So after searching the entire UAH website trying to find an in-date term calendar, I finally find out the date of the first day of term. No news yet of a “welcome week”, where the Erasmus Office is or how to enroll. I’m paired up with an Erasmus Buddy who becomes my lifeline in the first few weeks; we go to the bank together, she shows me the local hang outs, where my classes are and how to contact my teachers. Honestly, without her I’d still be wandering the streets of Alcalá in the midday sun admiring the statues of Cervantes.
We eventually find the Erasmus office, a room concealed with a faded sign over the door and a tired looking lady inside, overcome by a two hour queue of very blonde and bewildered Europeans, all with their humble broken Spanish waiting outside. At this point, I realised that despite filling in three forms of my chosen subjects at least two months ago, I had to re-sign-up to all my classes. And so I began classes as an unofficial pupil, explaining to each professor that yes, I am from England and yes, I have enrolled and yes, “somebody” in reception is just processing the mountain of Erasmus applications that she’s only just been given. I’d consider it progress.
First week of classes and a million new faces (some with them some ridiculously long Spanish names). So I just dive straight in with a casual “¿Cómo te llamas?”, cracking out my witty English small-talk about the weather, we swap facebook names and I´m in. I start swapping numbers with as many Europeans as I can, determined to forget English whilst on my Year Abroad; I’ll be happy if I’m struggling to conjugate the verb “to be”.
Lessons are exhilarating, when the teacher eventually turns up. And classes are actually quite fun. I shan’t ever complain about a “two-hour” lecture in Southampton again (cough cough hour and a half!) But honestly by the end of the week I’m exhausted. Translating between foreign languages and note-taking in Spanish is demanding, let alone the chit-chat and social cervezas after class. I’m concentrating 24/7 and despite the linguistic thrill it gives me to be living and studying abroad, my first weekend was dedicated solely to relaxing and recovering, ready for the coming Monday morning, whilst the Spaniards stay out til 6am loving life.
Now a month in to lectures and I’m treated, at long last, with “Erasmus Welcome Week” accompanied by my first surprise puente. After a long Thursday I look forward to my three day weekend with Friday’s off. Turns out next Tuesday is Cervantes birthday (or something) so that clearly means Monday there are no lectures. Pow, five-day week-end! Down to the medieval market I go for some Don Quixote and Sancho Panza banter.
#MyAdvice. 1. Don’t expect the Spanish university system to be anything like Southampton. 2. Make best efforts not to get frustrated or worried – everything will happen in good time. 3. Despite the harsh words at the beginning of term about not missing lectures, the lecturers are very lenient when it comes to Erasmus students what with understanding tasks, deadlines and finding the right room! As long as you’re not arriving hung-over to your lectures three months in and have caught up on work, you’ll be fine. 4. Don’t expect to have anything sorted for you when you arrive. The Spanish Education System and DIY are synonyms in this instance. 5. On the bright side, everyone is very smiley and helpful and if you see your teacher in town for tapas, give them a wave!!