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Blunt Professors, Rowdy Students, and Eccentric Rules: How School Abroad is Different

By Alina Tang

March 13, 2015

After two months of attending Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, I’ve adapted to the way school works here better than I ever anticipated. Originally, I was concerned that the notoriously lax and laid-back manner of Spaniards (ex. siestas, tardiness, etc.) would drive me crazy, but now I have actually come to embrace it.

From my observations, the Spanish are indeed more flexible and stress-free, but they are also incredibly encouraging of differences in views when it comes to office hours, class discussions, and group work.

Firstly, professors act much more straightforward and will not hesitate to challenge you.

I remember the first time I went to one of my professor’s office hours, I told her my interpretation of a reading, and before I even finished, she interrupted me to say “You’re wrong.” At the time, I was totally caught off guard, but I soon discovered that this blunt line is a common recurrence.

Now that I’m used to it, I actually appreciate when professors let me know that I’m off base because it makes me re-evaluate my thinking. In the U.S., I hear professors say things like “I see where you’re coming from, but…” or “What you say is true, but…” all the time. While this is perhaps less harsh, it can sometimes be misleading and confusing.

Moreover, when a Spanish professor tells you that you’re wrong, they’re not completely discarding your opinion. I’ve finally realized that by disagreeing with me, they’re actually inviting me to elaborate on my opinion and challenging me to further defend my position.

The bluntness of professors also spills into the classroom, where everyone is encouraged to not only participate, but have their own personal opinion. In every single one of my lectures, students are cold called. But not in a way that intimidates them—rather, a way that makes them feel like their views are highly valued.

For instance, my TV studies professor consistently invites people to explain why a show is their favorite and persuade the rest of us to watch it. One time, she even had us do a creative activity where we each wrote down a title and description of a pretend TV show and then the class voted on the most compelling one.

From this exercise, we learned that everyone has different preferences, interests, and experiences, which translates to the wide variety of programs we see on television.

Last but not least is the encouragement of diversity in group projects. My advertising professor made a rule that each group of four has to have representatives of at least two different nations. I thought this requirement was really interesting, but I’m glad she imposed it because otherwise, I probably would have stuck with people I already knew, like my roommates and friends from USC.

I ended up working with two Spaniards, and learned quite a bit about how the Spanish respond to different techniques of advertising. After our presentation, we even celebrated by going out to eat tapas together. Crazy to think I never would have gotten this amazing opportunity to become friends with them had it not been for my professor’s rule!

Overall, I would say that there are a few things about another country’s education system that might initially come as a surprise/irritation/frustration. However, if you keep an open mind, you will soon find yourself getting comfortable with these new customs.

After I accepted the fact that my professors were going to start class late and my fellow classmates were going to be rowdy and talkative during lectures, it became a lot more enjoyable, even entertaining, to go to class. If anything, I’ve learned that the best way to come to terms with these changes is to just go with the flow. You’ll be surprised where it takes you!

Alina Tang will graduate from USC in 2016. She is majoring in business administration and plans to work in the Management Development Program at Mondelez International and gain more experience in global marketing.

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