Although based on my posts so far it may appear that I have spent the majority of my time in Seville frolicking about Spain and other parts of Europe, I have indeed also been quite hard at work for my classes at the Universidad de Sevilla and my program center. Since I’m now getting back into the swing of things academically, I figured this was a good time to post about my classroom experiences in Sevilla. The academic system at the Universidad de Sevilla is fundamentally different from the system at Penn — or any other American university, for that matter. Because of these differences, I have honestly sometimes found the academic structure and teaching style to be a more difficult adjustment than having all my classes in Spanish. That being said, my first few weeks of university classes were definitely overwhelming, sometimes frustrating, and a little bit frightening. After hearing horror stories from past program participants about the craziness of course registration due to classes being cancelled, rooms being changed, and local university professors declaring that they did not want foreign students in their classes, my course selection went relatively smoothly by comparison, and I was able to pick my three university courses by the middle of shopping week: Spanish Art, History of Contemporary Spain, and History of Cinema and Audiovisual Media. Once I had picked my classes — along with a course on the Early Literatures of Seville and another on the Great Masters of Spanish Art at my program center — it was time to get down to academic business. Unlike at Penn, however, most Spanish professors do not hand out a syllabus and go over assignments on the first day of class. In fact, one of my professors never gave me a syllabus at all — he merely directed me to the electronic version on the university website. Accordingly, the majority of Spanish professors do not assign daily reading or shorter assignments. For my university classes, my grades basically come down to one final exam — quite a nerve-wracking prospect! And because the “real work” supposedly doesn’t come up until this final exam, I have sometimes noted a general sense of apathy among university professors and students. For someone used to being in a rigorous academic environment and receiving multiple assignments throughout the semester, this has proven to be frustrating at times. Some professors do not even care if students go to class; they merely want students to be prepared for the final come the end of the semester. Accordingly, the general lack of structure and disorganization in my university classes has proven quite daunting and has made communication difficult at times.
My university classes have been a learning process in more ways than one — not just because of the language barrier but also because of the cultural one. By far, Spanish Art is my most difficult university course. In accordance with the title, the course is an overview of the entire history of art in Spain — that’s quite the proposition for one semester! I was initially drawn to the course because it was presented as an introductory course. In reality, though, my professor is quite fond of using detailed and specific art vocabulary in his lectures (and large amounts of said vocabulary, to boot). During the first few weeks of this class, it seemed like he was practically running through his lectures — talking as if he were getting paid by the word and wanted to cram as many as possible into his hour-long lectures. Even though I have since adjusted to his style of teaching, the class can still feel overwhelming at times — especially when I have tried communicating with this professor. One time, I emailed him to clarify the requirements for a paper assignment, and he responded by telling me he believed I had the wrong professor and class. Knowing I did not, I quickly emailed him back and arranged a time to go to his office hours. When I showed up to his office hours, he seemed to have no idea who I was…and even asked me if I attended class. I was a bit surprised considering that I do, in fact, attend class every day and sit in the second row. ¡Ay Dios Mio!
Fortunately, my other two university classes are not quite as intimidating. Unlike my Spanish Art professor, my History of Contemporary Spain professor speaks slowly and quietly. He is very shy and does not use a microphone so I always make sure to snag a seat near the front of the classroom in order to hear him better. And although I can understand his Spanish quite well, his lectures are not always organized — he enjoys going off on tangents and particularly enjoys incorporating his predilection for various books and authors into his lectures. During the first few weeks of class, he devoted a great deal of his lectures to emphasizing the importance of reading books about history and not just attending lecture. My class on the History of Cinema is by far my favorite class at the university. I find the topic to be the most interesting and I was fortunate to have taken a film class in Spanish last semester — that background information and list of cinema terms I had to memorize last semester are certainly coming in handy now. The class is an overview of the development of cinema around the world, and the professor often shows films to supplement her lectures. Though she lectures quite rapidly — and I certainly do not catch every word that she says — I am very much enjoying the class material. And unlike my Spanish Art professor, she did not tell me I had the wrong course when I emailed her with a question. A small victory, but I’ll take it.
My classes at the Michigan Cornell Penn Center have a similar structure to American university courses, complete with multiple assignments and discussion. The more familiar structure to these courses is a breath of fresh air. I have enjoyed learning about some of Spain’s most famous artists, including the great architect Hernán Ruiz II and acclaimed painter Diego de Silva y Velázquez, in my Great Masters class. My favorite class this semester, however, is the Early Literatures of Seville. This class is taught by a visiting professor from the University of Michigan. For class, we are reading historic texts by authors from Seville and are also required to visit the sites of Seville in order to connect them with the readings. Although I did not think I would be interested in reading these early texts at first, I love that the class connects what I’m learning to the city of Sevilla itself.
While my academic life here in Sevilla has presented some challenges so far this semester, I can definitely say that my Spanish has improved as a result. Every day, it becomes easier and easier to comprehend what my local university professors are discussing in lecture — and it no longer feels shocking to walk into class and hear all Spanish, all the time. It also doesn’t hurt that I attend these classes in the beautiful and historic Fábrica de Tabacos building — an old tobacco factory that is the setting for the opera Carmen. Adjusting to academic life here in Sevilla has been a learning process in my study abroad experience in and of itself, and I know I will continue making new discoveries and facing new challenges as the semester goes on.