Alumni Spotlight: Kacper Grass

Kacper Grass studied abroad with ISA in Barcelona Fall 2015 and Seville Fall 2016. Kacper was an ISA Global Ambassador before graduating from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in May 2017. Kacper returned to both Barcelona and Seville, earning his master’s in political science in Barcelona and teaching English in Seville. Kacper says it himself, “ISA has really contributed to shaping the course of my life.” We reached out to learn more about Kacper’s story.

What were the main differences between your time abroad with ISA in Barcelona in 2015 and Seville in 2016? Similarities?

After an absolutely wonderful experience with my homestay in Barcelona, I decided to choose the same option when planning my living arrangements in Seville. In both cases, the ladies who hosted me were incredibly open and friendly. While opting for a student residence or private apartment might offer a bit more independence, I believe that staying with a host family makes it much easier to assimilate into the local culture. For example, in both of my homestays, we only communicated in Spanish and all the meals we shared were authentic home cooking. Such complete immersion made every lunchtime chat or dinner conversation an opportunity to become more intimately familiar not only with the people I was living with but also the society I was living in.  

The studying arrangements in Barcelona and Seville were a bit different, however. In Barcelona, ISA students attend classes on two different campuses of the Universitat Autonoma with a diverse mix of other exchange students from all over the world. In Seville, on the other hand, the Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo actually shares its campus with the ISA office and is exclusively attended by ISA students. Though it was convenient to have all of my classes in the same location in Seville, I personally preferred the studying arrangement in Barcelona for its diversity. Being the only English speaker in a Spanish language class full of Chinese students or studying international relations with peers from all over Europe were the kinds of unique experiences that I believe studying abroad should be about.

What inspired you to return to the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona to earn your master’s in political science?

For a student of political science, Barcelona is an extremely exciting city where politics and social movements have a way of permeating into daily life. Its tumultuous history of resistance and revolution, as well as its modern status as a cosmopolitan metropolis, have both contributed to making Barcelona a city that is always in a state of flux. Though I did not realize it when studying with ISA on the Universitat Autonoma’s smaller city campuses, the main campus located just outside of the city has perhaps the most political student culture in all of Barcelona. It was there that I began my master’s program in a class of about 30 students from 25 different nationalities. I began just three days after the independence referendum of October 1, 2017, which marked the beginning of a political crisis that would continue past our graduation. Having had the opportunity to study in an international environment like that in the midst of such a historic moment was a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience.

What advice would you give to a student looking to earn their master’s abroad?

Language is probably the primary factor to keep in mind when looking for master’s programs abroad. While many programs in Spain describe themselves as bilingual, it is important to confirm whether this refers to the language of instruction, the language of the thesis, or both. My master’s program in Barcelona, for instance, conducted all the mandatory coursework in English, offered electives courses in Spanish, and allowed students to write and defend their theses in English, Spanish, or Catalan. However, a Polish exchange student I met who was studying veterinary medicine at the same university was distressed because, although she spoke Spanish, some of her core classes were being taught exclusively in Catalan.

Another important aspect to keep in mind is the transferability of the degree. In Spain, there are two types of degrees: titulo oficial and titulo propio. The first is an official degree recognized by the Ministry of Education while the second is an unofficial degree that does not adhere to government regulation. In order to ensure that a degree will be transferable to the United States, it should be official and comprise at least 60 ECTS credits. Of course, just because a degree is unofficial does not necessarily mean that the quality of education is lower or that the qualification is less valid to employers. Rather, it only means that it may cause complications for those students who try to transfer their credits to other universities in order to continue their studies.

Tell us about your passion for writing! 

I have always been a passionate reader, but I had never even considered writing something for publication until a friend of mine from the University of Tennessee proposed that I submit an essay about the political situation in Catalonia to the Platypus Review, a journal that I followed closely and with which he was affiliated. Since then, writing really has developed into a passion for me. While working on my master’s thesis in Barcelona, I became a contributing writer for DailyArt Magazine, where I wrote a series of articles about Latin American artists as well as other essays about Antonio Gaudi and Andalusian architecture. Whatever the topic is, I believe that writing is extraordinarily useful for organizing one’s thoughts and developing coherent ideas. While a successful publication can show how much you know about something, other attempts at writing can make you realize how much more there remains to learn and understand. Similarly, just like a finished article can persuade someone of your point of view on a subject, an early draft can make you question your own opinions.

What inspired you to move to Seville and teach English?

Growing up a bilingual speaker of Polish and English, I have always been interested in languages. Since I enjoyed learning Spanish so much, I first decided to try teaching English as a volunteer for local organizations that work with Hispanic immigrants and refugees around my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. After some time, I decided to get my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate in case I ever decided to pursue it professionally. After graduating from my master’s program in Barcelona, my plans were to move to Seville where my girlfriend was still finishing her degree. We had actually met when I was studying there through the language exchange program organized by ISA and the University of Seville. Now that I think of it, ISA has really contributed to shaping the course of my life.

In any case, there is a high demand for TEFL teachers in Seville, with private language academies located in almost every neighborhood. Being a native speaker is always an advantage in language education, so I managed to get a teaching position and since then have worked with all kinds of learners, from elementary kids and university students to advanced professionals.

What’s your favorite part of Spanish culture?

Now that is a difficult question indeed! Spain has a very rich culture that encompasses long traditions in art, literature, music, and nearly every other sphere of human creativity. However, if you ask one hundred Spaniards to define Spanish culture, you might get just as many different answers. For me, it is this great diversity that makes Spanish culture so interesting.

Spain is a country with four co-official languages and a wealth of customs that vary radically from region to region and even village to village. In Andalusia, for example, bullfighting is still a popular spectacle and not a night goes by without flamenco being heard either in the bars or on the street. At Christmastime, Catalans decorate their nativity scenes with little squatting figures called caganers, or “poopers”, whose perpetually bare back sides resolve any mystery surrounding their name. Thanks to ISA’s excursions, I was able to get a good taste of this diversity for the first time. Since then, I have returned to many of the spots I first discovered while studying with ISA, and it is reassuring to find that they are just as beautiful and exciting to visit again and again. What is even more reassuring, however, is knowing that there remains so much left to explore. ¡Vaya con Dios!

Inspired by Kacper’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an abroad experience? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

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