Language and Learning: A Semester at ETSAM

The Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid (ETSAM) is one of Spain’s leading architecture schools, equipped with cutting-edge technology and lectures tailored specifically to the needs of architecture students. Carleton University student David Anderson recently took part in an ACCENT-sponsored program where he attended ETSAM, gaining not just knowledge for his future career, but also a whole new level of language proficiency and immersion. David was happy to sit down for an interview with ACCENT staff and discuss his academic and cultural experiences in Spain.

ACCENT’s program with Carleton University in Canada is our first partnership with a school outside of the United States.

What were your initial thoughts when you first arrived in Madrid?
I was excited and looking forward to getting settled in. It was on the nicer end of what I was expecting, in terms of how the city is organized and how easy it is to get around.

What has it been like studying at a local university like ETSAM (La Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid)?
It was awesome, having direct contact with the students and the teachers. It’s always nicer when you get to be fully immersed in the environment where your program is taught, so we had access to the lectures, events, and the facilities that they have. For example, I had access to the laser cutter and the 3D printer. It’s also nice just to be where other students are all the time. You see how they work, where they work, and you have to learn a bit of Spanish to get around, but it’s nice.

The school of architecture alone has close to 5,000 students. It’s one of the biggest architecture schools in Spain and because of that the facilities are so much bigger and nicer and much more adapted for architecture. I think in terms of architecture, Europe is just a bit ahead of the game versus North America.

In what ways does Spanish culture differ from your home culture?
A lot of ways. I think the main thing is just the schedules, like the way people live, where you wake up, have breakfast, and then you have a snack around 11:00 or 12:00 and then eat a giant meal at 3:00pm, like these huge portions and then you don’t eat again until 9:00 or 10:00pm so that was very different. And in terms of when do you work, when do you not work; we’re just used to lunch at 12:00 and dinner at 6:00, and that’s pretty much it. Apart from that, the life outside of the house is another big one. I know back home, because of snow and stuff in the winter it’s just awful, but even in the summer, people aren’t outside all of the time. In Madrid, it’s super nice to see— during the weekend especially— the streets full of people everywhere. I enjoyed it a lot.

I know you participated in our language exchange (intercambio) and also had a language exchange partner. What motivated you to do that?
I attended a few Spanish lessons, and I lived with a family in Peru for a month when I was 18, but I’ve forgotten a lot. I haven’t spoken Spanish since then at all so I thought if I just get back into it and get to speak with someone, I should be able to remember what I’d learned and it was actually really helpful. I was lucky because my level of Spanish was probably the equivalent of my language partner’s level of English so if I didn’t know how to say something in Spanish I could try in English and he could usually translate and then he would try in English but if he couldn’t do it, he’d go into Spanish and I would translate so we’d meet in the middle.

Do you have any other tips for overcoming the language barrier?
Speak with people who don’t speak your native language, and just give it a try. I know a lot of people get a bit self-conscious, but I think people usually appreciate it when you try. I hope they do because that’s what I’ve been doing. And don’t be scared to just ask, “How do you say this?” I just always point to things and ask, “¿Cómo se dice?” That’s probably the sentence I’ve said the most times because I just want to know. Even if they speak English, I’ll ask them how to say it in Spanish. Just try to get out there. And because we’re at a university, it’s also good if you can meet other university students.

~ David Anderson, Carleton University Spring 2018, ACCENT Madrid

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