My year abroad has come to an end! A lot has happened in the last few months, but, seeing as I spent the year as a student, I thought I’d focus this post on the differences between my home university and my host university. In the UK, I study at the University of Southampton (UoS), and in Madrid, I was at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM). This is not intended to provide representations of Spanish and English universities in general, as I have been told that UCM is quite unique in some of the following aspects.


One thing that struck me at exam time was how laid back the exams were at UCM. After GCSEs, A-levels, and 2 years at UoS, I was used to exams in which pencil cases had to be transparent, water bottles mustn’t have labels attached, the exam was conducted in absolute silence with several invigilators, with one student at each single desk. In addition, mobile phones at UoS have to be switched off completely, displayed in a plastic bag on the desk, with your student ID. Bags and coats must be left in a corner of the room.

Not at UCM. No. At UCM, there were sometimes several of us cramped into one room, in what I reckon would be easy “working-together” distance. With only one member of staff in the room, sitting at her desk almost the whole time, it wouldn’t be difficult. We were permitted to have all our belongings by our feet, and toilet breaks were freely given, with no supervision. And you can forget about transparency of water bottles, pencil cases, etc. Compared to UCM, this makes UoS look extremely pedantic.


In Madrid in general, I’ve found smoking to be a lot more common than it is back home, and the use of the e-cigarette (used to help quit smoking) doesn’t seem to have taken off there the same way that they have here. UCM is no exception, to the extent that the students smoke in the corridors, both tobacco and, potentially, more questionable substances.  IN THE CORRIDORS. With no punishment by staff, in stark contrast to what I imagine would happen in Southampton if anyone dared to smoke indoors. Which wouldn’t happen, because manners.


It’s pretty rare at the UoS to see graffiti, and if it did appear, I’m sure it would be swiftly and efficiently removed. At the UCM, however, some students love to express their political views by publishing them in public spaces, which then tend to be left there. Here are some examples:

Palestina libre at Somosaguas.

Stats on tuition fee increase and call to strike.


In fact, the graffiti is a lot more marked at a certain campus, called Somosaguas. The Political Sciences and Sociology building is very exciting, with a certain corridor that sticks in my mind. The corridor, named (unofficially, potentially by my friend) “el pasillo sin leyes” (the no law corridor), is a scene of walls covered in graffiti, students smoking, skateboarding, playing with their dogs, and not a member of staff in sight. Sometimes I had to go to the library (just off this corridor) and could smell the smoke on me after this one trip.

This building is the epitome of what I have found to be a polar disparity in political ideologies at the UCM (now that was a wordy sentence!). Whilst at the UoS, I feel that there is a variety of political bents in every faculty; at the UCM, there are groupings. Social scientists and linguists are seen as more left wing, whilst lawyers and economists are placed much further right on the spectrum. Somosaguas has a strong reputation for being very politically active, and organising strikes, protests and lock-ins.


Finally, for a country with so much paperwork, I would have expected more different types of actual writing paper to be available. However, the good old refill pads of paper that are readily available in supermarkets, stationers’, book shops all over Southampton do not appear to exist in Madrid, a capital city. I may never understand why the students in Spain write on blank or squared paper (I’m talking about humanities students, just writing notes, nothing mathematical). After much searching both in small chino shops (corner shops) and in large department stores, the best I could find was a pile of lined paper bound together by some plastic. Of all the things I thought I might miss in Spain, paper was not expected!

Refill paper <3


University in Madrid: politics, relaxed exams and a lack of lined paper

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