Focusing the learning lens
Due to the enchantment that relishes every corner of the streets in Oviedo, Spain, any study abroad student may find it difficult at times to focus on why they’re really abroad: to study. Admittedly, there have been days in which I have lost sight of my goals here abroad. Before leaving the good ‘ol USA, I wrote my purpose clearly in one sentence: “I am studying abroad to learn about Spanish culture, Spanish teaching practices and to become a fluent Spanish speaker”. I wrote it down in the notebook I planned to use for my classes so that I’d be reminded frequently. Well, I’ll tell you that inside a notebook is not the best place to keep any reminder, much less that reminder of my studying abroad goals. Don’t get me wrong, occasionally I glance at it but then Sidra street calls me to taste more of Asturias, and the waves from the beaches in Gijón blow their salty breath through my windows begging for some more fun, and the statue of Jesus Christ up on the mountain stares at me, pleading for another visit.
“Focus Tessa”, I tell myself. “Focus”, my family in the US reminds me. “Focus”, my host family prompts me. To everyone: for your help and advice I am truly grateful. Staying focused is a discipline and has been a challenge at times during my time in Spain. It appears to me that all of us students who are studying abroad really just want to fully enjoy the beauty and culture that surrounds us yet we tend to overlook the major detail in this experience: the work we put into our educational goals now is what will benefit us most when we leave. One comes to respect that a fiesta or two will have to go on without you! And in Spain they always do!
What, how and when am I doing all this awesome learning, you might ask? Well, I am taking Advanced Spanish I as my core class which meets every weekday from 9:30am to 1:00pm. In addition, for the first two weeks I was taking Advanced Conversation which met every weekday from 1:00 pm to 2:00pm. Now that I’ve completed the Advanced Conversation course I am taking Spanish Business during the last two weeks of the semester which meets at the same time. There is a break each morning from 11:30am to 12:00pm that we all thank the heavens for because we finally have a moment to recharge and talk with friends over a nice cup of that strong Spanish coffee before returning to our classes once again.
Advanced Spanish I was the class I was placed into determined by an online test. The class is generally grammatical in context. The intention is to strengthen our ability to express ourselves correctly in Spanish. Our Professor, Victor (very informal here, all professors expect to be called by their first names), is a lively one and easily one of the best professors I’ve ever had. Students who take Spanish as a second language and haven’t completely mastered the grammatical and lexical aspects that might raise them into fluency, often find themselves misunderstood when trying to explain something in great length or detail. Take the following sentence: Yesterday she had to the park Joey but remember her purse. This is a simplified example of a sentence that I might say in Spanish because my grammar or vocabulary gets mixed up sometimes. Most people will give me a crazy look and tell me they don’t understand. However, Victor always gets it! It’s like reading a two-year-old’s diary and being able to understand it completely. He just knows what his students mean to say all the time. He corrects us all in the most respectful way. He gives us examples of what do and say, plus he makes sure we are clear on what not to do or say. He makes us laugh all the time with his references to his friend Barak and typical American pop culture. We work on understanding our internal organization of the language through practicing Spanish grammatical rules repeatedly. Victor sometimes plays popular Spanish music for us to reflect upon, posing questions like: why would the writer chose this particular grammatical tense in which to convey their message; what is the significance of its usage and how might it change if a different tense was used? Victor has guided us through stories and fables that promote the usage of new vocabulary. He has given us informational packets containing the essential grammar rules in Spanish in a very easy to understand format. We do group activities at least once a week in which our language is put into practice with our peers. Our homework is never too lengthy, we write recipes or letters of complaint, retell what happened in a novella, or even write stories using the past tense correctly. Furthermore, Victor never seems to tire in explaining a concept to us over and over and over. I’ve truly never had such an understanding and effective professor. I am so privileged to have had a class with him in the midst of this captivating city.
Advanced Conversation was an interesting course indeed. The usual icebreakers began on the first day and we practiced using basic getting-to-know-you conversation questions with our peers. The following day we started a discussion on why the television is referred to as the idiot box while there are few who do without it completely. The conversation was led by our amiable Professor Beatriz who regularly emphasized new vocabulary we were using by writing it on the board and explaining it further. The topics got deeper and deeper each day and I thoroughly enjoyed the element of surprise in her class. We discussed education systems, ecology, catastrophes and coastal laws. Our homework was minimal but valuable. We completed the course with verbal presentations to the class. This was a class in which assuredly, no one was ever an inactive learner.
Spanish Business is a class of a different color for me. Originally, I felt it to be the best course option since I knew that the vocabulary would undoubtedly be challenging for me. Surprisingly, I wasn’t completely lost on the first day of class. Our Professor, María, eased us in slowly by first opening up a discussion on job interviews. She spoke slowly and with clarity. She also, like Beatriz, emphasized new vocabulary by writing them on the board and explaining it further. The class is very active, much like the conversation course and extensively touches upon Spanish, as well as world, economies.
I suppose the classes here aren’t very different from the USA except for the time structures and homework demand. I have loved these classes dearly for they have allowed me to enjoy life outside of school as well as within. I learn about cultural differences from professors and then experience these differences first hand throughout the city. The University has also taken us on two amazing “field trip” excursions to beaches and historical sites in the nearby regions. I am realizing that the cultural difference I mentioned in an earlier blog about the Spanish truly knowing how to enjoy life is completely true and may actually be the reason why my classes have been so unbelievably enjoyable. My professors in the USA almost always give hours upon hours upon hours of homework to do, leaving little time to do anything else in life but work, study and go to class. After studying for many years now, I have accepted the loads of homework as something every
scholar must endure. However, this may not be the case all over the world. As I have experienced here in Spain, studying and effective learning can co-exist alongside quite an enjoyable life.