Margaret - University of Salamanca

B. Engineering / Concurrent Diploma in Languages (Spanish)
Semester 2, 2015

Academic experience

I studied towards a concurrent diploma in languages and took courses from the Translation and Language and Literature (Filología) faculties. Be aware that all the courses are taught in Spanish and you do need to be fluent to keep up, although lecturers are very used to international students and will not expect perfect Spanish in assessment items.

I highly recommend:

Lengua Española I (101401) with Jose Bustos (translation faculty)
I found this course really useful because it gives you a lot of practice writing small pieces in different genres. Bustos is a great teacher who has a really supportive attitude towards exchange students and dedicates a lot of time to give useful feedback.

Historia de la Lengua Española (103207)
This course has a reasonable load of assignment work and it is important to take good notes because the interesting little ‘stories’ which may seem like side notes in lectures are actually the main focus of the exam. That said, Jose Luis loves his subject and shares that enthusiasm. I found this course fascinating and learned a lot about Spanish history along the way.

Gramática para la enseñanza del español como lengua extranjera I y II (103399 and 103467) with Juan Felipe
This is not a course for non-native speakers, but Juan Felipe is very aware that many exchange students take his class and so long as you have a reasonable grasp of Spanish, to begin with, you will definitely find it useful.

I would NOT recommend Traducción Inversa (101425) with John Hyde for native English speakers.

As the beginning of semester approaches, don’t stress out about the apparent lack of information and course sign-ons. The Spanish system feels very laid back compared to UQ, but it does work. As soon as you can get your hands on a timetable, check whether you have any clashes and what other subjects you might be interested in and able to take. Unfortunately, you will have to do this by hand, there is no UQ Timetable to help you out. For the first two weeks, you are able to turn up to any classes you like and get a feel for them before enrolling, in person, at the end of the second week. However, this doesn’t mean you can take a laid-back approach to classes you do want to continue with, as lectures are not recorded and you will miss content. Only after enrolling do you get your student card and access to Studium (their equivalent of Blackboard).

New content finishes before Christmas and it is well worth keeping on top of your classes, as many have 'voluntary exams' in the middle of December. If you choose to sit these early exams, the course will be done and dusted, leaving you free to enjoy the Christmas break.

Personal experience

On top of the world
On top of the world

As a tourist, Salamanca is charming for perhaps a weekend at most, but as a student, it is a wonderful place to live and its impressive cathedral and Plaza Mayor become the backdrop to a far richer experience.

Salamanca seems to revolve around the university and it draws a lot of exchange students from all around Europe, although I was amused to find that being Australian was considered rather exotic. The European exchange program is called Erasmus and all exchange students are often referred to as Erasmus students. It’s easy to make friends with other exchange students because you are all sharing the same experience. There is also a well-organised program of activities for exchange students organised by ESN Salamanca, and you could spend most of your weekends on organised trips around Spain with other exchange students if you wanted to. I only went to a couple of events early in the semester because I really wanted to spend as much of my time as possible with Spanish people, speaking Spanish. Even so, I did make some great friends from Germany, the UK and New Zealand and it is the friendships which really make the exchange experience.

A lot of what you read about exchange tends to focus on the party lifestyle. That is certainly not too hard to find in Salamanca, but I’d just like to emphasise that it’s not all there is. Perhaps, like me, you’d rather make friends who want to go on weekend trips to walk in autumn-coloured woods, or check out the micro theatre La Malhablada and then spend hours back home chatting over cups of tea. These people also go on exchange, and Salamanca is a small place. Whoever your crowd is, you will find them. Don’t be afraid to meet new people and start up a conversation, because you might just make some awesome friends!

Accommodation

Salamanca has had a University for nearly 800 years, so it is very well set up for students! I stayed in a share house where I was lucky enough to have Spanish-speaking housemates and would highly recommend that option. There is no shortage of student flats in Salamanca. I arranged mine over the internet before I arrived, but I had friends who preferred to stay in a hostel at first and inspect flats before making any commitment and that approach also worked fine. I paid 270 euros (about $AUD 400) per month including all bills and internet, which was towards the upper end of the spectrum. 

Location is very important in Salamanca. The centre is very small and your sense of distance will rapidly adjust so that what might feel like a short walk in Brisbane soon becomes quite a trek. Also, check where your faculty is located. Translation and Language and Literature have a prime spot right next to the cathedral, but this is a 20 min walk from the faculties in the Campus Unamuno. On the maps you will see the main ring-road around the centre of town. Anything within that ring, or just outside it, is a good location and you will rarely walk more than 15 minutes to get anywhere you need to go, unless you have classes in Campus Unamuno. Public transport and even bicycles are unnecessary. The barrio del oeste is also a pretty cool place to live, and even if your flat is in another part of town you should take a stroll through it to check out the street art and La Salchichería. Look up ZOES (asociación de vecinos) for neighbourhood events.

Budget

I spent about $AUD 5,000 in the 4 months that I was actually in Salamanca. That included rent in a very comfortable shared flat. I am not a big drinker and I enjoy cooking, so most of my meals were at home. However, I didn’t skimp on little luxuries like the excellent hot chocolate at Atelier and cafe Mandala and I went on at least half a dozen weekend trips around Spain with the hiking club and my Ultimate frisbee team. On top of that flights and travel insurance came to $AUD 2,400. Your budget for any travel before and after will vary wildly depending on where you go and what you do.

Professional development and employability

I went on exchange first and foremost to improve my Spanish, and there is certainly no better way to do that than living independently in a Spanish-speaking country. I was reasonably fluent when I arrived in Spain, but my confidence and conversational fluidity definitely improved, as did my accent. It was really satisfying to be asked, towards the end of the exchange, whether I was actually from Spain. I also got a lot of writing practice and became more confident in writing formal essays and reports.

Highlight

The highlight of my stay in Salamanca would have to be my Ultimate Frisbee team, Quimera. They are a fantastic bunch of people who I was really sorry to leave behind. As well as training twice a week, I got to travel with them to the southern coast and the Canary Islands for Ultimate tournaments.

I also had a great time with the university hiking club. They organise regular excursions, some day trips and some whole weekends, which take you into beautiful parts of the country which you simply wouldn’t get to see on your own.

Sports teams can be a great way to make networks of local people, speak Spanish and feel like you really belong in your new city. Quimera became my Spanish family, whereas I really only started to make friends with the local students in my classes towards the end of the semester and by then there was not much time left to build on a strong friendship.

Top tips

  • Spain runs on WhatsApp. You will need to download it and buy data for your phone in order to be a functioning member of any of the groups and clubs. Texting simply barely exists and Whatsapp is used far more than Facebook for messaging and organising things in groups. 
  • Find a language exchange partner or three. For m, this was a really good way to practice speaking Spanish and to meet someone local, especially when I had just arrived and hadn’t built my own networks yet. The University of Salamanca Servicio de Promoción, Información y Orientación has a webpage which allows you to post and read small advertisements for language exchange. From there you can contact a couple of people and arrange to meet up for a chat over coffee. Several of the bars also offer weekly language exchanges. El Rastrel and Atelier are two nice cafes which have board games and I regularly played bilingual Taboo with one of my exchange partners.
  • Read the posters on the wall of your faculty. There are a lot of free and interesting talks, movie screenings, concerts and events going on in Salamanca, but they are not necessarily well publicised and you need to keep your eyes open.
  • Check out the Mercado Central. This permanent, covered market is open until 2pm and chatting to stallholders or asking for advice about which sort of chorizo is best for the recipe you want to make, what veggies are in season and what the difference is between the many types of ham and cheese is a good way to sneak some more Spanish practice into your day.
Margaret - University of Salamanca