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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Studying in Alicante has been pretty interesting so far, but this week was by far the most challenging (school wise) yet!

Six weeks ago, when I got here, I barely spoke any Spanish...just the basics like "hola" and "como estas". But, because I've been studying Italian CU-Boulder for two and a half years, I have been able to pick up Spanish pretty quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I got moved up to the highest level of Spanish and thrown in to a Direct Enrollment class at the Universidad de Alicante. Translation: all Spanish, all the time! Even when it comes to things like homework, tutoring, and even oral presentations, which was the challenge I had to conquer this week. Last week, in my Social Politics class in the Universidad, the professor informed us that the following Wednesday (yesterday) we were going to have a debate based on two passages we had read for that week. What I then came to find out is that an "American Style" debate and a "Spanish Style" debate are two completely different things. While an American debate has two opposing sides and an actual conversation, a Spanish debate consists of the student standing up in front of the entire class and the professor asking you whatever question he can think of. Pretty much like an interrogation. 

When Wednesday came, I could barely get through Spanish class I was so nervous. For the entire two hour break before the debate, all I did was read, re-read, and re-re-read the passages and try to come up with questions that the professor could possibly ask me. When I got to class, I noticed (with relief) that I was not the only was that was nervous, and I started to feel a little more confident...until the professor called my name first, adding on "let's see what the American thinks!" I was so nervous that I barely remember getting up to the front of the class or the question, but before you know it, I was rambling off about Medieval society like a pro! 

After I was done, I calmly took my seat and watched the rest of my classmates respond to the various questions. The most shocking thing I noticed, however, was the difference between how I spoke in front of a crowd and how the Spaniards spoke. I looked people in the eye, referenced the text, and spoke loudly and slowly. The Spaniards never made eye contact and seemed very timid. When I got home to my host family, I asked my host sister, who is currently studying law at the Universidad, why she thought this was. She then informed me that she had never even heard of a professor doing something like this, and that students rarely talk in class. In general, if the professor wants the students to comment on a text or state their opinion, the professor asks for it in writing. 

That shocked me. I can not remember how many times I have had to give an oral presentation or comment on a text in class, both in English and Italian. It's a daily affair, and it's become more of a habit to speak up in class than a task. And, while I really dislike oral presentations, over the years it has become easier and easier to speak in public. But in the Spanish educational system, the stress is put more on writing than on speaking, in all aspects. In that respect, never in my life have I been so greatful for the hundreds of oral presentations I have done in America! 

But I also know this is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to academic challenges here in Spain. But I know that the way I have studied and prepared at CU-Boulder will help me conquer any challenge I may encounter at the Universidad de Alicante!

Italian • Boston, MA