actually just saw a headline in El País, a popular newspaper in Madrid, talking about him. Cue the shudders).

All of my classes have been wonderful, but my medical Spanish class can’t be matched when it comes to giving me new and crazy opportunities. The class actually only met for the first half of the semester – this time was dedicated to learning medical vocabulary and talking about the differences between the private health care system in the US and the dual public-private systems here in Spain. During the second half of the semester, in lieu of going to class, we were each assigned a medical resident to shadow. I have had the great fortune of shadowing a gynecological resident (though here, that really means gynecology-obstetrics). Throughout my time in the hospital, I have met numerous doctors, residents, and nurses, observed patients, and gotten to scrub up and watch two c-sections, one laparoscopic hysterectomy, and one live birth. There has been a great deal of life experience packed into just a few weeks!

I knew about the shadowing opportunity coming in, but I had no idea before this program that during my time here I would get to watch several babies take their first breaths (I tear up every time, and my resident tells me you never really get used to the feeling). During my shadowing, I frequently have “someone pinch me” moments – the opportunities I’m getting here are just crazy! Listening to doctors and patients talk has been excellent practice for my Spanish, and getting to observe the Spanish health care system has been an awesome experience.

All of this basically boils down to an incredible academic experience here, one that I will never forget. I knew that I would enjoy studying abroad, but I had no idea just how many wonderful opportunities would be handed to me. As classes ramp up toward finals, I am a bit swamped with papers and presentations, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This semester has taught me a great deal in so many ways, and I will forever be grateful.

When Worlds Collide


It appears I have let an entire month slip by without posting anything. Not to worry – I have still been having adventures and writing them down, but my personal trip journals are far too rambling and verbose for anyone but myself to find them interesting, and I am just now getting to editing it down to something that others might be wiling to look at! (You’re now, I’m sure, wondering how on earth it is possible that I could be more verbose than these posts already suggest. Just trust me – you are actually getting off fairly easily with the length of my blog posts! It could be infinitely worse).

Nearly a month ago now, I had the great fortune of a visit from my family (my mother, father, and brother) for an entire week during my brother’s spring break. It was an incredible week – I am quite close with my family, and they have always been my very favorite traveling companions – and it gave me some valuable perspective on just how far I’ve come in my time here.

I had not realized just how much I’d adapted to the Spanish culture until my family came, just as unfamiliar with it as I was on day one, and I got to teach it to them. After living here for several months, it now seems perfectly normal to me that, when crossing the street, you don’t wait for the cars to pass, but rather walk in front of them – pedestrians truly have the right of way here, and the cars will stop for you, even if it seems like they won’t. I am no longer phased by the fact that the waitstaff in restaurants are in no hurry to get you out the door, and can in fact be incredibly difficult to track down if you’re looking to pay and leave. My family was shocked that Alcalá wasn’t more full of life by 10 AM, but for the past few months, the reality of life has been that waking up before 9 is “madrugando” (rising incredibly early), and that the Spaniards like to take their mornings slowly.

These are but a few examples of how I’ve grown accustomed to the pace of life here – there are many. On the whole, it took my family visiting to remind me that, as comfortable as Spain now feels to me, I am living in a significantly different way this semester than I have in the past. And I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to do so. For a few months, I have been able to live as a Spaniard, eating their food, keeping their schedule, and seeing their sights. At first, it was a little uncomfortable (it was a lot to adapt to, and as you’ll recall, I am not always the biggest lover of change) but now it is hard for me to believe that I have only been here for just over three months.

Another great thing about my family being here was getting the chance to translate for them – mainly in sales and restaurant interactions. Being able to converse in both English and Spanish begins to feel somewhat like a super power when you are the force uniting two groups with no common language and allowing them to communicate. Of everything I have learned in school, Spanish may be what I am most grateful for. It has literally opened up new parts of the world for me, and that amazes me. I often heard fellow students in high school complain that what they were learning would not help them in the real world. I am here to tell you – without the Spanish that I started learning in high school, the real world of Spain would have been exponentially more difficult to navigate.

Language utilization and cultural realizations aside, my family’s visit gave the the fantastic opportunity to show them around my home city here, as well as several other cities I visited. We explored Alcalá, Madrid, Toledo, and Barcelona, and all were incredible. Though I repeated cities, I had entirely new experiences (exploring the Prado, touring all of Gaudí’s magnificent architectural treasures, climbing one of the towers of La Sagrada Familia, wandering through the Olympic venues of Barcelona, and just getting to know all of the cities better) and I had a lovely time. Showing off Spain is the best, traveling with my family is the best, and it was a fantastic week.