Just like an interview, always have questions prepared about what you may venture in. I went to my orientation for UC3M for international students in the Hispanic Studies Program which meant most/all my classes would be in Spanish, and tailored to North American students to help enhance our Spanish language skills. That being said, this orientation was completely in Spanish, and tailored toward safety in Spain and advertising their facilities such as the gym, the library, etc. It would not have been helpful at all if I had not come prepared with questions. My first question was 1) How do we register for classes? Though their was a guide given online, I still wanted to clarify the process because the portal here was also new to me, as it should be for any incoming “first-year.” 2) Where exactly can I find x,y, and z buildings to take my placement exam for my Spanish level and pick up my ID/certificate to be here on campus? 3) Where exactly is the gym, the library, and the bookstore? After I received information about all of those things, I felt a bit more acquainted with how my days would look like at UC3M. There was not a carnival, or student movers, or people in bright blue and orange t-shirts asking if you needed help the way students are at New Paltz for freshman. New Paltz is so friendly, but do not expect the same customer service in Spain.
Moreover, I am taking 5 classes here at UC3M, which is about the same amount of courses and credits I usually take at New Paltz (14-17 credits depending on what’s available, what I need, etc.). Here, I have more group projects; 2/5 of my classes are based on group projects–my radio workshop course, as well as my Cultural Studies course. Also, 4/5 of my courses are in Spanish so that’s very different, and only 3/5 professors speak/know English with confidence. Check your syllabus often, and check Aula Global (portal similar to blackboard) often so you can keep track of when things are due. Most of my professors don’t send reminder emails about what is due and what isn’t. So pay attention to this, too. Overall, my classes are interesting. They are discussion-based, lecture-based, and group-work based–so a combo of everything. Professors come in on time or late (never early, seriously), and usually end early, too. They are usually in a rush to leave, so if you want to discuss something with them, catch them at the end of class or ask to meet with them another time. They always ask if we have questions, or to stop them if we don’t understand something, and I really appreciate that aspect of each course in the Hispanic Studies Program. In my only English class– radio workshop, a lot of the Spaniard students talk over the Professor, and that rarely ever happens at New Paltz without some sort of penalty or consequence. So just be mindful of that, too. I always sit in the front to avoid the chatter.
Other things to keep in mind: You have to the pay for the gym. It is not part of your tuition like at New Paltz. You also have to pay for printing in cash unless it is a significant amount to pay by card (3 or more euros I believe). So there is no printing quota here either. The bookstore here is so small compared to New Paltz (and New Paltz has way better stuff, I promise!). Regardless, budget, budget, budget. Using an excel sheet has been super helpful for me to keep track of my weekly expenses.
Extra curricular activities or clubs are not necessarily a norm here in Spain or Europe. Neither is having a job on top of studies. Most students bring food from home or go home for lunch. They are commuters (as I am, too), and their responsibility is to study. They don’t have debt as the government pays for much of their education as do merit scholarships. There is no such thing as a sports scholarship. Therefore, their reason for being in the university is different as well. American students go to the university to grow and become independent at a much faster rate than Spaniard students do. It’s all part of the cultural difference in education.
In addition, all the trips are student-run and are mainly based around parties by Erasmus student organizations. Get on their Facebook page to see what events are interesting to you. I would recommend seeking other sites like travel organizations such as: Smart Insiders or City Life Madrid for other cultural outings.
Overall, most professors are laid back, but still expect you to do the readings, do the homework, participate, be on time, and hand work in by deadline. Do as they say, not as they do, always!
p.s. The featured photo is me on the first day of classes on campus. I fit perfectly in that tiny tree! Beautiful campus. I can’t wait until spring so I can enjoy the quad and surrounding area more.