I don’t even know where to start.
I’ve been off the grid the past few days due to issues with the WiFi connection. WOW, I didn’t realize how addicted Americans are to their phones until now! Upon arriving in Spain, I had no means of communication between my family or friends for two solid days. I was literally having withdrawals from my phone and staring at the ceiling in my room at night because I didn’t know what to do without Netflix or YouTube. There is WiFi at the business school here, but it comes and goes in waves. Not having my family to talk to obviously triggered some hardcore homesickness. This is such a big change for me happening all at once, that it can get overwhelming at times. The first few days here were rough, not gonna lie, but each day brings a new adventure and that is what keeps the excitement alive.
First, I’d like to talk about some of the cultural differences I have observed here so far. After attending all the USAC presentations prior to studying abroad, they always seemed to emphasize culture shock. I was completely in-denial that this would affect me. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about the Spanish culture, but when you’re actually living and breathing Spain, it is so much different than you think. Here are some of my observations:
- Nobody wears sandals, open-toed shoes, or shorts, even if it’s 80 degrees outside. People are always dressed in suits, fancy dresses, or conservative clothing. Of course, most of the clothing I brought include shorts and sandals so if that doesn’t scream American, I don’t know what does.
- There is a lot of cigarette smoking – even among teens.
- Most of the people here do not get drunk. They casually have light drinks with lunch and dinner, but never to the point where they get blackout drunk. It’s called social drinking.
- When greeting others, you kiss both cheeks. Personally, this is something I am used to being in an Italian family.
- The breakfast here is small. It usually includes café con leche with a piece of bread or something light. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and lasts from about 1pm to 3pm. The streets will be crowded with people bar hopping, getting pinxtos (appetizers), and enjoying the weather outside for a 3 course meal. Grocery stores, banks, and pharmacies all close during lunch time as well. Dinner is a bit smaller than lunch and usually takes place around 9 or 10pm. Most restaurants do not open for dinner until 8pm.
- The streets in Downtown Bilbao are extremely clean. I have not found a single piece of trash anywhere. Also, there is an almost nonexistent homeless presence. I think I saw one homeless man this entire week. A lot different than Downtown Reno, that’s for sure.
- Spaniards tend to keep eye contact for way too long. So if you think they are staring at you, they are.
- Spaniards also talk with their hands and are very animated. Very similar to Italian culture.
- The people here are very touchy-feely and enjoy a collectivist culture. In the United States, we like having our personal bubble and value individualism, but here it is opposite.
- Living in Bilbao, there is a strong Basque culture. Locals speak Basque, Spanish, and a little bit of English. Most of the street signs will be in all three languages, which helps us Americans get by.
- While watching TV with my host mom, I noticed that the commercials will be in Spanish, but the background music is English. I also see this a lot when walking through Downtown and in restaurants that they play English pop songs.
- All the locals will know you are American. It’s pretty obvious unless you have a good Spanish accent.
- Nude beaches. Everywhere.
I was not prepared for this much of a culture shock. There are some things you just have to give up in order to immerse into the culture. I’ve realized we really are spoiled in the United States. Makes you take a step back and think about how to manage our NEEDS versus our WANTS. I still wake up each morning in disbelief. I cannot believe I am really here, in Spain, living a dream that I worked so hard to attain. For that, I am utterly grateful.
I look forward to sharing more about the food, scenery, public transportation, my wonderful host mom and doggie, my fellow USAC students, and the classes offered abroad. In the meantime, I posted some new pictures on the Photos page. Enjoy!