Hello all! I'm John Fernow, a senior Computer Science student studying in Valparaíso, Chile through CIEE's Liberal Arts program. Today, I'm going to talk about my classes at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (UAI).
At UAI, I take three Computer Science classes: Databases, Computer Networks, and Professional Programming. All three of them are taught in Spanish. I felt pretty confident in my Spanish prior to coming to Chile, but I can't deny I was nervous my first day of class, something I hadn't previously anticipated. I am the only foreigner in all of my classes there, which is truthfully what I wanted for the sake of immersion and improving my Spanish, but I can't deny it did make me feel uncomfortable at first. It seemed everyone already knew each other and had their own friend groups. Fortunately, though, some students were really nice and would talk to me between classes and share funny stories. I started to feel more comfortable conversing with the students. As classes progressed, we started getting put into groups for projects, and this was the single-handed best improvement to my social life on campus. It forced me to converse with my classmates, and fortunately my partners were really friendly, funny and helpful. There were definitely in-person moments where I couldn't understand the jokes, but fortunately in the group chat they found it fun to explain some of the humor.
I struggled more than expected to understand the professors at first. I don't mind if someone talks quickly, but when consonants or vowels are dropped from a word, I really struggle to understand it. When there's not clear separation between words or strong enough inflection, I struggle just as bad. However, after a few classes, I started to be able to understand them without too many problems. Yet, I have noticed the extreme importance of getting enough sleep. I can go to a class with six hours of sleep and get a little out of it if it's spoken in English, but I'm helpless when it's in Spanish. I never become unable to speak Spanish, but listening to someone speaking full speed about complex topics becomes unmanageable. I can kind of doze off and not be completely lost in English, but listening in Spanish requires one-hundred percent of my attention: I can't daydream or think about something else for a moment without getting completely lost. So getting enough sleep, exercise, and making a conscious effort to focus are essential for preparing for class.
However, truthfully the fact the classes are in Spanish is not the hardest part of any of them. Sure, it does add a challenge — they'd be easier for me in English: I can't read the books, notes or other materials in Spanish nearly as fast as I can in English. I understand about 97% of what the professor says (on a language basis, not deep comprehension), but while that sounds high, it means about every hundred words I don't understand something. Probably not a big deal if it's an adjective or adverb, but if it's a noun, or especially if it's a verb, I'm almost certainly not going to understand the sentence, which means I become lost due to not having the context needed to fully comprehend subsequent sentences. But despite this, the Computer Science concepts themselves, prove significantly more difficult than any language complications. Databases and Professional Programming have overall gone rather well for me, but Computer Networking has proved very difficult. Truthfully, though, I doubt my grade would be much better if it were taught in English. Understanding the underlying architecture and algorithms are far more challenging to me than the fact it's taught in a foreign language.
I'd be lying if I said that taking such a difficult class hasn't given me stress: it has—a lot. There's no getting around I'd have significantly more free time if I weren't taking it: I'd have numerous hours more available to me that I could spend relaxing or doing pretty much whatever I want. However, I do not regret giving myself such a hard schedule. I came to Chile to spend time with Chileans, and taking classes at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez has been one of the best ways I have experienced that. I've learned a lot from both the professors and students. It has been the single best aid in not only improving my ability to understand spoken-Spanish, but also understanding how life is for Chileans my age (I understand it's not in anyway a complete picture, it wouldn't be in any country). Also important, I have learned a lot in the field of Computer Science, my major.
Nothing has given me more stress this semester than my classes at UAI, but also nothing has taught me nearly as much. The stress is temporary, but my memories of the time I've spent with my classmates will never fade. They've made a lot of great jokes, have been really, and are without a doubt one of the biggest highlights of my experience here in Chile.
So do I recommend taking several upper-level science courses in a foreign-language? Eh, that's going to depend person-to-person. Some would find it miserable, while others would enjoy the challenge. Though if you have a pretty great grip on the language and normally take classes like that, I'd say you should certainly consider it. As difficult as this has been for me, it's definitely not the hardest semester I've had in college (though probably the second hardest academic wise, third hardest when factoring life events that impacted a different one.) However, if you plan on doing a lot of extra-curricular activities, maybe not. I do cross training at UAI, but I don't have any non-academic based activity that has mandatory attendance. These classes have taken a ton of time for me, but for me it has been worth it. Hope this has been helpful, and enjoy your future trip abroad!