Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) student Laura Coburn describes what life is like on exchange in Madrid, Spain.
Coburn is over halfway through her overseas study experience with RMIT partner university Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, where she’s taking classes with students across the university's humanities faculty.
What does your week usually look like?
A typical week is hard to describe, but I’ll try my best! I divide my time between studying to stay on top of my assignments as well as getting out to experience everything that Madrid has to offer including bars, tapas, shopping, art galleries and the like.
This leaves my weekends free for travel around Spain. A real bonus of living in a vibrant and heavily populated city like Madrid, which is located in the heart of Spain, is that it’s very well-connected transport-wise, making traveling for weekend trips in any direction not only doable but extremely easy.
What are some of the best experiences you've had so far?
Early on in my exchange I traveled to Barcelona, a city I’d always wanted to visit. There I met up with friends and explored the beautiful beach, the vibrant city streets, and the energetic nightlife. Of course a trip to Barcelona is not complete without admiring the famous architecture of Antoni Gaudí; standing inside the awe-inspiring Sagrada Família was definitely one of the many 'pinch me' moments of my time here in Europe!
A weekend away in Valencia was another highlight as it was a perfect, jam-packed mix of meeting other international students, partying the night away, strolling through the colourful markets, and lazing about at the beach under the sun. And how could I forget sampling the famous, authentic rice-dish Paella in its own birthplace?
The last happened right here in Madrid. Freshly arrived and eager to settle in and experience the city, I headed to the Buen Retiro Park armed with sangria and tortilla, stretched out on the grass for a picnic and watched as the Madrileños (that is, the locals of Madrid) strolled by laughing together, stopped to listen to the music of the buskers, or rowed boats across the lake. It was a beautiful and relaxing way to mentally prepare myself for the semester ahead!
What are some of the differences between RMIT and your university in Spain?
The main difference I’ve noticed between the universities lies in the technology. At RMIT it’s not uncommon for lectures to be recorded, either just audio or visually. In fact, in many courses it’s expected. Lecturers teach through the use of visual presentations, usually uploading the slides online for more efficient and accessible note taking and revision, or to fill in students who might have missed the class.
In Spain, however, to have any idea of the subject, attendance is a must. The use of presentation slides is not always guaranteed, and the recording of lectures is non-existent!
Classrooms are equipped with chalk and blackboards for teachers to note important points but the majority of the lesson is filled with students hurriedly jotting down crucial information or pearls of wisdom dispensed by the teacher from their seat at the front of the class.
In this way the Spanish style definitely has a more traditional feel to it compared to RMIT, and adjusting to that has been an interesting experience in itself!
Would you recommend a student exchange to other students? Why?
Definitely! Not only is it an exciting and unique experience allowing you to meet people from all over the world, it's also a valuable lesson in independence, resilience and confidence.
For someone who had never lived outside of Australia before my exchange program, suddenly finding myself thrown into life on the other side of the world was in equal parts thrilling and daunting.
Throughout the semester, I’ve been able to gain so much confidence in my own decision-making, my social and linguistic abilities, and my newfound attitude to take each day as it comes, to jump on every exciting opportunity that presents itself, and to make the most of this awesome experience abroad.
Story: Karen Matthews