Case Studies is an ongoing series on Scholar Escolar where foreigners who have taken the graduate school plunge in Spain share their experiences. Today’s case study focuses on Kyler, from the US, who did a Master’s degree in Spanish Linguistics in Madrid.
Place of Origin: Massachusetts, US
Time in Spain: 4+ years
Master in Spanish Linguistics (Investigación en Lengua Española), Universidad Complutense de Madrid (one year)
In 2014, I received my B.A. in Spanish and History from the College of the Holy Cross, a liberal arts college. I was able to spend my junior year abroad studying in León, Spain and that’s where I fell in love with this beautiful country.
Having grandparents who are bilingual in Portuguese and French and a very Portuguese-American cultural upbringing, I’ve always been attracted to foreign cultures and languages. Instead of choosing to study Latin in the sixth grade, my only other option was Spanish. Without having much contact with the language previously, I fell in love with it almost instantly. I never thought it would lead me to move to Spain and study a master’s degree in linguistics, but the study of language has turned into one of my passions. I am grateful for the opportunities knowing Spanish has given me to better understand both Spanish and Latin American cultures and societies.
Regarding linguistics, during my studies at Holy Cross, most of our focus was on literature; however, we had the chance to take a few classes focusing on various aspects of linguistics during my senior year. It was through those classes that I became captivated by the study of sociolinguistics and the role language has on cultural identity. I was awarded a grant after graduation to study the role of Spanish-English language contact in the identity of Puerto Ricans in New York. From then on out, I knew I wanted to be able to continue researching through a Master’s program.
In spite of not knowing exactly what I want to do in life, I am confident in saying that my love for language and travel is something that has taken me on an incredible journey. Throughout college and post-graduate career, I mainly considered teaching Spanish. My eventual goal was to return to the States and to work as a university-level professor.
So, like many Americans who want to live and work in Spain, I applied for a position with the Auxiliares de Conversación program and I was able to return to Castilla y León. My plan at this point in my life was to continue improving my Spanish skills to prepare for a Master’s/PhD program in Spanish Linguistics back in the States.
After my first-year teaching in an instituto in Valladolid, I was not ready to head back to the States nor to start studying again so I decided to renew for a second year in León. By living and working in the city where I studied abroad, it seemed as if everything had come full circle.
In spite of having a fulfilling year teaching both in a school and private lessons along with a side gig working for my university’s study abroad program in León, I felt as if something was missing. I felt that I had grown out of the small city life and I was ready for a change. Also, after being a “teaching assistant” for two years, I was looking for a challenge. For me, moving to the capital and studying a Master’s just seemed like the logical next step in my life journey.
What made you decide to go to graduate school in Spain?
There are many reasons why I chose to study a graduate degree in Spain; however, the main (and most obvious reason to do so) was the price and duration of the program. After many emails and Skype calls with foreign professors, I felt very overwhelmed by making the decision to get a Master’s and/or PhD in Spanish Linguistics back in the States.
Due to program funding, tuition costs and the time commitment, I felt as if I had to sign my life away to something I was not really positive was my vocation. Don’t get me wrong. I knew I was passionate about languages and Spanish in particular, but I was not ready to take the leap and sign up for two to five years of grad school and to be in debt from student loans.
As I mentioned previously, I felt ready for a change in my life after my second year of teaching, but I knew I did not want to leave Spain, yet. In reality, I was lying to myself since I knew I really didn’t want to leave Spain in the near future… but I was convinced that I would fall in love with linguistics and after the end of my program, I would instantly sign up for a PhD program outside of Spain.
After months of contemplation, I decided to not instantly regret spending money on the GRE and to look for programs in Spain. I wasn’t ready to leave and to be honest, the idea of studying Spanish linguistics in Spain seemed quite appealing.
Why did you pick that particular program?
Before starting the application process, I talked to one my linguistics professors back in the States for advice. Seeing as he is from Spain, I figured he would know a lot about which universities would have international recognition if I wanted to apply for PhD programs in the US. He highly recommended to me the master’s programs that both the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) offered. He ensured me that both schools had strong programs with well-known professors. I listened to him and decided that those two schools would be my top choices. I was happy about that since both of them meant that I would be able to move to Madrid.
In the end, I was accepted to every school and my final decision was between the Autónoma and Complutense in Madrid. After another talk with my professor back in the States, he advised me to choose the Máster en Investigación en Lengua Española at the Complu since it was, in his opinion, more “theory-based” and he believed that the credits would be easier to transfer for US PhD programs.
What was the application process like?
When starting to apply for programs in Spain, I was overwhelmed since I knew I had to get many documents translated and legalized in Spain. Luckily, UCM has its own legalization process, which is fairly straightforward. You have to go on campus and get your translated Bachelor’s degree and transcript legalized through them before submitting the application. I applied in June and had a decision by July. There are three plazas to apply (all in the spring to start in the fall) and I decided to apply during the segunda plaza.
What language(s) were the classes in?
For obvious reasons, my Master’s program was all in Spanish. A C1 level was required to apply and I was able to fulfill this requirement since I had a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish. If that hadn’t been the case, I would have had to present an official exam certificate to prove my Spanish level.
I was the only foreigner in my program and at times, that was difficult. At first, it was hard to grasp every concept discussed in class, but I learned that I had to be direct and either raise my hand and ask the professor to re-explain a certain topic or to visit my professors during their office hours. Although I had studied in a Spanish university with Spaniards before this experience during my year abroad, it took me a while to adjust to discussing such abstract concepts – concepts that are difficult to grasp in my native language – in Spanish. After a few months, I definitely got into the swing of things!
How much was tuition? What about cost of living?
As a non-EU citizen, I had to pay about €5,000 ($6,200) in total. Most of my Spanish classmates were shocked that I was paying so much, but I reassured them that I was saving money since a Master’s degree in the States would have been much more expensive.
Living in Madrid costs about €850/month. This price includes food, rent, gym membership and cell phone plan. Madrid is expensive and I wish I could have worked maybe as an auxiliar throughout my studies; however, my program did not really give me much time to work since it required hours and hours of research and studying. I was able to tutor English for about 4-5 hours a week, but I was able to get by with savings that I had. Not an ideal situation, but the lower tuition costs means I have no student debt at the moment!
Would you recommend your program?
Yes, I would recommend it. However, I would only recommend it for those who plan on getting a PhD in Linguistics afterwards. Although the Master degree itself is very useful in other fields, such as translation, editing and writing, the faculty really push getting a PhD. I also wished I had realized how political the education system is in Spain, especially in the fields Spanish language and literature. Surprisingly, it is all about the connections you have if you are looking for a good scholarship or job.
Fortunately, I have found that having this degree works in my advantage, especially as the only non-native speaker in the program, since I have developed advanced skills in terms of linguistic analysis and understanding of the Spanish language.
What are you doing now?
Currently I am in the process of getting a freelance (autónomo) visa to work as a copywriter, translator and editor in Madrid and to use my language skills outside of the realm of education.
Any final words of wisdom or caution?
Overall, the experience was a rollercoaster. From feeling overwhelmed as the only non-native Spanish speaker to pushing myself to better understand the beauty of the Spanish language, I don’t regret a thing. My advice would be that everything will work out.
Whether it be writing a 100-page thesis in Spanish or analyzing syntactic trees, if you dedicate yourself to your studies, you’ll come out with a rewarding experience. Even though I am not currently pursuing a PhD, I do not regret getting my Master’s degree and I am very satisfied with the experience that I had and the opportunities it has provided me.
Thanks Kyler! If you would like to know more about this degree program or his experiences, you can find Kyler on LinkedIn.
If you have gone 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! Past contributors have included a Master’s in Business Administration and Industrial Psychology.