Posted by Julia Leef
Saludos from Spain! I am happy and very lucky to be studying abroad for the semester in Madrid, where it's not quite as snowy as it is at Skidmore right now (snow is a rarity here, instead of a dreaded eventuality), but we still have to bundle up all the same.
Classes at Skidmore and in Madrid begin roughly around the same time, and although the majority of my courses are held at the program center, I am attending a post-modern literature class at the University of Madrid (or la Universidad Aut??noma de Madrid-UAM for short). While my particular course is an English one - I am an English-Spanish double major, after all- the general structure of the university in Madrid and its classes, is a lot different from what I've experienced in the United States.
One of the most startling differences, at least coming from Skidmore where the personal connections between the professors and the students were a big draw for me in my initial college search, is that here the professors are scholars first and teachers second. This creates an entirely different dynamic between the professor and the student than the one present at Skidmore.
In Madrid, it is the student's responsibility to attend class and learn the material provided. Attendance is not taken, and a missed class is considered a loss on the student's part. Grades are also weighted differently here, with usually 80% or more of the student's grade determined by the final exam. In theory, a student could miss every class, show up for the final exam, and pass the course, provided he or she shows a comprehensive knowledge of the material. More often than not, this understanding of the course requires a regurgitation of the professor's presentation and opinion of the information, rather than original thought from the student. Creative thought does not matter here.
It is not uncommon for a professor to come to class half an hour late, or to not even come to class at all. That said, students may not come in late themselves, and it is considered insulting to leave in the middle of class, even if it is just to use the bathroom, something which some professors at Skidmore will excuse. Yawning and stretching are also considered rude and may offend the professor.
On the other hand, sometimes students will hold conversations while the professor is talking. While smaller classrooms may be slightly more intolerable of this, in large lecture halls the professor will keep talking, and any information missed is the students' loss. All in all, the atmosphere at the UAM is a professional one that encourages and demands responsibility on the students' part.
There exist several other differences between Skidmore and the UAM. The University of Madrid is much bigger, for instance, and divides its academic buildings according to subject of study. I attend class in the 'Filosofia y Letras' building, for example. Each has its own cafeteria, which makes it a great place to mingle with students of similar interests. The cafeteria serves as a student center, similar to Case Center, the likes of which doesn't really exist on campus otherwise.
The timing of the semesters is different as well, and I find myself missing Skidmore's month-long winter break. In Madrid, students receive a break at the end of the semester around the same time as in the United States, but they spend much of this time studying for finals that begin in January. In fact, students often hand in final papers and begin preparations for next semester's courses at the same time, as there is no break between finals and the first week of class.
One other aspect of the UAM that Skidmore students may find interesting, especially in light of the ongoing debates about whether or not Skidmore should be a smoke-free campus, is the fact that students are permitted to smoke inside the buildings.
The ban on smoking indoors is something that only happened in Madrid about two years ago, and a few leniencies still persist in the enforcement of the law. As I said before, even though there are non-smoking signs on the windows and doors of the buildings, students will often light up anyway, usually next to the entrances and exits, but inside nonetheless.
The class structure might be a bit different, but the students are the same-cheerful and energetic, at least now at the beginning of the semester before the workload starts to sink in. Good luck to you all as the papers start to increase and as Saratoga starts to exhibit its wonderfully smothering winter weather.
Julia Leef is a junior at Skidmore currently studying abroad in Spain. She worked for the Skidmore News as Editor in Chief in the fall and is a contributing columnist this semester.