Case Studies is an ongoing series on Scholar Escolar where foreigners who have taken the graduate school plunge in Spain share their experiences. To officially kick off the blog and the series, here is my slice of the Spanish grad school experience.
Place of Origin: Hawaii, USA
Time in Spain: 5 years
I got my B.A. in International Studies at Seattle University. I always have a bit of trouble explaining to people exactly what my degree is in, especially in Spain where the concept of a liberal arts degree doesn’t really exist. Depending on how interested the person looks (usually they aren’t that curious), I either give them the short answer or the long answer.
Short answer: I studied little bit of everything from economics to political science to anthropology.
Long answer: Aside from a couple of mandatory foundational courses, International Studies was whatever you wanted it to be. There were people who chose to chose to focus on things like international business and marketing, political science and economics or the humanities. I ended up taking classes that ranged from Chinese anthropology to Latin American political history.
I did a study abroad program in Granada in 2013, which must have had an effect on me because it has been five years and I’m still here.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been into languages and linguistics in some shape or form, even before I knew what the field was called. In middle school, I decided that I would try to teach myself Esperanto (didn’t make it too far). In high school, I read Mario Pei for fun. I also have a phonetic symbol tattoo.
I discovered that teaching was something I enjoyed during my sophomore year of college when a friend and I started volunteering at a nearby elementary school with a high proportion of students classified as English Language Learners. I volunteered there and at a middle/high school for ELL newcomer students until graduation. It was around then that I decided to pursue a career that combined both of my interests. For a while I contemplated becoming a reading specialist.
However, I knew that a) I did not want to stay in the States after graduation and b) I wanted to go back to Spain. At that point in time, the Auxiliares de Conversación program, that golden ticket for non-EU English speakers, was perfect for me. It combined my interest in languages, teaching, teaching languages, and Spain into a delightful visa shaped package.
For two years, I auxiliar-ed at a high school in Madrid. I also worked at an English language academy for kids as a side hustle. To support myself while doing the the Master in San Sebastián, I continued auxiliar-ing (and ended up doing the research for my thesis at the school), co-directed another English language academy for kids, and moderated a weekly English conversation group for adults. It was also around this time that I discovered coffee.
What made you decide to go to graduate school in Spain?
For me, it had never been a question of whether I was going to go to graduate school. It was always a matter of when and where. I decided to give myself a couple of years after graduation before even thinking about graduate school. It was a long enough time to get some work experience and figure out exactly what I wanted to do, but not so long that I would forget how to study or start to feel stuck.
Sometime around the December of my second year auxiliar-ing in Madrid, I started to feel unsettled. I felt that I had hit a wall; that I was on my way to becoming stagnant. The first year I was there, everything still had the shine of novelty, but by the second I was getting restless. I knew that I would need to figure out what my next move would be if I wanted to break out of the Halloween-Guy Fawkes-Thanksgiving-Christmas presentation cycle, and getting a Master’s degree was how I was going to do it.
I did not consider returning to the US for grad school, for several reasons. First and foremost, I was nowhere near ready to leave Spain. I also found the cost of obtaining a Master’s degree in the States to be stomach churningly prohibitive. After taking out loans for my Bachelor’s degree, I was not keen on having to do the same a second time. I am also against monolithic standardized tests as a matter of principle and unfortunately they are the price you have to pay in order to continue your education in the US. Applying to graduate schools back home would have required me to not only take the GRE but also invest time and money into studying for it.
Why did you pick that particular program?
I came across the Language Acquisition in Multilingual Settings (LAMS) program at the University of the Basque Country during my senior year of college while exploring post-graduation options and it piqued my interest. When I finally decided to apply two years later, I submitted an application to both that program and the one on Multilingualism and Education (ME).
In the end, I chose ME over LAMS because of its emphasis on language in education as opposed to the process of language adquisition. Although they are both administered through the University of the Basque Country, ME was taught at the campus in San Sebastián and LAMS at the campus in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Honestly, the location played some part in it too. After living in Madrid for so long, I missed being next to the water. And who could pass up the food?
What was the application process like?
It was a lot simpler than applying for programs in the US. Fortunately, UBC did not require my Bachelor’s degree to be homologado in order to apply so the whole application process was surprisingly painless. I had to get an Apostille for both my diploma and transcripts, and luckily it was only necessary for the diploma to be translated into Spanish (which saved €€€) . I also included a copy of my CV, a copy of the first page of my passport, and a letter of recommendation.
What language(s) were the classes in?
The two obligatory classes were in English, and you could choose from electives that were taught in English, Spanish and Basque. If you wanted, it was possible to do the entire program in English.
Although they classes were listed on paper as being in one language or the other, it was fairly fluid. At the beginning, there would be a discussion of which language the majority of people were comfortable using and often in-class materials in another language were used (resources in English for a class taught in Basque or vice versa). Regardless of the language the class was taught in, you could turn in assignments and write your thesis in either English, Spanish, Basque or French.
I took subjects in English and Spanish, and wrote my thesis (mostly) in English. Due to the nature of the research I conducted, Basque and Spanish played a big role in the data collection and final conclusions.
How much was tuition? What about cost of living?
When the department administrative assistant told me that tuition would be €1,500 ($1,800), I remember asking her if that total was per class or per semester. It didn’t occur to me that it would be for the entire program.
Unfortunately, San Sebastián has one of the highest costs of living in Spain. Coming from Madrid, I thought that prices would be similar and yet I had a nasty shock every time I went grocery shopping.
I paid the same amount of rent for a bedroom in a shared piso as I did in Madrid (€400/month, expenses included). However, costs associated with food and transportation were noticeably higher.
Would you recommend your program?
I have talked about the ME program with several people, one of whom is in this year’s cohort. I always recommend it enthusiastically but with a tiny asterisk at the end. The degree is research based and not as oriented toward hands-on teaching practice as some people might prefer. For example, it does not include the teaching internship component that is common in many other programs related to education, but it does include courses on education research theory and methods.
Since it’s research based, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest this program if your aim is to develop professionally as a classroom teacher (but I wouldn’t rule it out, either!). If you’re interested in getting a graduate degree in education, I think this program is a good fit for those who already have classroom experience and are interested in moving into the realm of education research.
So whats next?
I finished the Master in June 2017, and in October 2017 I started working on a PhD in Language Education. So that’s what I’ll be doing for the next three years and I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Except for maybe lying on a beach somewhere. I’d always rather be doing that.
Any final words of wisdom or caution?
While writing my thesis, I learned the hard way that done is better than perfect. Since then, it is something that I have to remind myself of daily (especially while writing these posts).
Similarly, it’s always important to get a little perspective. I find that when I get really into a project, it’s hard for me to see the big picture. Just remember that you’re doing it for a reason, and that it won’t last forever. Graduate school is always tough, especially when you’re doing it or considering doing it in a foreign country. That’s why I created Scholar Escolar. There are dozens of us going through the same thing.
If you went to graduate school in Spain (or know somebody who did) and would like to have your story included in the Case Studies series, let me know! Contributors include a Master’s degree in Spanish linguistics and Business Administration.