Finals Week in León, Spain: Experiences Studying Abroad
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014
Updated: Monday, February 17, 2014 15:02
I remember the day like it was yesterday: I was sitting in a sunny classroom at the University of León, listening to our program director, Mercedes, explain cultural differences between Spanish and American university life. It was September 3rd, and I had arrived in León just two short days before.
I was still adjusting to the city and family that would become my own for the year, and although I appreciated Mercedes’ advice, I’m not sure I fully understood it.
Fast forward four months, and while sitting in the library preparing for an exam worth over 75% of my grade, I finally understood what Mercedes had attempted to explain when we arrived. The Spanish university system is completely different than the American system.
Spain, along with a few other countries in Europe, still relies on an incredibly traditional form of education. The majority of classes are lecture-based, without any form of student participation, and a student’s evaluation lies in his or her performance on a massive cumulative exam at the end of the semester.
In the fall, I didn’t think too much of that though, I was just glad to receive a break from constant homework, presentations, and papers. That is, until finals week rolled around.
Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information I needed to memorize, along with the fact that everything was in my second language, I found myself longing for the days in Dinand when I slaved over papers, or the countless nights spent in Hogan working on group projects.
I was accustomed to finals that were just a small addition to my grade, so the thought of the final as my only form of evaluation was unbelievably stressful. To top it all off, the exams were based on facts – that is, my ability to absorb information and rewrite it on the exam.
As a Political Science major, I’m not typically required to memorize. Of course, there is some level of memorization in all subjects, but as students at a liberal arts college, we are tested more on our ability to analyze, criticize, and form conclusions than our ability to regurgitate information.
Needless to say, final exams were tough. Studying abroad is an incredible experience – but the first word is “study”, and that’s not always easy. Now that my exams are over though, I feel strangely thankful for the experience. I know it’s cliché, but it’s only in times of stress or hardship that one realizes the truly important people in life.
For me, finals week made my friendship with the other HC students in León even stronger – they helped me cram for my Medieval Literature exam and understood my pain as I told them that all I wanted was my spot in the stacks in Dinand.
This month, I found more reasons to love my host mother, as well; she made my favorite meals and brought me cups of coffee late at night, all because she was wanted me to “sacar buenas notas” on all of my exams.
Final exams have been the most challenging aspect of my study abroad experience thus far, and although I thought I’d never say this, I’ll be happy to return to my place in the library, midnight breakfast, and even the occasional all-nighter next year.
For now, though, I’m grateful for the experience, my host mother, and all the friends who have helped me along the way.