As a student of the US academic system, let me just say that I have never had to exert so much effort to attend class before. ….! Whereas I’m used to a clear-cut and organized structure with an emphasis on the importance of education, here, it is purely at your will whether you want to learn or not. Below are some of my observations…
1. Education is free here. Which means that no one is forcing you to go to school. It is only for the benefit of obtaining a good job in the future. And to my knowledge, I think that financial aid is available, but only with the condition that students not work. This also means that since education is free, the students who choose to attend universities are very intelligent. Sometimes, there are older adults who enroll simply to expand on their interests.
2. There are no majors or minors here. No words or concepts exist in Spanish. Instead, students declare “carreras” (careers) in a facultad (department).
3. Students choose their carrera before entering the university, which has a set track. Therefore, everyone already knows each other in the same facultad, but never cross paths with other students who aren’t taking classes with them. And since they’re all on a set track, it’s nearly impossible to take a variety of classes in different facultades, since they all overlap. We discovered this early on.
4. Nothing is online. Information can change last minute. The student has to go to a bulletin board of their facultad, where class info is posted. Everything is done in person, and tend to be disorganized.
5. Classes never start on time. Professors show up late (and sometimes super early), and often there are technical problems that delay the lecture or presentation. (One time, in my art class, someone asked who was the first one to show up to class. My professor remarked, “Obviously the Americans!” It was all lighthearted, but true).
6. Classes also end very late or very early.
7. Classes are also canceled frequently due to strikes, commemorations, and numerous holidays.
8. Usually, there isn’t a huge emphasis on attendance (and professors tend to be more flexible toward exchange students), and often share mate with the students during class. (My professor would begin the lecture, pause, ask for mate, take a sip, then resume).
9. There is a lot of activity during class: students walk in and out (usually to get hot water for mate), and talk/text/show PDA.
10. Students don’t buy textbooks. They go to a fotocopiadora, where they pay for the readings & materials. A cheaper option than textbooks, but so much paper! Note: there are always loooong lines at the fotocopiadora!
11. Students and professors often engage in passionate and intensely charged debates that take up most of the period. Both extremely interesting and difficult to follow.
12. When the professor says, “and that presentation was by the foreign students, who clearly had difficulty with another language,” or “how difficult it must be for the foreign students, who are trying to work through a new language,” it is considered a courtesy.
Although I’ve had some frustrating moments, I’ve also learned a lot from my classes here. At first I felt intimidated to ask other students or my professors for help, but I found that everyone was patient with my Spanish and very helpful. My professors were also lenient about the work (“It’s okay if you want to turn this in later, since you should be traveling instead/you’re still learning Spanish,” etc). They were certainly more understanding than I thought they would be!
On the last day of my class at UNCuyo, we sipped on (good) wine and everyone kissed each other goodbye. We exchanged double kisses and everyone told me “good luck, ” and “it was nice to have you in class.” Sigh. I certainly wish that I spoke up more instead of sitting there, trying really hard to understand the rapid flow of conversation and feeling intimidated! But all in all, I definitely had a valuable experience.