Since arriving in Salamanca, I’ve experienced all kinds of ups and downs. Before arriving in Spain, I was most worried about how the classes would be. Starting classes was arguably the easiest part of this whole experience. I thoroughly enjoy all of my professors, and I have actually found that the classes are easier than what I’m used to back in the States. For starters, the first week (often referred to as syllabus week) includes basically no syllabus spiel. Instead, professors announce that you will have a final exam and maybe a couple exams or presentations throughout the semester. In my experience, my professors barely discussed the rigors of the class, but rather jumped straight into teaching the material. I’m not sure if this is typical in more places than just Spain, but it was certainly something I had to adjust to.
Classes are almost entirely lecture-based with some exceptions. For example in my history, art, and culture classes, we spend all of our time listening to the professor talk while taking notes. Admittedly, it has been a bit difficult for me to focus during these kinds of classes because they are not what I am used to. I have found that asking questions helps me stay more engaged and focused in class. My cinema class is one of the few that is most similar to classes that I have taken in the states. It entails discussion, group/partner work, and lectures. This class is also one of the few that assigns homework, which is rarely very strenuous. This class is my personal favorite because of its structure, but I still really enjoy all of my classes. As a chronic overachiever, it’s easy to feel as if I should be doing more academically and socially. I explained this feeling to my host mother, who retorted that I should think of my time in Spain as a vacation because it will probably be one of the last times that I get to feel this kind of freedom again. This suggestion inspired me to plan more trips around Spain and to try to enjoy each day that I spend here.
As much as I enjoy the relaxed class schedule, I have somewhat struggled with adjusting to the abundance of leisure time. I have learned that the Spaniards enjoy a fair amount of leisure time to themselves. By far the biggest adjustment has been to the 2-5 PM siesta time. During this time most stores are closed and the city seems to come to a slight lull. So far, I’ve been filling this time with walks to the enormous park of the Jesuítas as well as other parts of the city like the Plaza Mayor pictured below. Soon I will begin volunteering to teach English, which will hopefully take up a bit more of my time.
Belonging in Spain
Aside from school and the difficulties of navigating leisure time comes the difficulty of making friends and finding your place abroad. During my first few weeks, the adrenaline of being abroad and all of the new experiences abated those feelings of displacement and loneliness. But the more time passed, the more I started to feel some feelings of homesickness. From missing home to missing the simplicities of easily being able to converse with those around me. It has been surprising to miss little things that seemed so insignificant. Within these thoughts, I think I am beginning to develop more of an appreciation for the things I once took for granted back home. I’m learning to try new things, and give myself a little grace when encountering new experiences which can be really hard. While I may not have found my footing quite yet, I know that with patience and perseverance, I’ll find the right path up ahead.
Michelle Johnson is a student at University of Minnesota Morris and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying with ISA in Salamanca, Spain.