This last semester I finally accomplished a dream I’ve had for years: living in Spain. It was an absolutely incredible experience I would do over again in a heartbeat.
In light of this, I have some top 4 observations on what I think may have gone differently for me as compared to other students:
1. Figure out what University is the best fit!
I attended the University of Alicante, rather than Carlos III as most other CSULB exchange students did. As a result, my course organization and grading system may have been different and easier. The main difference appears to be in how I was graded. For three of my courses I had intermittent assignments or tests that counted for 40-50% of my overall grade. Only one course was dependent totally on the final exam, and that was the Spanish language course I took while there. From what I have heard about Madrid, the opposite is true and most classes are based on that one final exam grade.
University of Alicante Campus
2. Know your grading system!
In Spain, the classes were graded on a 1-10 scale with an A needing a 9-10. Anything below a 5 is a Fail. Also in Spain, simply passing is generally enough and because of this many students only strive for a five. However, that five is a true average, unlike our C. It is much harder to get a five, let alone a nine or a ten when you are in Spain than it is to get an A, B, or a C here in the States. Additionally, when taking a test the wrong answers are usually counted against you. Personal anecdote time! My first test I was unaware of the penalty for guessing. The result? 1.25/10 for my first quiz. When in doubt make sure you know how you are being graded!!
3. Don’t fall too hard into the party life & attend class regularly!
Spain is known across Europe for its party spirit, and it is not that much of an exaggeration. When going out in Spain, I found that no one would even start drinking seriously until 10 PM at the very earliest. This means that a night where you go out, you are really out, with 5 AM or 6 AM not being an unusual time to return home. This obviously impacts your academics when it creeps up to multiple times a week. Given that a large portion of exchange students are there to party while away from home (i.e. consequences), it is even easier to get sucked into that lifestyle.
4. Take your classes seriously.
Choose your classes carefully, as you won’t want to be stuck with a random class you don’t understand, need, or care about when finals roll around. A lot of times students end up taking that one random class just to reach the minimum course requirement, and if that class isn’t interesting or is surprisingly difficult, this ends up being the class that is tossed to the wayside when push comes to shove during finals. It is so tempting to constantly skip class to travel or because you partied too hard the night before, or even just because you don’t feel like it. But in a foreign environment I watched a lot of students stumble into the class in the last week having missed extra credit assignments, in class points, advice and tips for the final and so much more. Don’t be that student! If you are there and learning the material as it is taught life will be so much better come finals.
La Ciudad de Ciencias y Artes, a huge park and architectural feature of Valencia
Overall, it really comes down to how much you value good grades in your classes while abroad. Many value travel or language learning more than the grades themselves. Personally, while I traveled a ton, I do wish I had taken a class or two in Spanish and had taken the grade hit to get the extra practice with my Spanish skills. It all comes down to what part of the study abroad experience you value most.
My next travel awaits me, but until then happy travels!