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Studying Biology Abroad

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Arriving in Alicante, I honestly didn’t know what to expect as a biology student. Most people (smart people) try to avoid taking science classes abroad and focus on taking general electives instead, so I had little information to go off of when choosing biology classes to take at the University of Alicante. Now that I’ve been studying abroad here for over a month, and have experienced theory classes, seminars, lab classes and exams, I’m ready to give some much-needed advice on studying biology abroad.

Firstly, and this applies to all majors: the grading system in Spain is different from the standard letter grading of the US. Spanish courses are graded on a scale from 1-10 and anything above a 5 is considered passing. You can get as low as a 4 on the final and pass the class, as long as your overall grade is still a 5 or higher, and unlike the US, you have two chances to take the final exam! The tests here are also graded differently. Most tests at Alicante are multiple choice and graded out of 10, and most importantly, if you don’t know a question, it’s actually better to leave it blank than to guess. If you guess incorrectly, each question wrong is .25 points off of your test, and if you get four wrong, it’s equivalent to a correct question being marked wrong. Since the test is graded out of 10, this can add up pretty quick, so even though it feels wrong to leave a question blank, it’s actually the better option.

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Another significant difference for science majors here in Alicante compared to the US is the scheduling of classes. In the US, typical science classes are on scheduled days and times. Here, my science classes are on varied days and varied times each week. This makes it hard to schedule other classes, and my classes overlap once in a while. If this happens, talk to your professor beforehand and workout a solution. Most of the professors here are super accommodating and okay with making up work outside of class, but it is a bit of a pain. Having such a varied schedule is annoying, but it does have perks. While some days are packed with classes and overlapping times, I do have random days of no class that I use to catch up on work or travel.

Lastly, science classes have labs included in the class instead of taking labs separately like you might in the United States. I’ve found the labs to be similar to labs I’ve taken at home, but one difference is that in Alicante lab coats are required (and sometimes lab goggles as well). These can be found in professional clothing stores in Alicante, or of course, on Amazon.

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As a biology student, despite the weird class schedules, the University of Alicante is a great place to be. The campus is stunning, with plenty of green space to rest between classes, the professors are passionate and helpful, the cafeteria food is cheap and (usually) delicious, and my favorite part: wild cats roam around campus, and are a great distraction from studying biology.

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Cynthia Talamo is the Spring 2022 CEA MOJO Blogger in Alicante, Spain, and is currently studying at Virginia Ploytechnic Institute and State University.
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