My First Day of Class

Nov 6, 2018

By Will Newton, Williams College Class of 2020

After a two-week intensive course coordinated by my study abroad program, I began my first day of classes at the University of Granada. Home to nearly 85,000 students, it is a far cry from the 2000 students at Williams College that I have been accustomed to. The fact that everything was in my second language only made it more overwhelming.

One of the most startling moments came on the first full day of Pensamiento Español, a class on the history of Spanish philosophical thought. I was a little sick that day, and my voice was almost entirely gone, but I knew I couldn’t miss the first full class of the semester. 

I sounded like a lifelong chain smoker whenever I tried to speak, so I decided to avoid being called on in class by sitting in the far back corner. My plan was working well, and toward the end of class, the professor gave out some instructions (that I did not entirely understand). Everyone in the class started to pack up. I was relieved, thinking

I had made it through. Then, the professor started passing out blank sheets of paper to every student and everyone immediately began writing, except for me.  

I was in a dilemma: do I embarrass myself by croaking out Spanish to the professor and revealing that I had completely missed the instructions, or can I stealthily escape the classroom without turning in the paper? Or, do I write a fake name, scribble something on the paper, get out of there, and drop the class?, After several minutes of deliberation nearly half the class had left after turning in their papers, I decided to cut my losses and walk to the front of the classroom and speak to the professor. To my  relief, he was surprisingly helpful and understanding. 

Another confusing moment occurred in my anthropology class, when I had to do a short group project during class. The southern region of Spain is known for its unique accent, where locals often remove the ‘s’ and ‘d’ from the end of words when they speak (the phrase “tres pescados” is pronounced “tre pecao”), so I was used to and expecting the abbreviated manner of speaking. But the two other students I was paired with took this to a whole different level. 

While we were discussing the text – or more precisely, when they were discussing the text (with me desperately trying to follow along) – they were replacing entire, long words with single-syllable grunts. Several minutes later, one of the students noticed my silence and turned to me and asked, very slowly, “¿Hablas español?” (do you speak Spanish?). Embarrassed and not even sure what the answer to that question was at that point, I responded that I did and shared some of my insights on the text before their two-way conversation resumed and continued for the rest of the time.

Though certainly challenging, and frustrating at times, being thrown into the middle of the University of Granada has caused (forced) me to drastically improve my Spanish, and the experience of fully immersing myself in a new language and culture has definitely been worth it.

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