Since I went to Spain to study, I figured I should spend some time actually talking about school. I attended the main campus of The University of Granada, a two-story white plaster building hidden behind a tiny back alley crammed with Tapa/hookah bars. I was a student in the Centro de Lenguas Modernas, the section of the school that catered specifically to foreign students learning Spanish or Spanish students learning other languages. Lots of mornings were spent crowding into random doorways with strangers or squashing along walls to allow cars and motos to pass.
Inside, the building was much more safe and welcoming. An open patio kept things cool during the summer but a bit too cool for my tastes in December. Green plants crawled up the columns and banisters that lead to the second floor and reflected in the stone floors after particular heavy rains. My favorite part, however, was the oversized second floor windows that framed the foggy mountains and vibrant houses.
The semester was spent into two different parts.The first month was an intensive course, taught in Spanish, that consisted of only a grammar and conversation course. Each class lasted for two hours, which resulted in a grand total of four hours of classes a day. After taking the placement test during my first week there, I tested into level three, the lower intermediate class which was a bit disappointing considering I had surpassed that level back home.
I could understand, read, and write Spanish but needed a lot of practice when it came to pronunciation and more advanced aspects of grammar. Those areas were, in the words of a professor, “ un disastre”. After the intensive course, we had a weeklong vacation and the opportunity to retake the placement test. Because I wanted to take my regular classes in Spanish, a privilege reserved only for those in level 5 and above, I opted to take the test again. The grammar was still a bit…effy…but thanks, once again, to my reading and writing skills, I somehow made it into the Spanish classes.
After the intensive course, the next three months functioned like a regular semester. I had five classes two times a week. It was a pretty varied schedule; History of Art, Spanish Literature, History of Hispanic Civilization, Spanish Grammar, and Speaking and Writing. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit but the classes totally whipped my trasero, despite the workload being significantly less than what I was used to. I think the main hindrance was my hesitance to speak up and ask questions. Even though I understood my professors, I was a bit intimidated to volunteer answers or ask for something to be explained more since my classmates seemed to have much better speaking skills.
One major difference between the education system in Granada and The States is the grading system. Instead of letters, numbers are given on a scale of one to ten. A five or higher is considered passing and the equivalent to a “C”.
In place of graded assignments or multiple tests throughout the semester, there are only two significant exams: the midterm and final. Both are cumulative, which means the days leading up to the tests are spent cramming to relearn everything taught from day one. Only having a handful of grades defiantly made it a bit harder, especially in classes like grammar, which was difficult for me from the start.
A question I’m always asked is how the American school system compares to the Spanish system. In my opinion, the classes in Spain were much more interactive and interesting than the agenda I was accustomed to; a reading followed by a research essay followed by exam and repeat. However, the courses did feel a bit rushed at times and there wasn’t much space left to make up a bad grade.
Honestly, I did learn more that semester than any other. Then again, it’s hard not to when every school day, excursion, or night in exposed you to some aspect of life you’ve never seen before.