The inevitability of screwing up (and a glimpse at uni life)

Benjamin Streeter
October 1, 2015

Imagine, for a second, that you're a pianist. Not the 7-year-old-and-my-mom-is-making-me-play pianist, but a bona fide, professional pianist. You've spent your whole life practicing, listening, reading, watching, doing all the things necessary to succeed or at least exist in the professional world of those ebony and ivory keys. And then one day someone comes up to you and says they want you (you) to play on the grandest of all stages in front of the most eager of all audiences and with the best of all pia...ccolos. Piccolos..? That's sort of what it's like to suddenly be transferred to a new culture, lifestyle, and system. Of course you'll know the theory, the notes, the rhythms, the Italian based annotations, but when it comes to actually enacting it, you're left lacking and will screw up. Perhaps greatly if you haven't had a whole lot of exposure or the instruments are too foreign. Perhaps less so if it's all more familiar. (Or you're a prodigy or something.) If you study abroad, you will screw up at some point. Probably. Actually, definitely. I'm sitting on the train back into the heart of Madrid from the suburb where Carlos III, my university, is located after failing to attend lab because I wasn't aware we had to specifically sign up for it. (Okay, maybe I found out right when I was leaving and decided to go for it anyway, but that's besides the point.) Of course, this does mean I get to ride the train during the golden hour of sunset, which makes a striking sight, but still this isn't exactly ideal. What I'm getting at here through elementary allegory and poor transition, is that the Spanish university system (or at least the Carlos III system) is my piccollo. It is a lot different than what I am used to in little ole Nashville, Tennessee. Organization is a little bit more.... unorganized than back at Vanderbilt. Their online classroom service doesn't exactly have an effective notification system. Changes in scheduling happen often and without warning. Information at times appears to be purposefully made difficult to access, something exacerbated by my inability to use the Spanish language very effectively. In the classroom, the professor's role is more "rapid dispenser of information" than "adapting explainer of concepts," making them much more akin to a textbook than the professors I have normalized to in the states. Perhaps this is why the Spanish students are prone to talking (loudly) while in class, leaving my Spanish-born professors to futilely request silence and my lone non Spanish professor, a Brit, to half-yell "Shut up" to a group of guys in the back. Then again, maybe their innattention is due to the normalcy of failing a class or two. Or three. It's definitely accepted if not expected, though given that their GPAs aren't looked at past university, this too makes sense. It all makes sense in context, trust me. But coming from another context, it can be as foreign as an upside-down Christmas tree is to most. (That totally is a thing by the way.) And because of this, you're gonna screw up. I'm gonna screw up. I have screwed up. When greeting someone, how exactly are you supposed to do it here? Is it kisses all around for women and handshakes for men? But what if they remain seated, do you still awkwardly bend down to touch cheeks in an incommodious way? What about getting out of the metro? Is it right to barrel through the people waiting to get in, they don't exactly give you any room? And the food, they do give some sidelong glances if everyone orders a glass of water to accompany their dish of choice, so is it considered rude? And I won't even get into the usage of the formal usted/ustedes versus the informal tú/vosotros in Spain's Spanish. It may even come from the other students in your group. Am I traveling enough? Should I travel less? Am I overspending? Underspending? Do I even have any money left to overspend? Am I with Americans too much? Etc, etc. Now some of you are probably thinking so what, none of this is even a big deal. Okay, you're definitely right. But there are some of you who know this feeling of being aware of every last "misstep" you do. I know because I've got one foot on your side (and I'm not exactly sure where the other one is, but it could be there too). For some, it may even be enough to stop you from studying abroad because it really just is so much easier to not. But don't do that. Really. I know I just listed some of what I see as flaws in the university system here and some of the stress inducing (for some of us) situations that arise on a daily basis, but in the end it's still ____ing awesome to be in Spain! For real, I don't regret anything I've done or not done since I've been here. And yeah, maybe it's harder to be here than back in the recognizable United States, but it's a good and rewarding type of hard here, and an enjoyable one at that. So I don't know what's going to happen with this lab that I won't be able to take. Maybe I'll finagle my way into it after all. Maybe I won't and when I get back Vanderbilt will tell me the class doesn't count because I didn't complete the lab portion. Maybe no one will ever know and absolutely nothing will happen. But, no matter what occurs, as the Spaniards say, "No pasa nada." No big deal. (At least that's what I think it can mean, but I may have screwed that up too.)

More Blogs From This Author

Benjamin Streeter,

What I didn't know

I imagine I haven't gone abroad and see what I didn't expect knowing what I all know now. It really turns into a cliche fest...

View All Blogs

Benjamin Streeter

<p>Hey all you humans, my name&#39;s Ben, and I just happen to be living in Madrid, Spain! I&#39;ll be here total for 6 months (I came early for an internship), and I&#39;ll be sharing my explorations, the city, travels, school, highs, lows, I&#39;m-not-quitesure- what&#39;s, friends, random people who I&#39;ve never seen, and more! I&#39;ve moved around a lot back home in the states, but currently I live around the corner from Milwaukee, WI, and go to Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN where I study Mechanical Engineering and (for now at least) Communications Studies and anything else that&#39;s interesting. Now I&#39;ve gotta go and try and contain my excitement... I typically take headshots for other people, so a selfie will have to do...</p>

2015 Fall
Home University:
Vanderbilt University
Engineering - General
Explore Blogs