Studying at Comillas

Hi! My name’s Tess, I study French and Spanish here at Surrey, and I’m currently on my placement year! Studying two languages means I have to split my year 50:50 between two countries where my languages are spoken, and this post will be all about the semester I spent studying at the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas in Madrid, Spain.

Most people on my course are undertaking work placements for the whole year, but after chatting to some of the final year students in my department, I decided that I wanted to split my year between working and studying, and I knew I wanted to study in Spain – work placements in Spain tend to be un- or low-paid, and so I decided that if I was going to study, it might as well be where I wasn’t going to get paid in the first place! Then I had to choose my university, which was easy. I love cities, and I knew I wanted to live in Madrid if I had the chance. It just so happened that Comillas is the only Erasmus partner Surrey has in Madrid, so that made it very straightforward!

Comillas Cantoblanco campus

Comillas is very different to Surrey. For one thing, it’s private, which means that the Spanish students studying there are paying a LOT of money to study there. Secondly, it’s Catholic: the “Pontificia” in its name means “Pontifical”, meaning it’s funded and owned by the Vatican. This means a few things. On an administrative level, it means that all Philosophy and Theology courses have to be Church-approved. There is also a seminary attached to the university, where clergymen are trained. On an everyday level, as a student, it meant that there were a lot more crucifixes and nativity scenes than I was used to, that there were often nuns, monks, and priests walking the hallways, and that many of my Spanish classmates came from Catholic families. Another thing I found unusual was that my classes were all on a small, suburban campus, 30 minutes’ train ride from the city centre. On the plus side, it meant I got to see some beautiful mountains on my way to class every single day! However, the fact that my campus (the Cantoblanco campus) was so small, being home to just one faculty, made it feel a lot more like secondary school than university!

Sunrise over the mountains by the university train station – some classes starting at 8:30am meant I got some fabulous views!

While studying there, I was lucky to have a very wide choice of subjects: I could study anything in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, or any of the international-student-specific classes, so long as they were taught in Spanish, and didn’t have any prerequisites. As a result, I took the opportunity to study things I wouldn’t be able to study at home. I took three specialised English-Spanish translation classes, to ensure that I was still studying some things that were relevant to my degree. I also studied Modern Philosophy, History of Psychology, and Spanish Cinema, which were all taught in Spanish, and an Introduction to Theology class, which was my only subject that was taught in English. It’s also worth noting that I had to do a lot of classes to fill my credits! I had to take 30 ECTS, which is the same as we do per semester at Surrey, but as each class was worth fewer credits (usually 3-6) I had to take seven classes to make up my 30 credits. It sounds like a lot, and, honestly, it was. But I found the majority of my classes really interesting, so I didn’t mind! I had an amazing chance to study the things that I was interested in, regardless of my degree, and either satisfy that interest, or realise that subject wasn’t for me.

After my last exam!

Something I loved about studying at Comillas was the fact that there were so many other international students there. I met people from Dublin, Melbourne, Austin, Washington D.C., Mexico City, San Francisco, and Sydney, all doing a semester or a year in Madrid. I also got to make friends with some of the Spanish students in my translation and psychology classes, although it was definitely hard at first. It’s tricky enough to break into an already-close group of people as it is, let alone when their first language is your third! But we muddled through, and most of my classmates were really generous with letting me try, and with helping me if I got lost in class.

One thing I found somewhat strange about Comillas was that it didn’t seem to have an established students’ union. I don’t know if it was because it’s a private university, or because that’s just how things are in Spain, but that meant that there weren’t very many opportunities to engage in extra-curricular things that were actually part of the university. This also contributed to the difficulty in getting to know the Spanish students, and it meant I had to look elsewhere for social spaces – but that’s something I’ll get into in my next post all about living in Madrid!

Thank you for reading, and I’ll try and have my “Living in Madrid” post up soon!

Tess