What I’ve Learned About My Own Country’s Culture by Living in Valencia, Spain

Haidyn Bulen is a student at Arizona State University, and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Valencia, Spain. 

“Me encanta los barres, las tapas, y tiempo con mi mujer y mi hija (I love bars, tapas, and time with my woman and daughter),” were the introductory words of my Spanish grammar professor who arrived 22 minutes late to our first class.

In Spain, time exists as merely a loose reminder that our lives are not infinite—the construct of time is less important than the way it is spent. Here, everything is fluid, centered on connection, laughing, talking for hours on end. The epitome of this concept is “sobremesa”, a Spanish word that has no direct translation to English but roughly describes the conversations one has during and after dinner. Meals last for hours and usually consist of tapas, small plates of food passed around the table with drinks. Spain is nocturnal, people come alive at night after dinner has been served no earlier than 9 pm. Gastronomy is important—the food is eaten slowly and the conversations at the table are profound, full of passion, and leave you feeling fulfilled in every way possible.

In the United States, time is more concrete. We start our days earlier, end them earlier, and pack them full of appointments, work, and lists of things to do in between. As a college student in America, I spend a lot of my time trying to climb the ladder with resume builders and forgetting to eat while spending hours working in solitude. Being on time is often considered late and if a waiter has not stopped by your table in 30 minutes at a restaurant they will probably be receiving complaints rather than a tip.

Although these are generalizations, I have learned that the U.S. is busy. We value productivity and climbing ladders to gain success, or at least the feeling of success. In Spain, it appears that success is much less defined by one’s job but by everyday contentedness with people, food, and relationships. This is not to say that Spaniards are not productive and Americans do not value relationships—the lesson is that the respective cultures use their time differently. I am gaining a new perspective on America by immersing myself into Spanish culture and the result is an appreciation for both ways of life.

It is important to recognize that Spain and the U.S. have different sociopolitical climates and customs that play into how one values and chooses to spend time. Capitalist America is more individualistic and is known for stories of rags to riches which perhaps plays into the culture of efficiency and quickly moving from one task to the next.

Living in Spain has allowed me to view my country from a bird’s eye view. This view, high above the clouds, has reminded me that my time is precious, and it is my own to spend and do with what I please.



Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

Leave a Reply