Miguel Fernández Porras
University of Córdoba, Spain
Though Miguel Fernández Porras, a native of Córdoba, Spain, and an avid fan of table tennis, has traveled the world and gained proficiency in three languages, he is currently encountering entirely new territory: a women's college. Those who might wonder how a male student could be admitted to Smith should know that though the college educates mostly undergraduate students, it also offers graduate programs, in American studies, teaching, exercise and sport studies, as well as the School for Social Work - all open to male students. Miguel is enrolled in Smith's American Studies Diploma program, which invites students here from other countries for a year. Miguel is no stranger to studying abroad. He spent a year away from the University of Córdoba to study in Anger, France, in 2007, and recently spent time in Asia. He went from majoring in translation studies to teaching Spanish to Chinese students in Rizhao, Shadong, China. Miguel describes France as "quite different" from Spain, but didn't have as much of a "culturally shocking experience" as he did in China. In Rizhao, a small, remote city visited by few foreigners, "people on the streets would ask for our signatures," says Miguel, or "invite us to have drinks." This is also not the first time Miguel has been in the United States. After graduating from University of Córdoba, Miguel and some of his classmates took a celebratory trip to America, visiting cities like Washington D.C., Boston, and New York City. Miguel finds the United States similar to Europe in its diversity. "The states are like a lot of distinct nations and you can't really compare Massachusetts to Texas or California or even Northampton to Boston because they are so different." However, he says, there is a major difference between the university systems of the United States and Europe. For one thing, "school is so expensive here," says Miguel. "The cost of a private university in Spain, generally, isn't even as much as public school here." Miguel was also surprised by the differences in the format of classes. Most classes are lectures in Spain, but here "you are more involved and have to work on a daily basis." There isn't as much pride associated with universities in Spain either, he says. "Here you have this community and you feel so attached to your university. You feel so proud (and) you buy the sweatshirt that says 'Smith College.' In Spain, people would laugh at you. Only Americans buy the t-shirts," he laughs, even while wearing a Smith College t-shirt of his own. Miguel learned about Smith his university, where he was a Spanish conversational partner with several Smith exchange students in the PRESHCO program. At Smith, he is studying Chinese, Chinese-American relations, and his required American society and culture class, in addition to tutoring Spanish in his spare time. The only downside to being a gender minority at Smith is the housing situation, he says. "I live in an apartment (because) I am a guy and we are not allowed to stay in houses," Miguel says, envious of his fellow (female) American Studies grad students who live in picturesque on-campus houses. Next year, Miguel plans to apply to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, graduate program, possibly focusing on film studies. First, he must decide on his thesis research focus—either relations between the United States and China, or the depiction of Hispanics in film. Miguel offers this advice to Smith students considering studying abroad: "Studying abroad is not all about studying. The best part about it is discovering new people, new culture, different tastes, and different ways of seeing things. Try to immerse yourself in the culture and learn something new… And fall in love, the best tip is to fall in love!"
By Kaitlin Burns '15, Global STRIDE Fellow
As part of the Global STRIDE fellowship, the fellows interviewed and profiled international students in the college's graduate program in American Studies, to help familiarize them with people who have made cultural transitions.