The Best Kind of Culture Shock I’ve Had in Spain

Zoe Sterckx-Ziegler is a student at North Carolina State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Valencia, Spain.

It cannot be debated that we live in a world of vanishing borders. When has it been more important to learn about other cultures than it is now? Technology allows us to traverse oceans and continents, and as humans we are traveling more than ever before. This means we are constantly coming in contact with people from other cultures, from places all over the world. Studying abroad helps us to be more open to other cultures, because we are physically immersed into a new one, it makes it harder to have any prejudices.

When I first came to Spain, for the first few days I felt very excited and everything was a blur. I was under the impression that I would just breeze through the semester like it was another school year at home in North Carolina, but just about 4,000 miles away. How different could Spain be from my hometown? After the first week or so, however, I was hit with an enormous culture shock. The city seemed massive, and I felt like the tiniest ant among an entire colony. Nobody spoke my language, and nobody seemed to want to slow down to let me catch up. I felt lost and somewhat isolated, entirely stunned that Spain was so different from where I lived. But now, with just over two weeks left in my study abroad trip, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The shock of being tossed into another life on another continent has changed me forever, for the better. I have had the amazing opportunity to explore different parts of Spain, especially my home in Valencia. I have grown to love it.

The city of Valencia

I’ve taken a step back from my own culture in order to spend four months immersing myself in something foreign to me. Spanish culture was not entirely easy to adjust to – the days are much longer here, with everything seemingly postponed. Lunch isn’t until 2 or 3 pm, and dinner isn’t until 9 or sometimes 10 pm. But, Valencian paella is quite the delicacy and is worth the wait. Additionally, forget about going to any store besides the Mercadona between the hours of 2 and 4pm, because it will be closed for siesta. And if you want to go out to enjoy a discoteca, don’t go until around 2 in the morning because no one will be there!

Paella in Valencia

As the months have passed, I have felt more and more at home here. I am getting the hang of the language, and being able to communicate well with native people is extremely rewarding, even though I have had to relearn some of what I already knew because European Spanish is very different than Latin American Spanish. My travels within Spain have brought me to Granada, Bilbao, Santander, Barcelona, and Montanejos. Each place I have gone has had something special about it that makes it unique. For example, the city of Bilbao is an amazing gastronomic hub offering hundreds of different kinds of small dishes called pintxos.

Pintxos in Bilbao, Spain

Living in this country has opened my eyes to more of the world and I will be forever thankful for that. The culture shock I received here, even though challenging at first, was pivotal in helping me grow into a more well-rounded and open-minded person.


The world awaits…discover it.

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