Already Only a Month

It’s the last day of the solar summer. September is drawing to a close, and that means I’ve been on this exchange for nearly a month. It doesn’t feel like it. Depending on the time of the day, who I’m talking to, what I’m doing, it seems like I’ve been here forever, or like I’ve only just arrived. Never like I’ve been here for a month. And yet, I’ve now spent more time in Spain than in any other foreign country – longer than in Japan or Scotland. The time spent so far has been less action packed than a month of pure tourism, but not nearly as routine as life back home.

It’s funny now, to remember how I arrived in Spain after spending the night in the Manchester airport, how Allan and I wandered through Barcelona for two days as if in a dream, meeting up with Emily in Valencia for Tomatina and the beach, and then spending another long, sleepless night in route to Pamplona. I was happy to have Allan with me for the first few days here, as I moved into my apartment, walked around Pamplona for the first time, as a stranger, and even impulsively visited Puente la Reina based on a single photo in the train station. And then, Allan left, and suddenly I was totally alone, and far from home.

I took things one step at a time, with some challenges leaving me triumphant and others in a pathetic heap, but I got everything straightened out, in the end. I went through orientation, picked classes, matriculated, found my way around campus and groups for projects. I got a hair cut and learned where I could find this food and that and for what price. I learned how to use WIFI and the copy machine and the library and the bookstore. I’ve adjusted to Sundays and Siestas.

I made friends and we had curry parties and pancake parties and long nights drinking wine on apartment balconies. We travelled to San Sebastian and Vitoria and Bilbao. I met up with a girl from Couchsurfing.com and went to a Basque concert with her and her friends. I started learning Euskera. I went hiking in the Valley of Arpan, explored Alquezar and went canyoning in la Sierra de Guara with Club de Montana.

If I put it this way, yes, I suppose it has been one month. And yet one morning when I didn’t have class until 12, I lay in and when I woke up, it took me several long seconds to remember I was in Spain, because everything felt so normal and natural and safe and clean and good. I’ve found a new normal, made a new home here.

Not bad, for the first month.

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Matriculation, Part IV

Well, figuring out classes has sure been fun. By fun, I mean the single most difficult part of studying abroad, so far, and, I hope, overall. It isn’t so much that everything is in Spanish, or that I’m the first person from Mizzou to go in the fall, or that UNAV is changing everything because of the Bologna process, or that the online system is anything but intuitive, when it works at all, or that professors seem to change meeting times at their whimsy, or that Mizzou wants me to describe classes I’m taking here in terms such as upper division and ECTS, when in fact both are essentially meaningless, even flexible, here – it’s all of the above, and how it interacts with each other to form a perfect storm of BAD.

But I think it’s over. I thought that last week, right before I got an email from Mizzou saying that if Cultura Visual was taught in second year here, it was lower division, and therefore not acceptable. I stayed up all night looking for a class, any class, that I could both pass and use to satisfy my requirements, and came up with only one – Empresa Informative. Then, I found out that it was meant to be an annual class – I could maybe take it for only a semester, but it would cut the ECTS credit count in half, which took me right back to where I started. But the professor was very nice, and basically told me that UNAV could be flexible about such things, so I went to talk to the communications secretary, and then to my adviser, who sent an email back to Mizzou – a few nail-biting hours later, I had my answer: Mizzou would accept the credits.

And now I really do think it’s over.* I’m filling out my matriculation form now, in black ink, and it almost seems official and organized. Imagine. It wants to know whether my dad is the head of the household. It constantly asks what country I’m from, what country I was born in, what country the head of my household is from and lives in, even what country I’m going to live in while studying at UNAV (???), and yet, has a totally inflexible set of boxes to put my home address into, with only 3 digits for the house number, while I live at 16349. Just a bit more fun before I can put away this nonsense for good.

* – Except for the Basque class, maybe. I’d given up on it entirely, but then I got a cryptic phone call while half asleep which seemed to be telling me that they were starting a beginning level class. I’ll find out soon, but it shouldn’t have much effect on my current plan.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 20:47  Comments (1)  
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Matriculation, Part III

Looks like I might finally have the majority of my schedule fixed up. Cultura Visual, Literatura y Cine, Fundamentos Culturales de la Comunicacion, and Language and Communication all seem like they’re going to be passable and transfer easily enough back to Mizzou. So far, so good. I’m a little bit annoyed/concerned about the fact that the majority of classes here seem to be 4.5 ECTS, which unless I’m mistaken, is .5 below the cut off to count for 3 credits instead of 2 back home. 😡 It’s not fair, but ultimately, I should still come in with just barely enough credits.

The trouble now is with Spanish Lit classes. I need to take at least one more class, and I’ve maxed out the number of Journalism credits I can get abroad, so I’m trying to find a Spanish class I can transfer in for credit. There are basically two options for this – taking a course through the school of philology, or through ILCE (Institute of Spanish Language and Culture).

The advantages to the school of philology are that I would take my classes with Spanish students, and there are no additional fees. Basically, it would be part of the ordinary exchange agreement. The problem is that all the classes that would probably be logical choices, like Contemporary Hispanic Literature, are only offered second semester (including Latin American Literature 1 and 2, bizarrely enough). The single exception conflicts badly with my Journalism classes. I looked into the higher level courses, which would transfer back very favourably, but I would be in them with third and fourth year native speakers who are studying this stuff full time… meaning I’d have to work insanely hard and still have a decent chance of failing out. The best chance I have is to take Literatura Universal, which is generally for first and second year students and which I think I could probably manage… the issue is whether or not I can get Spanish credit for it back home, since only 1/3 of the readings are originally in Spanish.

ILCE is generally what International Students do, but there are several issues with it… the only one that really matters being that its insanely expensive! Somehow, no one bothered to mention that even though you pay Mizzou full time enrollment while you’re gone, if you want to do something as silly and unusual as taking Spanish literature or culture classes while in Spain, you have to pay 100 euros extra, PER ECTS! That means for a ordinary, 3 credit course, I’d be out almost 1,000$!!

Fun times, that’s about all I can say.

Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 11:07  Leave a Comment  
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Matriculation, Part II

Today was a series of failures. I meant to have class at 11. I finally bothered to time how long it took me to get from my flat to the communications building – 10 minutes at a leisurely stroll. Not bad at all. I’d given myself a half hour, so I had plenty of time to go looking for the University Bookstore, or so I figured. I knew it was in the library right next door, but for some reason I looked down every possible interior corridor for it before leaving in defeat and realizing the entrance was outside that to the library itself. I still had time to buy a notebook and a pen before dashing back to the Communications Building with a few minutes left to find the right classroom.

I looked on the bulletin board for the room assignment, but where other classes listed Aula 2 or Aula 7, it only said OB. Perhaps that was the name of an auditorium, I thought, so I went to the desk at the front and asked what OB meant. He didn’t know. I said it didn’t show a room number, it only said OB. I was getting nervous – I only had a minute to find the right room now. Finally he asked me if I was a first year student, and I said I was looking for a third year class. He sent me off to Aula 5, and I went in and looked at the students notebooks, which mostly said Empresa Informatica. That wasn’t my class, so I got nervous and left the room right as the lecture was starting.

I went back to the board and read it more closely. This time it made sense – all the classes listed on that paper were supposed to be in the same room – the one I just left! I checked the clock again an it was 11 on the dot. I decided I’d psyched myself out – probably Empresa Informatica just ended or something. I snuck back into the classroom and sat down – but guess what? The material didn’t sound like Fundamentos Culturales de la Comunicacion, it sounded like Empresa Informatica. 😦 So I left when they took a break, but I still didn’t understand what I had done wrong.

Next, I walked to the institute of modern languages to ask about Basque classes. It was such a long way! It didn’t look so far on the map, but it took me about half an hour to reach it. When I did arrive, I noticed that the bulletin board listed a Basque 1 class, and the time was compatible with my schedule, so I went in to talk to the secretary and try to register for it. Apparently, though, courses are numbered here just like floors in a building – 1 is the equivalent of our 2, meaning I should already know some Basque to enroll in that course. She took down my name in case they get enough people to start a Basque 0 class, but I’m not optimistic.

When I got home, I called the University and asked about the class I had gone to – they were just as confused as I was about why it wasn’t Fundamentos Culturales de la Comunicacion! But after that I did sit down for another hour, putting my classes into a little schedule I made in excel… and I have a quite possible new plan now, that will send me to three classes tomorrow.

My Maybe Schedule:

Literatura y Cine
Fundamentos Culturales de la Comunicacion III
Cultura Visual
Literatura Mideival y Renacentista
Language and Communication

Language and Communication is taught in English, or so I can tell… the rest in Spanish. I’ve only been to Cultura Visual so far but I think I can handle it, and Literatura y Cine and Fundamentos Culturales seem pretty similar from their course descriptions. Literatura Mideival y Renacentista will almost certainly be my most challenging class, but I have it tomorrow, so there’s nothing for it but to show up and see if it sounds possible.

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 14:11  Leave a Comment  
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Matriculation, Part I

They told me that the VISA was the hard part. Then I decided that finding an apartment was the hard part. Now, as I face matriculation, or class registration, I have to reevaluate my assessment of ‘the hard part’ once more.

Matriculation. They have to call it that, don’t they? Registration doesn’t sound complicated or mysterious enough.

I filled out a learning contract last semester, and that was basically an exercise in futility. I knew that even at the time, as I ran around collecting signatures and stamps from various offices at Mizzou. They told me classes could and would change somewhat before the semester actually started, that this was just to give me a starting point. Still, it stings a little that it is almost absolutely useless – that of the eight classes I wrote down just a few months ago, two are no longer offered, four are offered only during Spring semester, one is too difficult and involved to really be appropriate for an international student, and one has had its name changed.

On Monday they basically told us that, although we were starting classes on Wednesday, we wouldn’t be ‘matriculated’ for another two weeks. They gave us information about courses offered within the communications faculty, but it seemed as though they’d held a contest to come up with different ways to show timetables, and used a different one on each page, the online information was again totally different, and we were all confused about which classes would be appropriate for us, how many credits they were, whether we could take classes outside of our faculty, which courses incurred additional fees, which were taught in Spanish, which in English, which in Basque.

I could probably have spent Monday night and all day Tuesday wading through the information, but instead they kept us out all night Monday and on Tuesday sent us off to San Sebastian, where we forgot about academics for a long, fun day by the seashore. It wasn’t until I got home from that, late at night and with a headache from the salt and the waves, that I realized I had no idea which classes I was meant to go to the next morning.

I woke up at eight and was at the University by nine. I spent the first hour wandering around almost directionless, reading the papers we had been given again and again as if they would suddenly start making sense (in retrospect, Myzou is a real beauty of a system). Finally I decided the best first move would be to go see Christina, my International Coordinator. Her business card said she was in the Social Science Building, so I left the Communications Building in search of that, and on the way ran into Vanessa, who told me that for some reason she’d heard that the Communications Building and the Social Science Building were one and the same. Meanwhile, her whole morning had been a series of Catch 22s, as she’d been told she needed an ID to get into the Economics Building to get her ID, and that she needed WIFI in order to set up her WIFI connection!

Well, I could help her with the ID card situation, and I wanted to get my WIFI set up too, so we teamed up for a little while. We went to the International Office first, where they made us feel a wee bit incompetent for coming in, but did help us out by giving us our UNAV email addresses, directions to the IT department, and the name of the woman who had Vanessa’s ID. Then I let us both in to the Economics Building, and Vanessa got her ID and an appointment with her adviser. So far so good.

We went next to the IT department, but it was closed for another hour, so we went looking for Christina again. We found out where her office was from the front desk, but even simple things, like getting to the 2nd floor (3rd floor in America) can be surprisingly difficult here. The main stairwell got us to the 1st floor, but the way up to the 3rd floor was blocked by construction. Someone advised us to take the elevator, but it took us a while to find this as well, hidden as it was behind an almost unmarked door in the far corner of the building.

Christina met with me right away, and the session helped me a lot, although perhaps not in the ways I expected. She stopped short of giving me almost any advice, telling me that my classes had to be my decision – which wasn’t the most helpful response, as I was trying to determine which classes I would have a genuine chance of passing! But watching her maneuver the online system helped me figure out how it worked – it wasn’t exactly intuitive, and could definitely use some hyperlinking, but it did have a certain logic to it. She also showed me the information desk on the third floor where I could find out information about schedules and room assignments for classes not listed online. In short, she didn’t tell me what I should do, but she showed me some of the resources I needed to figure it out myself.

Vanessa and I went back to IT when it opened and got connected to the WIFI network. It was and still is surprisingly tricky – with two levels of password protection and a proxy – and it kept booting me off and requiring me to start from scratch, at one point going 20 minutes without recognizing my password! Still, I felt good that we had gotten somewhere at least.

I went back home, and after an hour of looking at all of my new materials and notes from my meeting with Christina, I’d cobbled together a tentative half schedule…

Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 12:28  Leave a Comment  
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At the Kitchen Table

We were all at the kitchen table – four of us, once Ana came in, and four laptops. Ana was looking at silly email forward jokes and cracking up at them, occasionally making us read them and pretend to get them too. Gianfranco was playing soundtrack music – Gladiator and Braveheart, and singing along and quoting his favourite lines (in Italian, of course). Jaime and I were trying to figure out our classes. Jaime’s panic was helping my own subside a bit. We were laughing a lot and it was hard to tell how much was from what. Just another evening in our Auberge Espagnole. 🙂

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 17:37  Leave a Comment  
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