STUDYing or ’StuDYING’?

For about a month and a half already I have been enjoying the Spanish educational system here in Madrid at Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM or Complu for the friends). It’s quite different from what I’m used to: more teaching hours per class with mandatory attendance, expected input and cooperation, grades based on weekly tasks and tests… And yet (not so unexpectedly,) I actually like it. 

First of all, the different approach: instead of learning theory by heart and reproducing it word by word on exams, grades are based on regularly given essays and small writing tasks in which you’re required to make an analysis of the topic discussed in class. And by discussed, I literally mean a discussion took place (shocker! But no, actually, it is…) The class needs to be prepared, and based on your preparation, usually a large text, you discuss the information with the professor and other students. Safe to say it’s a huge difference with my classes in Belgium, and at times quite difficult because of the language barrier, but an effort worth making. By now I feel as if my Spanish has progressed more in 2 months than the last 2 years.

Another aspect that I enjoy are (shame on me) the easier classes. The Spanish classes are by no means easy for Spanish students, but the comparison with Belgian education is almost laughable: the level of difficulty simply is a lot lower here. Fewer courses per semester, almost no theory, lower information-density,… The most difficult thing for me is the fact that everything is in Spanish. By the way, coming from more than 13 exams in 1 semester last year, the 4 classes I’m taking here are like a breath of fresh air. Bye bye stress, hello extra hair! (No joke, my incredibly thin hair is actually getting fuller.)

However, having fewer classes doesn’t mean I’m twirling my thumbs every day all day. Those 4 classes still need to be prepared with long academic Spanish texts and I finally realise how frustrating it is when you’re a slow reader (goodbye reading 3 times faster than the average reading speed). Besides, I also have my Bachelorpaper and a reader for one of my Belgian courses to think about…

The rest of my free time is filled up with something far more exciting: I’m officially a student-assistent in the Dutch department of my university! The Nederlandse Taalunie¹ has a program in which students studying abroad can assist a professor teaching classes of Dutch. In my case, it means helping out about 4 hours each week, including editorial work and teaching 1 hour of conversation class. All very new and very thrilling, it’s the perfect opportunity to find out if I actually like teaching: so far so good!

So there you have it: studying is always a little bit ‘dying’ (essays and exams are still essays and exams in the end) but overall, it is an amazing experience: I’m learning something new every day. Although at times I might miss the clarity of my Belgian classes, I’m sure I will miss the laid back attitude here even more next semester!

¹ The Dutch Language Union. More information:


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