Monday, 23 May 2016

Universidad de Ibagué


Last thursday I had my last day of university here in Ibagué (and maybe even my last day of university ever). So I would like to tell how studying here was like. First, I only took two classes, so one could say I had it pretty easy. But then, everything was in spanish so it took me way more time, especially the first month, to read all the material, prepare for classes (and without preparation I was lost), do the tasks, prepare the presentations and study for the exams.

The grading system is quite different from here. The grades go from 0 to 5, almost like in Austria, but here 5 is the best you can achieve, and also, while you need 50 % to pass in Austria and achieve a grade better than 5, in Colombia the grades are more like points to gain. So if you don't do your task, you get 0. If you do it, but not that well, you get 2,5. And if you do it very well, you get 5. In the end, you need at least 3 to pass the class, therefore 60 %.

The class is seperated in three mostly egual parts of the semester. At the end of each part they tell you your current grade for these part so you know what you need for the following part to pass the class. Like I said, I took two classes and the grading was also different in those two classes. In the first one, there were no exams, just tasks to do in class as well as homework and two presentations. At the end of each part there was an autoevaluation where you could grade yourself as well (which made up 15  % of the final grade).

The other class did have exams, there was an exam with the value of 25 % at the end of each part with questions of the content we learned in those weeks, and the last one had questions from all the semesters. The exams were multiple-joice, so no need to write something, just making your x on the one answer that is right. And, what I thought to be really strange: The questions as well as the answers used exactly the same words as in the texts we had to study. Good for me - I don't think I would have understood the questions if they used different phrases to make it more difficult. But strange for me nevertheless.

The other 10 respectly 5 percent each part were achieved by doing cases in class and preparing presentations. That quite annoyed me. In Austria, we have this one exam in the end that decides your grade. In most classes you don't need to do anything before. Maybe you have do to an additional task like write a paper or do a presentation. But that's it. No cases every class, no two presentations, three exams and two additional quizzes. I guess it's better for the students to always do small pieces of work instead of one huge pile of work once and it makes class easier to pass. But it took me some time to adapt to "there's always something to do for each class".

The professors of my courses were all really nice and helpful, I even got the number of one of them so I could contact him if I had questions, and when I didn't understand, they translated what they said for me to english. The students here do know english, they even told me they have classes in english. But nobody is pretty eager to talk in english and it seems their english classes are more like "the texts are in english, but you can speak spanish in class as well". So, I guess right now my spanish is better than the english of most of them.

Also, what I noticed right away is that all the students tend to dress quite nice for every class. Almost all guys wear button-down shirts or polo shirts, and blouses, dresses and even high-heels are not incommon for girls. I guess that's because it is a private university - at the University of Tolima, same city but public university, punks were a quite common sight. Also, students here are quite young. They are allowed to enter university at 16 and, because it's private, tend to finish it as soon as possible. I met noone my age (except for the other exchange students), which I definitely wasn't used to.

What surprised me was the punctuality. Yes, I knew they wouldn't be as punctual as in an university in Austria. But still, it's not normal to arrive half an hour late to class. And it's quite strange that class finishes an hour early just because.. well most of the time I have no idea why we finished so early. I guess they just didn't want to continue anymore.

And then there were the group works. It was not that bad everytime - but I do remember this one time when we were told to prepare a presentation but noone of our group had time so we ended up meeting 2 hours before class started, therefore almost no preparation time at all, everybody showed up half an hour late and when we at last had some slides half an hour before start of classes, they started discussing if we shouldn't change the whole presentation because another concept would be better. I am not a stressed person, but this quite freaked me out - I had no idea what to present (in spanish!) and saw myself standing infront of the class reading the text on the slides and even then making mistakes because it's the first time I ever see that slide. Fortunately, we didn't have our presentations until three weeks later because after one presentation class finished and we could all go home. I guess I will miss that back in Austria - I got quite used to it until now.

I got to write for a newsletter of the Unibague, you can read it >here<.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

San Andrés

San Andrés is an island in the caribbean sea closer to the coast of Nicaragua than Colombia, but is still part of Colombia. When I read about it, I didn't think about going there, because well how special could it be? It's just an island in the middle of nowhere. Sure, the beaches are probably nice, but I have already been on the caribbean coast of Mexico and I actually don't really like beaches because of the sand everywhere. So when I was asked if I want to join, I hesitated at first. But when it turned out almost all of us exchange students are going, I knew there was no way I would miss it.

 And I am really glad I decided so! To tell truth, it impressed me so much I am already thinking about which small island I could visit next. It is totally different being on a small island than being on a typical tourist destination crowded with people. I never in my life saw so many fishes, from as big as one finger to as big as both my hands combined. And in all of the colours and patterns possible. I even saw crabs on the ground, the biggest was as big as my hand. I quickly learned how to dive without alarming all these animals to hide - but they also seemed quite used to having some people swimming here.

It reminded me a little of the islands of Greece but way more beautiful. It's like here you can see the sealife that's already dead in the Mediterranean Sea. There were even what seemed to be "sea-flowers" in different colours (yellow, green, purple) and sea grapes. We were told the sea grapes are edible and they eat them in Europe, but I never heard of them before. They are really small and green, smaller than peas.

The people living in San Andres are mainly black and speak a language that's called "creole" and sounds a little bit like a mixture of english and spanish, but not than close I could understand anything. But most of the people speak both english and spanish anyway. And I soon found out that white people (like me) are really rare here and so everybody asked me where I am from and so on. But, fortunately, after I managed to get the worst sunburn I had in years, now they can't call me white anymore. I was already told, as long as I don't open my mouth I seem to be a latina.

But, because almost all of them were black, it was obvious we were not from here. And so, on our first day two officers wanted to profit from that. To get from one point to another on the island we decided to rent a golf car for all of us, they said it's fine and normal if all eight of us sit in the same car (I saw mopeds with four people on them so I thought as well it's fine). So the eight of us drove around all day on the island, and when we didn't know where to go we asked the police officers, because there were actually quite many of them all over the island. They were all really nice and helpful and told us the way. And at night, when driving home, suddenly the police showed up behind us and told us we are too many for the car. And they wanted to see the licence of our driver and even said they would take him to the police station. Then they decided a fine would be enough and we had to pay. And in the end suddenly it was okay that all of us drive home in the same car the same way we drove all day. So because we already paid for it, it's suddenly no problem? And why wasn't it a problem for the other police officers we encountered the whole day? Some might think we didn't really do anything wrong.

The sea was so warm, I always felt like it's the same temperature than outside. Which was fine on the first days because I had to make up for the missing warm water at my home in Ibagué. But still, a little colder would have been nice. But, this also ment we could go swimming in the night and it wasn't cold at all. And there was even a disco almost next to the beach that had the smokers balcony on the seaside with a small runway bridge to enjoy the night. All in all, it was really really beautiful and a new experience. And now I also know why everbody says the sea is more beautiful far from the mainland. If I could, I would go back at once.