In this blog post I want to talk about Nebrija. I am taking classes in the Estudios Hispánicos program at Universidad Antonio de Nebrija. The school has two campuses, but I go to the one that is conveniently located near my apartment, just a thirty minute walk away. Part of the walk entails going down this long street lined by all these cool looking trees one might expect to find in Africa. These trees actually make up this huge park that I have yet to explore.
I have to get up for 8:30 AM classes two days a week, and, while this is a struggle at times, especially in Spain when you’re going to bed much later than you would in American thanks to the Spanish schedule, occasionally there will be beautiful purple skies greeting me when I arrive at school.
The university is situated on a hill, so if you look out any window you can see Madrid laid out before you and the mountains sprawled out in the distance. And when the sunrise creates violet and peach reflections of light, the sights outside can be truly breathtaking and make getting up so early completely worth it.
However, it’s not just the location of the university that makes it unique. Nebrija also contains a staff of extremely eccentric Spanish professors, and their antics are what make my days of studying Spanish grammar and culture very interesting and eventful.
During the month of January, I took four weeks of intensive general grammar and culture classes. My favorite professor during this time was my history and culture teacher. She was an older middle-aged woman, and she reminded me a bit of my host mom from Granada. This woman was always joking around, and her eyes and face were extremely expressive. Indeed, as with some Spanish women, she was very dramatic. For example, one day I came into class and I was taking off my coat, underneath which I had a black cardigan and a tank top on. However, one of the cardigan’s sleeves had fallen down as I took off my coat, so it appeared as though I was only wearing the tank top. In America seeing someone wearing only a tank top in the middle of winter might be a little odd, but, for many Spaniards, wearing no sleeves in the middle of winter is basically the equivalent of someone running around naked in the middle of a snowstorm for Americans. Indeed, my host mom had the notion that people get colds from being in the cold, so if I ever went around with a light jacket on or without a scarf on a 45-degree day (cold for many Spaniards), my host mom acted as though I was endangering my health and safety. So, upon seeing my bare shoulder, my culture professor’s eyes began to bulge out and her mouth dropped open in terror. Taken aback by her penetrating gaze, I pulled up my cardigan’s sleeve. Seeing this, she dramatically wiped at her forehead, sighed out in relief, and said “qué susto me dio!” (“What a fright that gave me!”). It took me a minute to realize what had just occurred.
Suffice to say that she is a very comical woman and, typical with Spaniards, is not afraid to tread on any issue that might be deemed inappropriate or politically incorrect in America. Indeed, one day we somehow managed to get on the topic of race, and she was trying to explain to us the Spanish mindset regarding what to call people of other races or colors: “Spaniards don’t find it offensive to call black people black… negro es negro, blanco es blanco, y Obama es café con leche” (black is black, white is white, and Obama is coffee with milk). The whole room burst out laughing at this, and I loved this moment because of how well it illustrates many Spaniards’ disregard for being politically correct. I have yet to decide whether I find this refreshing or offensive, but I think most of the time it is mainly just amusing.
Another one of my professors during this intensive month was just as much a character. He was my grammar teacher, and he was very smartly dressed every single day. He wore pinstriped suits, black, square-framed glasses, and he had his hair slicked back with gel. In short, he looked like he had walked out of the ’70s. In addition, he spoke extremely clearly, elongating every vowel and rolling his tongue over each consonant. For example, when he would tell us to turn to page 52, he would say, “a la página cincuenta y dos, cinco-dos, cin-CUEN-ta y DOS” (go to page fifty-two, five-two, FIF-ty-TWO) as if he was the announcer of some game show and we were the contestants. Then, as we would be scribbling away, attempting to finish the exercises on page fifty-two before he deemed it was time to correct them, he would walk around the rows of desks, back straight as a rod and hands clasped behind his back. I felt like I was at some elite private school in the ’70s and if one of us was caught Whatsapp-ing he would beat us with a ruler. While he never beat us, if any of us were chatting on Whatsapp and he saw us, he would stare us down with those giant, penetrating dark brown eyes, and suffice to say that would be enough to stop us from repeating our error. One day in his class, I absentmindedly stretched my arms back since I had been sitting at my desk for three classes in a row, forgetting that stretching or yawing ostentatiously is a big no-no in Spain. Needless to say, I received one of his famous stares and I did not stretch in his class again.
He also had pet names for students. For example, one of the Chinese girls in the class who always complained about how she missed the food at home was called “comida china” (Chinese food). A bright Brazilian student who always seemed to know the answers and spoke very good Spanish was called Wikipedia. And I was called Olivia Newton-John. Why? Well, just because my name is Olivia.
One of my professors during this current semester also had a fascination with my name. He is my teacher for my Spanish current events class, and he is probably one of the nicest Spaniards ever and by far my favorite teacher. Whenever a student gets a question right in his class, he gives them a high-five. And often times he will stop in the middle of a lecture to ask if we have any “preguntas, dudas, comentarios o chistes?” (questions, doubts, comments or jokes?). He is adorable.
So on the first day of class he asked me what my name is and I answered Olivia. He then raved about what a beautiful name that is. When he found me on the roster and saw that my name was Olivia Marple, he started raving about what an interesting name that was and how it sounded as if it should belong to a famous person. I have actually received that compliment before about the uniqueness of my full name, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign about my future career prospects.
Another character is my current grammar teacher. She has this dark brown puff of crazy curly hair and she always wears this thin line of light blue eyeliner on her lower lids. She’s short and plump and has a devious smile eternally plastered on her face. Often times if we are doing exercises in class and we are only reading what we see in the book and not really thinking about the material she will ask, “Sois humanos o robots?” (Are you humans or robots?). Almost every single day at the beginning of class she will ask us, “Queréis trabajar o no?” (Do you want to work or no?) with her mischievous grin, and if someone answers sí, she responds, “pues a otra clase” (well go to another class then).
Indeed, I could probably go on and on about the eccentricities of my professors but for now this highlights my experience being a student at Antonio de Nebrija.