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Acclimating to Spanish Culture and Schedule

by Caitlyn McDowell
Acclimating to Spanish Culture and Schedule While Studying Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Salamanca, Spain

In every Spanish class I have ever taken, they tried to explain the different cultures of Latin America, Mexico, and Spain. I vaguely remember talking about the importance of socialization and the importance of napping mid-day for Spaniards. However, with all of the excitement of preparing for study abroad, I seemed to have forgotten how different everything would be. Here, I aim to give tips of how to adjust to the differences in how Spaniards plan out their day, and how to embrace these changes.   

Arriving in Salamanca, my fellow peers and I were feeling jet-lagged, sore from long days of walking, and overall exhausted from the stress of traveling. For many of us, it is our first time overseas, nevertheless in Europe!

Shortly after meeting my host mom and carrying my belongings into the house, she asked if we were ready for lunch. As Americans, 4 PM isn’t exactly lunch time, but due to the flight and car ride we were more than ready to enjoy a meal.

We didn’t have a meeting until about 7:45 that night, so my roommate and I took a nap after our meal enjoying our first “siesta.” During this time, which is typically around 2 PM to 5 PM every day, stores and restaurants close, and every Spaniard heads toward their house to either nap, relax, or both.

Later that evening, we met up with the group and had a small walking tour of the city that ended around 9 PM. To our shock, it was still completely light outside and did not remotely feel like nighttime. We then went to dinner and we met up with some Spanish students that also study at the University of Salamanca! Dinner wasn’t over until about 10:30 and at this time it was just finally getting dark. As the students in my group finished our paella and ice cream, many of us were considering walking home and going to bed as we typically would do at this time at home. However, little did we know, in Salamanca the night was only beginning.

The university students offered to take us around and show us some of their favorite places in the city. This was great because we got to talk with them and start to not only learn their personalities but more of the culture for people our age rather than the adults we had been speaking with at home. It was about midnight when we were done exploring and, yet again, we thought it was time to head home. We were still wrong.

In Salamanca, socializing and gatherings are very common and a cultural norm, especially for university students. However, many of these festivities don’t even begin until 1:30 in the morning and many stay out until 7 or 8 in the morning.

Most of us were shocked and confused at how this could be. How could the students stay out all night and go to class the next day with no sleep? This is when everything started to come full circle to me. They can do this because it is different here.

In a typical day, it isn’t unusual for Spaniards to sleep in later — until around 9 or 10 AM (class/work permitting). They then go about morning duties beginning with coffee and toast for a small breakfast. Around 2 o’clock, they return to their homes for lunch, the largest meal of the day. After this large meal, they are tired and take their siesta. When they awake, they return to the day and don’t need to eat dinner until later — around 9 or 10. Therefore, Spaniards can stay up a lot later than we can as Americans. It seems rather odd that at 2 PM the world is quiet and the city is sleeping, but I think it is one of those things that you can’t understand until you experience it. It is the way of life, and rather than question it while I am abroad, I want to embrace it!

My advice to adjusting to this schedule is to be honored and to go with the flow! The Spanish culture includes much less structured days then we as Americans typically enjoy. The thing to remember is that change and differences aren’t always a bad thing; it may just open your eyes into a new way of doing things. I know when I return home I will miss the late nights and full belly naps. A daily siesta may just be one of the things I carry home with me from my experience.

This post was contributed by Caitlyn McDowell, who is spending her summer studying abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain.

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