Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Life as a Foreign Grad Student

Well, we all know that I've moved myself, and my family, to Spain so I could attend graduate school at the Universidad de Salamanca in pursuit of a Master in Advanced English Studies. I qualified for additional educational benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill through the VA. I lost all of my educational benefits when I separated from Army National Guard on January 15, 2007. New legislation pushed through Congress and signed by President Bush in 2008 gave me benefits again. Now I qualified for tuition benefits and housing allowance at a 60% level. I finished my Bachelor's degree in 2006 and these new benefits came with an expiration of 15 years to the day from when I came off active duty i.e. my return from Iraq which translates to April 2019 for me. The benefits cover a wide variety of trade school, traditional education, and even foreign schools. I looked into the Applied Linguistics Master offered through the University of Massachusetts Boston but that program was 2 years long, primarily online, and carried a price tag of $30,000. I am still paying off student loans from my BA so sinking another $12,000 into debt just because I had benefits to use wasn't worth it to our family. The plans for any additional education were put on hold. Fast forward to 2014 and the idea resurfaces when I start to research Spain as a third country option for our family.

As I discovered in my research, tuition costs in Europe are a fraction of what they are in the United States. I couldn't even get an associate degree for the price that I'm paying here in Spain for a graduate degree. Fast forward through my application process to USAL and here we are, one month into my program. My cohort has approximately 28 students including myself. My classmates come from Spain, Poland, Bulgaria/Finland, Russia, Ecuador, Chile, and the good ole USA. The majority of the classes are taught in English and I could get away without taking any in Spanish except I'm going to risk one. One of the literature classes, The Literary Impact of the Spanish Civil War, is taught in Spanish so I'm going to a leap of faith and hope that I can understand enough to pass the class because the subject matter is very interesting to me.
Everything just runs differently here. The sooner you realize and accept this, the sooner you will settle in. My Master's program has three tracks: Literature, Linguistics, and a mixture. My original intention was to come out of this with a degree that would enable me to teach English as a Second Language all over the world so I enrolled in the Linguistics track as soon as I got the email with my registration access details. I later spoke with the director who told me that I was better off taking the mixed course only I couldn't change my classes online so I began freaking out. Her response: No pasa nada, just show up to the classes you want when you get here and we'll figure it out later. This is NOT my personality style. I am used to the strict guidelines in the United States. So slow down and relax are going to need to be learned fast.

The program officially started on September 22nd where we were invited to an orientation and general meeting of all the students in the program. It was held in a large stone room upstairs in Anaya, the main building for the School of Filology. The two directors from both Universities gave their presentations, a former Master student who is now here doing her Ph.D. program took us on a tour around the area, and then we had a lovely wine and hors d'ouevres reception afterwards. The Ph.D. student is from Portland, OR so it's nice to have a friendly American face to turn to for help if I should need it. I started my first day of classes two days later, American Poetry and Poetics, ack!!

My classes for the first semester run between 9:15am and 11:15am or 11:30am and 2pm. My class schedule changes every single week because the classes here are short and intense. A 3 credit class means we meet 6 times and a 6 credit class meets 12 times. And some of those classes might be run by two different professors so they break it up into two sections. One professor comes in and teaches 6 classes and gives you a final assignment and then the second professor comes in and does the same so you end up with two final projects for one class. It can be a little confusing coming into the program. So far, there are NO TEXTBOOKS! We have a platform where we can log in and find articles that have been uploaded for our class or our professors hand out copied packets during class. It is all so different! One month into the program and besides some readings from these packets, my homework on the horizon includes a 10 page paper on American poetry, a 6 page paper on discourse analysis in regards to a press release, and 3 exercises and a 10 page paper for Research paper class. Since there are only 10 class slots available each week, depending on which classes I'm taking, I may or may not have any classes during a particular week due to how they are scheduled. On average, I only have 4-5 classes a week so less than 15 hours in class.

My first semester classes are held here in Salamanca and the second semester classes will be held at the university in Valladolid, about an hour away via car. The powers that be are trying to consolidate our classes into 2-3 days a week so we won't have to commute as much. A round trip train ticket would be 16,70a day so that could add up pretty quickly. This first semester runs from September to February and I have 7 classes to finish. Next semester runs from February to April and I only have 3 classes. Then I will have roughly 6 weeks to finish up my Master's Thesis, approximately 30 pages. I will defend in sometime in June or July and then our family heads home after graduation. Let's hope it goes as smooth as it sounds!

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