STUDIUM & FREIZEIT
By guest author Maurice Heizenröder
If you study languages, it’s recommendable to live abroad for a certain amount of time. Since I study Spanish and French, I decided to live in Almería (Spain) for five months. Don’t worry if you have never heard of this city before, because I hadn’t either. Actually, I was a little late and only a few partner universities had some seats left. I had been looking for a smaller city and I’ve chosen one where people speak differently than the other half of Spain to make my trip more challenging. People from Andalucía don’t pronounce the /s/, so instead of gracias it’s pronounced gracia. Some say it’s like a cute little accent, but by now I can tell you it’s not. It takes a little time to understand. My second challenge during my stay was the Coronavirus.
4 weeks til’ lockdown
My first day at university was exhausting. As there are no trains or undergrounds, I had to take the bus. The result: three busses crammed with people, but hey, at least I made it. The first class started at 9 am, but given my german background, I arrived at 8:30 and so I had some time to look around. The university is located out of town and close to the beach. It’s pretty huge and bursting with flowers, trees and meadows. Having an own gym with a court for tennis, basketball and a pool was amazing.
When I walked into the classroom, I was shocked: It was almost 9 am and I was still the only student around. Did I miss a memo? Was I in the wrong room? I went back to the info-point and asked for help in broken Spanish, but no, I was right. It was my room. The classrooms, for what I call them, were small and gave you a typical throwback to school times.
When I sat down, a few people came in. I think we were about 20-25 students (4-5 of us were Erasmus students). About 15 minutes later, three lecturers entered the room. Again, I was in shock, because I realized that there are going to be three lecturers teaching us at the same time. Every lecturer is an expert in their own fields and they are more or less speaking simultaneously, adding information to what the others said. For what I know, it is usual to have class with more than one lecturer in Spain, but I think it depends on your study as well.
2 weeks ‘til lockdown
Time went by and I was able to make a few friends. Half of them were Spanish, the other half were German Erasmus students just like me. Actually, it was a bit funny, because I found out that there was another student from UDE although I was told that I’m going to be the only Erasmus student in Almería. But apart from that, my German coordinator was really helpful in any situation - before and after the Corona situation had begun.
I realized there are going to be three lecturers teaching us at the same time.
However, it would’ve been a lot easier had I received a proper introduction to the Spanish university platform, schedule and their valuation system before I came here. Every subject consists of three classes with the lecturers, but one of the classes is like a working group. I didn’t know that and so my schedule changed a lot, because we didn’t have a break or a lot of time to change rooms between subjects. Also, the exams only valued 60% of the final grade. The other 40% were presence and participation. It is true that I wanted to experience every minute of the university, but I also had some plans to travel which I had to cancel because of the presence list.
It was my fourth week in Almería. During my first weeks there, I was just listening and trying to understand what my lecturers and fellow students were saying, but finally I found the courage to speak and start conversations with my Spanish friends or ask my lecturers for help after class.
But then, at the end of the fourth week, the university was shut down. Everything was shut down and well-armed police was going around the streets. One time they stopped me and asked me where I was going, because you were only allowed to leave the house for shopping or work. I was really scared, because they spoke way too fast and it was really hard to understand. Luckily, I was hungry and went for shopping and was therefore allowed to move in public.
Unfortunately, I was living alone and all of my German friends flew back home. I didn’t fly back, because I was planning on doing an Au Pair in the north of Spain for a few months. So I was on my own for a long time and had a lot to figure out by myself. All classes were “taught“ online, but it was closer to: Read those 80 pages and upload your summary within two days. No video conference, no chance to practice my language skills. Furthermore, some lectures came up with online exams, which were way too hard for us Erasmus students. My level was not good enough and I struggled a lot.
After the lockdown
I ended up contacting my lecturer for advice and he simply replied with the answers. Don’t get me wrong - other Spanish lecturers showed interest in how I was doing. But generally, you could tell that most lecturers were a little overwhelmed with their abilities and will to help due to the pandemic. I remember texting one lecturer three times and he never replied. For those who want to know - I still passed the subject. I’m not sure how, but I passed all subjects. 30 ECTS were required, but I only got 24 ECTS because of the schedule. For example: My language class didn’t count. You want to know why? Well that makes two of us! My lecturer simply told us, that we would get not any credit points and never explained why.
During the lockdown we had different possibilities. I decided to stay in Spain because I signed a contract for a short-term AuPair in the north of Spain longtime before I came to Almería. I was alone in my apartment for almost three months. No friends, no beach, just me, my phone, and my computer. That’s all I had, but I made it. And as I’m writing this text, I’m already with my Au Pair family. It was worth the wait. Although I often thought about giving up and go back with ELEFAND. That’s an organization for German travels who aren’t able to come back to Germany.