the realities of studying at university in Spain

Saturday, 10 October 2015 Salamanca, Spain

The Realities of Studying At University in Spain

Before arriving in Salamanca I wasn't sure how life would be at the university, I knew that it would feel very different to Southampton however I couldn't have anticipated just how much. Obviously my experience of studying at university in Spain will massively vary from those who study in other regions as the culture, history and people varies and to me Salamanca feels very city-like and bustling.

Enrolling at the university alone has been a completely different experience altogether. The university allows you to take modules from any faculty outside of languages, just as long as you're taking most modules in the languages faculty. Whilst this amount of freedom is great, it also means that you have to choose all modules and organise your timetable by yourself, as well as making sure your classes don't clash. At Southampton, I have mostly compulsory modules which I can simply pick online and voilà in September my nice already organised timetable arrives.

I must have spent at least 2 or 3 days trying to work out which modules altogether would add up to make enough credits, and then subsequently deleting many I originally wanted because they clashed with something else and trying to find something else which was the same amount as credits as the former. I have ended up with a bearable timetable, as in I have 6 hours of lessons Monday through to Wednesday then only 2 hours Thursday and Friday. It's tough going, especially as all my classes are taught in all Spanish or French, but it's great practice for my listening and little by little I feel myself adjusting.

The classes from the start have been different to what I'm used to. Most classrooms at the university consist of a blackboard (I know) and endless rows of uncomfortable prehistoric wooden benches. I have had to adjust to the horrific scratchy and squeaky noises of chalk which I don't think I've had to endure since the age of 6 or 7. Also, the benches are crammed together so tightly that often the person in front of you is pretty much leaning onto your desk, whilst you knock things off the bench behind yours.

In a few of my classes I'm given class notes which is all very well, however in one class I have a professor who speaks very quickly and a lot of time mumbles the most important part of his phrases, and he doesn't write much on the board. In the first few classes I ended up with lots of half-written phrases because I couldn't understand the second part of the sentence. I have chosen some third year and second year modules meaning that the majority of the class are Spanish students, with very few Erasmus.

There seems to be a myth that all Spanish people are very friendly and welcoming. I wouldn't say that's the case in this university. Whilst the adults and old people generally here are easy to chat to, the students here are quite frosty with Erasmus students. I'm unsure whether this is a common occurrence at universities in general, or general distaste for Erasmus students in Salamanca. Salamanca is known as a university with a big Erasmus population, which only confuses me further. The only people that make an effort to chat or even smile at me in my classes are other Erasmus students.

It can feel frustrating because the reason I have come to Spain is to practice my Spanish with native speakers. Granted many Erasmus come here to learn Spanish and as a result only have a basic grasp of the language. But this assumption is unfair. Logically, if I couldn't speak much Spanish, I would not place myself in a third year class. The students stare, quite curiously yet not in a friendly way. I've only started to feel part of the classes because I've made a few friends in each class and it doesn't feel so alien anymore.

I'm not writing this to put anyone off the experience. I'm having a great time and the sheer differences between my university at home and here are huge but I'm learning so much and I can feel my Spanish advancing rapidly as a result. I've met lots of nice Spanish people who aren't frosty with Erasmus at all, however I have noticed that Erasmus students are second in importance to normal students.

We only started enrolment this week, yet normal students were enrolled a few weeks ago. They already have access to their online platform to find class notes and information, but I haven't been able to, when I''m the one who would need the notes most! Perhaps this happens in most universities, obviously I wouldn't know if this was the case at Southampton. But clearly, Erasmus are the ones who'll need the most help when they go to study in a new country, and it's unfair to place them in second place to normal students.

Have you studied at university abroad before? How different was your experience compared to home? Thanks for reading!



  1. I spent my year in Zaragoza (I chose it because there weren't any other students from my home uni going there), and similarly only chose third and fourth year classes, and one second year class - making me the only Erasmus in several of them. For language it was great, and although it took some time for the others to open up, I made some great Spanish friends and often ended up being the only non-Spanish person among them. I did talk in class and although it was daunting, maybe that made the others realise I actually could talk Spanish.

    Some teachers, though, seemed less enthusiastic about Erasmus students in the beginning - but judging from how many didn't care about uni at all, I sort of understand their prejudice. It got much better once I had been able to show that I was there to learn, and did my homework even though it probably took me twice as long as it took the native speakers.

    As you say, you're there for the language, and it sounds like you're making the most of it (and set you up for making the most of it!).

    1. I chose Salamanca for the same reason (there was only one other person that I'd heard of that was going) and I wanted to force myself into putting myself out there and make completely new friends. I know what you mean, the faces in the class seem less intimidating now, and I'm sure once they've started to understand that I can actually communicate in Spanish I should be okay :) I know what you mean so many see going to university as the easy option out of the normal choices, which isn't shaping up to be the case at all here! Exactly, I know people on Erasmus who are taking classes in English, but seeing that I only have to pass my modules, I wanted to push myself and gain much more than a mediocre amount of improvement from my year abroad. Thanks for such an in detail and thought-out comment it sounds like you had a great time on your year abroad too!


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