Monday, February 22, 2010

The STUDY part of study abroad

Just west of the diag at the University of Michigan sits one of the most complicated buildings on campus. It houses all the English classes and discussions in addition to a few other smaller lectures.

The building is confusing because it’s actually four. One side is Angell Hall, one side is Mason, one side is Haven and the last side is Tisch. But a few of the classrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors of Mason are actually Haven Hall and some of the offices that appear to be in Angell Hall are actually Tisch offices.

You can see how it could be a little disconcerting.

But this building doesn’t even hold a candle to “La Fabrica” on the University of Seville’s campus, where two of my classes are held.

La Fabrica is a transformed Tobacco Factory, where the drama for the opera Carmen unfolded.

The building is beautiful with high ceilings and courtyards strewn throughout where students hang out between classes.

But today I really just wanted to set fire to the thing and start from ground zero with it.

For me to say the building is completely unorganized is an understatement. In fact, this is how I believe the builders decided to rework a completely lovely building into a labyrinth of disarray.

“We simply can’t put Room 7 between 6 and 8. Six and 8 look so good next to each other, 7 looks more like a 1.” — “Yes, that’s what I was thinking. Seven should go by classrooms 1 and 11.” — “Good plan, and while we’re at it, let’s create a secret stairwell that has half a floor on it where we can stash two more classrooms.” — “Right and which rooms haven’t we used yet? Alright those will be 2 and 8. And I've never liked the number 3, let's not make a classroom #3”

With a map in hand I still had to ask multiple professors and a secretary for directions to my classes. And even though I can only describe La Fabrica as pandamonium, I have enjoyed my classes.

I settled into two art lectures, two writing classes and a journalism lecture.

My journalism lecture is at a building that’s a twenty-minute bus ride from campus to a building where foreigners normally don’t venture. And after a haphazard journey there the first day (think multiple busses, an angry taxi driver and an inundation that makes me think Noah should be coming around any time soon) I considered never returning.

The classes at the Journalism building have been interesting just because University courses here function completely differently than they do in the US.

There is no grad school here. At age 17, with high school diploma in hand, you decide what you want to be, and from day one of University, you study only that. Grad school doesn’t exist here. If you want to be a doctor, you study medicine for seven years and upon graduation you are qualified to cut people open or prescribe medicines.

But because of this specialization, you get to know your classmates very well considering you study with only these students for years.

So walking into my first journalism class was more like walking into my first day of high school. The cliques have already been established, and not matter how hard I try, I stick out like a sore thumb. But the lecture is pleasant and I already spoke to a few students without having to retreat back to my doe eyed, “Lo siento. No entiendo mucho” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand a lot).

But even when I try to camouflage myself, others always seem to point me out.

Today, one of my professors, in the middle of an art lecture stopped and looked at me and a friend. I quickly looked down at my paper, hoping that by averting eye contact, the seemingly inevitable would actually not happen. I quickly grabbed my pen and began writing gibberish and hoping that this professor would take my hint and not bother my feverish writing spasm.

“¿Sois extranjeros?” (Are you foreigners?) he asked, interrupting his gripping debate over design versus art. Everyone’s eyes were upon us. My heart sank and the increase of blood rushing to my face increased my temperature by at least ten degrees.

“Si.” Busted.

But even with feeling out of place at times and in over my head fairly often, I really have enjoyed my first week of classes.

The best part of this experience is that even when I walk out of my classroom and have finished learning about the differences between art and design or finished being embarrassed by my professor in front of all of my peers, I get to walk out into an environment that is providing me with more of an education than a classroom ever could.

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