Discover Spain - study while you're at it
Have you ever wanted to study abroad? Maybe you were thinking about it, but had second thoughts or maybe you wanted some more information before plunging yourself into another culture for four months?
Well, hopefully this inside look can either make or break your decision to stick around NU another semester or discover the world.
St. John's: Discover the World
One of the many programs offered to Niagara University students is Discover the World, which is organized by the Vincentian St. John's University in Queens, NY.
This program, like many others, gives NU students the opportunity to live and go to school in another country for a semester and receive credits for their work.
Discover the World has campuses in Salamanca, Spain, Paris, and Rome. All classes are taught by English speaking instructors. Classes are either offered in the classroom or online in each city. Students move to another campus every five weeks until they have completed 15 weeks abroad.
In Salamanca, students live in the international Residencia Helmantica. There are both single and double rooms offered, each with private bathrooms. Students are responsible for cleaning and maintaining their bathrooms. Only toilet paper and towels are supplied.
Aside from the basics, some rooms have additional features.
Dorm life is pretty much the same here, although I do have a balcony off my bedroom! says NU sophomore Hannah Owczarczak.
The residence has four floors. Helmantica is set up like a family, says Fernando Garcia, assistant director for Discover the World. It's not very big, so everyone knows each other.
Although the physical setup is somewhat similar to NU's dorms, things run a bit differently. Not only do NU and St. Johns students live in Helmantica, but Spanish students and international students do as well.
Floors are co-ed and there are no RAs. Security consists of a front desk with one employee present during the day and one security guard at night.
The packaged meal plan for Helmantica includes breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week. Each meal typically includes bread, French fries, fruit (usually apples and oranges), vegetables and meats in addition to other (typically fried) foods. Options are available for vegetarian students and there are no desserts offered.
The food quality isn't the best, he says. He explains that the residence can't provide better food because everything is made in bulk.
Food in Spain is different from food in the United States, says Student Affairs Coordinator G. Elena Hardy. She also mentions that American students have to make an adjustment to their meal times. For example, dinner is served at 9 p.m.
Additional Tips for the Dorms
Like the dorms at NU, Helmantica offers additional resources to students. These include two TV rooms, a gym, a microwave, a washer and a dryer.
St. Johns also has an office in Helmantica where Garcia and Hardy are present from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hardy is the primary contact for students. She can answer any questions about the dorms, classes, traveling, etc.
The office has five computers, which are available to all students in the St. John's program. There is one printer to use to print out travel tickets or any other small documents. School notes or longer documents must be printed out and paid for in a printing office on campus or in the city.
Students attend the University of Salamanca and take classes on campus, but only have classes with other members of the St. John's program.
Classes offered in Salamanca include ethics, Spanish I, and language and culture of Spain.
Spanish I is an introductory Spanish class. All students with varying levels of Spanish knowledge are welcome to take this class, including those who have no knowledge of the subject.
In addition to his administrative duties, Garcia teaches the language and culture of Spain course.
Students learn about basic Spanish grammar as well as the history of Spain's language, people and art. The course also highlights Spain's current society and culture.
You can't understand the people unless you know where they're coming from, says Garcia.
Ethics is taught by instructor Andrei Moldovan, who works to accommodate American students.
I use many examples taken from the social and cultural life of the US. ¦ But some of the examples are international, and some mental experiments that we discuss in class are adequate for any students of ethics to think about, no matter where the course is taught, says Moldovan.
The course revolves around learning related concepts and partaking in discussion.
I am always very happy to see students engaging in debates over the issues presented. That is what the student should be prepared for when choosing this course, says Moldovan. Students should come to class expecting to be asked to form an opinion about the complex social and moral problems discussed. And most importantly, they will be faced with the task of coming up with reasons to back up their positions.
Besides the in-class experience, students in language and culture and ethics are required to keep up their Vincentian spirit and do six hours of service learning. Each week, students help at a site, whether it be the YMCA or a school. At the end of their service they do a presentation on how their experience related to their class.
The academic service learning activity is something students are a little worried about in the beginning, says Moldovan. But that is only because sometimes it takes more time to adapt to living in a new city and having to interact with people that speak little or no English. But in the end they all coincide on the conclusion that it is a very enriching and enjoyable experience.
The people here are mostly very understanding of the language barrier, says NU sophomore Sarah LeFevre. They really appreciate you attempting to communicate with them to the best of your ability.
St. John's offers activities and trips for students in the program. Some of these include a professionally guided tour of Salamanca, a day trip to Madrid, dancing lessons and museum trips.
Some Wise Words
Hardy's advice for NU students who plan on studying abroad is to come to Europe with energy; willing to learn; to expect different cultures, people and life style; and also expect to have fun!
LeFevre says, My advice is to really consider it. Put your fears and nerves aside, and just do it for yourself.
More information can be found by contacting Study Abroad Coordinator Bernadette Brennen at firstname.lastname@example.org.