I’m going to start off by saying that NoDak will always be #1 in my heart when it comes to university life. The campus (with its perfectly square layout, green courtyards, and unmistakably foul-smelling coulee), the facilities (including the timeless chalkboards of Witmer #mathlete), the faculty (shout out to Jan at Squires dining hall), the athletics (real tailgating begins when it’s 10 degrees outside), the Grand Forks scene (I could go for some Rhombus Guys or Red Pepper right now), and the community (nowhere compares to the down-to-earth attitude of the upper Midwest). I wouldn’t trade my college experience for anything and if you ask me to talk about it I probably won’t ever stop. So I’ll end this topic now before you get the chance to.
I had absolutely ZERO information about the University of Alcalá de Henares (aside from its Instituto Franklin and the Teach & Learn Master’s Programs) when I applied for their Master’s in Bilingual and Multicultural Education. And also zero information when I enrolled in this year-long commitment. And also also zero information when I stepped foot on campus for the first time during orientation week. I didn’t even attempt to google a single fact about UAH or Alcalá in the 8 months I had between discovering the program and arriving here…. WHO DOES THAT?! I feel a little ridiculous admitting that the answer is me, but it’s the truth. My priorities were more about the content of the Master’s curriculum, the practicum component, the opportunity to be in Spain, and the price tag. I wasn’t worried about the prestige of the name of the institution or how trendy its city was. I knew I wanted to live in the center of Madrid regardless. And from my experiences in undergrad, I know that opportunities are always there if you’re willing to take initiative, I know that it’s the relationships you establish that make the entire thing worthwhile, and I know that I prefer to surround myself with people who are rich in personality and humility, not social status and finances.
Probably would have been a good idea to do a little more research, but WOW did I get lucky! My practicum placement ended up being in Alcalá as well, which means that for 5 days a week my commute is a 40-minute train ride on the Cercanías plus 10 minutes of walking to/from the station on either end of the trip. I don’t mind it though, because the hour-long journey is not too much longer than what I was doing in Minneapolis last year and it gives me an ample amount of time to prepare for or wind down from work. Most importantly, the city of Alcalá is awesome and here are some of the things you should know about it:
- Alcalá is the birthplace of Miguel De Cervantes, author of Don Quixote and father of the modern novel.
Cervantes was baptized here in 1547. That fact is celebrated every year with a huge Cervantes Festival, complete with 16th century-style markets, jousting tournaments (RIP to my knight Arturo), and lots of street food. His masterpiece Don Quixote has been translated into more languages than any other book (besides the Bible) and every Spanish student in the history of forever knows his name. It’s stunning to think that someone so influential lived in the same city that you spend the majority of your days in. His historical significance isn’t something I’m used to experiencing in Minnesota which wasn’t founded until several hundred years after Cervantes’ death. We do have Prince and Target though, so that counts for something…?
- The University was started in 1293 (!!!) and has produced a significant number of note-worthy scholars.
It was officially founded in 1499 (still really freaking old) and has long been a well-respected university in Spain, which means a lot of significant people have attended. Some of the more notable students/teachers were Nebrija, Ignacio de Loyola, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, and me. UAH is also the host of the Cervantes Prize which honors the lifetime achievement of outstanding writers. Recipients have included Octavio Paz and Jorge Luis Borges. It feels unbelievable to be studying in facilities that have played an important role in the lives of so many significant scholars. Also worth noting is the fact that the King of Spain visits for the Cervantes Prize ceremony so I think I’ve finally found my way into royalty.
- Instituto Franklin is Spain’s only University Institute for Research on North America
Instituto Franklin, which is the entity within UAH that offers the Teach & Learn Master’s Programs, was founded in 1987. The institute’s mission statement is “to serve as a platform for communication, cooperation, and unison between Spain and North America, in order to promote mutual understanding.” (institutofranklin.net) They have postgraduate programs that focus on education and research related to American Studies and Bilingual Education. It feels a little weird to think about yourself (an American) as something to be studied and researched. Then I realize how naive that is since half of my education has been spent learning about Spanish language and culture. I find it really fascinating to think about how Spain and the US have so much potential to improve their education systems by learning from each other and the rest of the world. And I feel even more confident that I made the right decision by coming here to study.
- UAH has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sometimes as I’m walking through the streets in the center of Alcalá where my university campus is, I have to pause for a moment. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling you get when you suddenly realize how much history and art is infused in the structures that you absent-mindlessly pass or enter on a daily basis. Its buildings are beyond gorgeous and the architecture inspires daydreaming of centuries long gone. I feel indebted to the people who have helped me get here: those who have nurtured a sense of wonder, adventure, and empowerment. Studying here in this beautiful setting reminds me of how lucky I am to be living out this opportunity.
I am very happy with the location, size, and character of the town that hosts my University and cole, despite having done absolutely nothing to mentally prepare myself for it before arriving. (<- cole is short for colegio which means “school” and also means I’m really cool for knowing that. #streetcred) And now you and I both know a little more about where I spend a lot of my time every week!