One thing that is often overlooked when mentally preparing yourself to study abroad is the thing that occupies most of your time abroad – classes!
As expected, universities in Spain differ greatly from universities in the United States. Even universities within Spain can vary from each other. During my study abroad experience in Barcelona, I attended la Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF). I took four different classes: Barcelona: Rise of a Design City, Pricing Policies, Consumer Behavior, and Marketing Research Analytics. The latter three were business classes that I took at the business school, ESCI.
Here are my major takeaways from studying at a Spanish university:
1. The UPF system is based on trimesters rather than semesters. It’s one of the only universities in Barcelona that does this, so if you go to a different university for your study abroad, most likely your classes will be sixteen weeks (a semester). UPF may condense their courses to 12 weeks because their lectures are roughly 2 hours long.
2. The content is more or less the same. My Barcelona: Rise of a Design City class was obviously completely different from other classes I’ve taken, but all three business classes were similar to courses back home. All of the content was somewhat familiar and related to things I had learned in other classes at my home university.
3. The course load is vastly different. My home university doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on final exams. Usually, all the exams have equal weight, and one course has four or five exams throughout the semester. In Spain, I didn’t have any exams until finals week. I had two quizzes in Pricing Policies, but the rest of the assignments in my other classes were just homework. I had a lot of things around midterms and finals week, but other than that, I only had weekly homework in one class and the rest of the classes gave sporadic assignments.
4. I had a lot more presentations than I normally do at my home university. I had three presentations in four days during finals and some of my friends had ten or eleven presentations throughout the semester.
5. Students dress more professional for school than in the U.S. Nobody wears sweats, hoodies, or t-shirts to class. Prepare to be surrounded by students dressed in business casual attire.
6. Attendance can be strict for certain classes. Some classes only allow three unexcused absences before it starts affecting your grade. Other classes didn’t take attendance, but it would have been difficult to do well without attending because the PowerPoints are more of an outline for what the professor would teach during the class itself.
7. Finals can be much more intense. My Consumer Behavior final exam was worth 60% of my total grade while Barcelona: Rise of a Design City required a short presentation for the final.
8. Answering multiple-choice and true/false questions wrong on an exam results in a penalty and points being subtracted. Instructors encourage students to be sure of their answers and not guess. If you don’t know the answer, leaving the question blank yields zero points.
9. Two of my classes had a two-hour lecture in the first class of the week, and a one-hour seminar in the second class of the week. Seminars were for reviewing homework or completing case studies. The other two classes were lectures on both days of the week.
11. You may or may not have classes with local students. One of my favorite things about UPF is that the business program, ESCI, uses the same building for local and study abroad students. Some of their classes are too small to offer them in both Spanish and English in separate classes so they only offer them in English in order to offer it to both local and study abroad students at the same time. I had Spaniards in two of my classes, one class was only study abroad students, and my Barcelona: Rise of a Design City was only American study abroad students.
In the beginning, all of the differences in studying in an unfamiliar country seemed intimidating. At times the changes were more challenging than the courses themselves; however, it gave me a deeper understanding of how the world works outside of the U.S. It was something I had to experience for myself and I wouldn’t have learned in a classroom at home.