I am now very much immersed in life in Madrid, and a significant part of my life here is my university studies. The process of choosing and enrolling in classes took an unusual amount of time for me, because I decided to take two classes at a second university that had a later start than the program’s home university. In total, I am taking five classes this semester. Three are at Universidad Carlos III—the university where the Vassar-Wesleyan Madrid program is based. These classes are all through the Hispanic Studies Department, which is exclusively for foreign students, but still taught entirely in Spanish by university professors. My language class in this department is obligatory, but I chose to take two more classes in this department because the content interested me more than that of the grado (direct enrollment with Spanish students) classes at Carlos III. Most grado classes are professionally oriented and antithetical to a liberal arts education. (For example, Humanities is only one major, and offers a sparse mix of literature, film, and art history classes. Most majors here are the sort in which your career is determined by placing an “ist” on the end of your subject: Journalism, Economics, and many sciences, including twelve majors in Engineering. I tried classes in Journalism and Political Science for one week, and found both subjects and the pure lecture method of teaching quite dry.) In contrast, the Hispanic Studies department offers culture and arts-based classes. I am taking a short story class—a combination of a literature and writing class. The professor is excellent, and gives lectures sprinkled with poetic metaphors. For me, creative writing is more difficult in Spanish and certainly a less fluid process than in English, but I enjoy the class and appreciate the opportunity. I am also studying Spanish art history; I have never taken art history before, and I find it an excellent way to learn about general history and cultural periods, and simply to discover new fascinating artists and works. Out of artists we have covered thus far, my favorite is Joachim Patinir: in his El paso de la laguna Estigia (Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx): I believe he captured shades of the indefinable color of the Mediterranean Sea.
The most delightful part of the class is the series of museum visits. We have gone to the Prado three times, and will visit the Reina Sofia next month. I look forward to seeing Picasso’s Guernica.
Beyond my Carlos III classes, I am enrolled in two classes at Universidad Complutense, which is one of the oldest universities in the world (founded in 1293), and is considered Spain’s best and most competitive university. The Vassar-Wesleyan program is not based here, but due to an agreement between universities, we can enroll at Complutense in addition to Carlos III classes. I have chosen a difficult path, and cannot attest to junior year abroad seeming like time off—I spend slightly more time commuting than my peers who are only at Carlos III, and I currently feel inundated with work. However, my classes at Complutense are fantastic, and I am so glad I enrolled. I am taking a figure drawing class in Bellas Artes (the Fine Arts department). I have only drawn horses and dogs with any seriousness, and have not taken a drawing class post-9th grade. I am excited to be learning about proportions and shading, and trying to capture expressions without losing an academic, accurate approach to my work. We have a very neat final assignment to draw paintings described in Jane Eyre (one of my favorite books). I am really enjoying drawing, and look forward to continuing after this class.
Lastly, I have enrolled in a Latin American 20th century literature class, which I find quite challenging, as we read one book each week, and write a small essay on each book. The books’ syntax and content are quite complicated; we have read a couple of psychological novels that resemble Dostoyevsky or Kafka. I currently feel overwhelmed by that fact I do not yet understand everything in the texts, but because it is my most difficult class, I imagine I will learn the most from it. And, I am really looking forward to the second half of the semester, in which we will study novels from the Latin American Boom.
A last plus about Complutense—there are lime green Monk Parakeets that chirp at me as I’m on my way to class. (Parakeets! In Madrid!)
Outside of school, I have been enjoying getting to know Madrid, but as with my previous posts, I am approaching the maximum word count sooner than expected. I apologize for this post’s less exciting subject, but I hope it is helpful for those considering the Vassar-Wesleyan program.
Happy spring to all! It has been consistently in the 70s Fahrenheit here, which is lovely but very strange for me. I hope it warms up soon for those in colder climates!