All Things Considered

Last night I had dinner with my friends from Germany, who made a delicious curry, oddly enough.Today didn’t end up being a day trip as I had hoped; rather, I have finished studying for my Thursday exams and may actually get ahead of myself for Friday. Ah well.

Carolin and Daniel asked me what things I liked and disliked about Salamanca. On both sides it was a relatively short list:

I like the way salmantinos view family. Family is the most important part of your life, and meal times especially are a way of bringing family together. An activity so basic as eating is fundamental here. I love studying at the university. It’s still mind boggling to me that my school is almost 800 years old, and the traditions are really beautiful. And I love the fierce pride the salmantinos have for their city. “Hombre,” Victor, one of the teachers at the Salesian school where I helped with English classes said to me , “no sabes que Salamanca es la ciudad mas bella del mundo?”

And it is true that Salamanca is very beautiful. To say I love this city is to say that I love her, not as a tourist does, but because I know her streets. I know the small corners as well as the Plaza Mayor. I see the same people on the roads every day. And if I come back to visit, I will still know her, and some part of me will feel at home.

That said, there are a number of things I dislike, not necessarily specifically about salamancan culture, but perhaps Spanish culture in general. In a few ways I do fit the American stereotype, and one of those ways is that I HATE wasting time. Spaniards are the masters. They work very little: average hours are 10-2 and then 5-8. And good luck on weekends. Better said, I hate siesta.

I also hate the way they treat foreigners. Part of this is that to some extent Spain is still not completely recovered from Franco’s isolationism, and the culture is still very insular. But I’m tired of being stared at, and I’m tired of being made to feel stupid when they roll their eyes if I stumble over a word or two.

And I hate the way we’re treated by a few of our professors. I have had great experiences in some of my classes. I loved communications and business especially. But by and large the impression I get is that they think we’re stupid. They think we can’t speak Spanish, they think we don’t understand them, and they don’t respect our class time–it’s very common for them to be late, every day. If I was in class with actual USAL students, it might be different. But I’m not.

The major educational difference between Spain and the United States is that in the U.S., students are encouraged to ask questions and to discuss and debate–with each other and with their professors. But here, you are expected to sit down, shut up, and take notes. If you ask a question they’ll answer, but they will also look at their watches, as if to imply that you are wasting their valuable time.

Do the likes outweigh the dislikes? Has this experience been educationally worth it?

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