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Of Papers and Superglue

Now that I only have one week of class left, I figured it’s about time I tell you a bit about my academics here in Madrid. I wasn’t sure what to expect before classes kicked in way back in September, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my worries – professors who speak impossibly rapid Spanish; mountains of books taller than Madrid’s nearby sierra; shockingly little guidance in class, because Europeans call page assignments “coddling” – were unfounded. Mind you, I’m taking two art history classes, a film/women’s and gender studies class, a grammar class, and a political history class. I’m an international relations major. Let’s just say that the content of most of these classes is slightly different than what I’m accustomed to back at Occidental, in some ways less challenging, in other ways more.

For the most part, I have genuinely enjoyed my classes. My two favorites are in fact my art history classes: “History of Spanish Architecture” and “El Greco, Goya, and Velázquez in the Prado.” Yes, that’s right, one of my art history classes is held inside the Prado Museum. That means I’ve spent a lot of time wearing the soles of my boots thin trekking through one of the largest museums I’ve ever encountered, but I’m not going to complain about the lack of benches. Twice a week, I’ve found myself centimeters away from awe-some paintings I’ve been learning about since freshman year of high school.

My only scary class is international modern political history in Spain’s largest university, La Complutense. I have many dense readings completed and zero grades to my name, and the imminent date of the final exam will loom over me for the next two weeks. The experience has been completely worth my brief period of stress, however, because I’ve had the opportunity to study Western history alongside students from Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Poland, Holland, Romania, Germany, you name it… Not to mention the entertainment value of my British professor, who likes to pepper his fluent Spanish with English swearwords and refers to us Anglo-Saxons as “f***ing británicos/americanos.” My only frustration with the class is that I’ve had to miss at least three due to strikes. The political science students are, unsurprisingly, the most radical demographic on campus. And in this economic environment, in which public education receives more financial blows every month, radicalism translates to a tendency to shut oneself inside the faculty overnight and super-glue the locks of every. Single. Classroom. While it’s frustrating to miss class, I sympathize, and it’s a cultural experience to say the least.

Don’t let anybody fool you: no matter the level of difficulty of classes you take while abroad, no matter how fun they are, you will have final papers and exams. I’m currently taking a break from poring over photos of stone carvings no bigger than a hockey puck in the façade of Salamanca’s cathedral, and I’ll be honest, I’d rather be frolicking through Madrid’s first winter evening of the year. Nonetheless, I must finish the architecture paper. What to do? Well, I have learned to appreciate when my academics come to life – like that time I brushed my fingers over the façade I’m now studying – and when to enjoy some well-deserved relaxation. On that note, the time has come to finish my paper and pack my bags for Paris.