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What to Expect at a Spanish University

Anna studying in the library at Alcalá de Henares University. Anna Matthews

Sipping sangria at sunset? To survive, sometimes it's more like hitting the books before bedtime. 

When opting for study abroad in Spain, I think there’s often a misconception that you’ll spend the year swanning around sipping sangria and giving your Instagram aesthetic a makeover. Now, while I can’t deny that sangria is readily available (and truly delicious), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly surprised and mildly disappointed at the amount of university work I am actually required to do. 

I know it goes without saying that universities are places of learning. But, from a foreigner’s perspective, university here, or at least in my experience, is almost like being back in high school. We are registered for every class, the professors use chalkboards and the workload is intense. Despite their reputation for loving late nights and having a generally more laidback way of life, Spanish students work hard.

I know it goes without saying that universities are places of learning. But, from a foreigner’s perspective, Spanish university (at least in my experience) is almost like being back in high school.

I am slightly on the back foot from the Spanish students (as they are being taught in their native language). But even so, the continuous stream of long essays and presentations is not really something I had been expecting. Regardless of your mother tongue, the prospect of having to complete a 10-page essay on complex philosophy would be daunting to anyone—let alone tackling it in a second language.

Having to work hard isn’t the worst thing in the world. Being thrown into the deep end will hopefully prepare me for my final year work when I go back to Leeds next year. (The marks I obtain this year, thankfully, don’t count towards my final degree.) Nevertheless, I can’t deny that the sheer amount of work I have to do does get somewhat draining.

However, I think it’s important to remember, that when doing study abroad you’re unlikely to get an opportunity like this again. Having an extended period abroad is something you should make the most of and, yes, the studying part is obviously fundamental, but it’s so important to enjoy yourself as well. It’s just all about finding the balance.

Here in Madrid, the majority of the friends I’ve made work Monday to Friday then, understandably, want to enjoy themselves Spanish-style on the weekends. At first, I found this quite hard as I had university work to do, while everyone else was filling their weekends with as many fun activities as possible. Now I’ve had time to settle into life here, I’ve realized it is possible to get the balance right.

For example, I work hard to get all my university work done in spare time on the weekdays so I don’t have to miss out on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s all about managing your time wisely and just thinking to yourself, what is it exactly that I want to gain from study abroad? Yes, you want to succeed academically, but I think it’s vital to get life experience, as well.

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Anna Matthews

Anna Matthews is a 21-year-old English Literature and Spanish student at the University of Leeds. She is currently undertaking and Erasmus study placement at the Universidad de Alcalá, just north of Madrid.

Website: https://www.instagram.com/annaamatthews/

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