Expectations vs. Reality: Culture Shock in Salamanca

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Before arriving in Salamanca for the semester, I had a lot of ideas and expectations for what life was going to be like in Spain.

After being home for a significantly longer period of time than usual after winter break, I got into a very custom routine and suddenly wasn’t keen on the idea of having to drop that and get on board with a new schedule in Spain. I had heard a lot about how the Spanish culture is very relaxed and people lack the urgency that Americans constantly have. The diet seemed a bit more rich than I’m used to, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit in my workout regimen. Needless to say, me being anxious about the experience was an understatement.

I spent so much time being anxious about how anxious I would be facing the new challenges living in Spain. I thought for sure I was going to panic on the plane to Madrid about the distance from home and everything I was leaving behind. Despite wanting to stick to my American mindset and time schedule, I knew I had to meet somewhere in the middle. Coming to Spain to learn Spanish and truly immerse yourself in the culture takes letting go of your home culture’s mindset.

Más largo que un día sin pan.

The food in Spain is as I expected it to be: lots of little tapas, wine, and bread. After being here for about two weeks, I believe I am 90% made up of bread now. There is always a piece of bread served with every meal, even if what you are eating is served on bread. Nonetheless, its incredibly inexpensive and super delicious here. Going out for breakfast for a piece of bread and café con leche will cost you only about 1.80 Euro. It’s hard to go a day without my midmorning café and pastry, or as a Spaniard would say, as long as a day without bread. There is a lot of seafood here in Salamanca but I’m not a huge fan so I stick to the local ham. The Spanish eat more frequently than Americans do, but portions and plates are much smaller. Living in an apartment, not a homestay, has made this easier to get accustomed to. We live above a fruit stand and a grocery store so we are constantly buying fresh fruit and other ingredients. This way I’m able to still eat similarly to the way I did at home while still going out for tapas and lunch.

Figuring out when and where to go on runs and exercise has been quite the task in Spain. I knew that I didn’t want to join a gym during my semester in Salamanca because I didn’t want to spend my time cooped up indoors, so outdoor runs it was. However, figuring out the time when to run is tricky. Rarely anyone wakes up before 8 AM here, so going on a run at 7 AM would be very odd. The only people out at that hour seem to be on their way home from the clubs and bars — a wild concept to most Americans. My roommate and I figured out we can go on a run during mid-day at about 2 PM — this was the time we’d get started at the least amount by strangers. Running is a great way to see the city on foot and explore new neighborhoods. Pro-tip: Don’t wear shorts — it’s not customary in the Spanish culture to do so.

Doing laundry here was another obstacle that we had to face, as there are rarely dryers in Spain. We didn’t want to be those Americans who came to Spain and demanded that we go to the laundromat to dry our clothes. However, we realized that if we left our clothes on the line outside, there would be a chance they would smell like the scents from outdoors. We met somewhere in the middle by buying a drying rack from the local mall, El Corte Ingles. Drying all of your laundry does take about at least 48 hours, so we have to do it with plenty of time to spare.

There are so many things about the Spanish culture that we are slowly but surely learning about. Coming here to learn the language means being a part of the culture, acknowledging and appreciating the differences. I’ve become okay with waking up past 9 A.M. and taking time out of my day to eat a three-course lunch (it’s a hard life here). So, when studying in Spain, leave your trash on the floor of a tapas bar like the locals do — because where else would you be able to do that? Having to eat delicious bread with every meal for a few months doesn’t sound too bad anyway.

This post was contributed by Andrea Perez-Maspons, a student from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain.

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