My Three Biggest Culture Shocks While Living in Barcelona

Lauren Stebbings is a student at Arizona State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Barcelona, Spain

Studying abroad was probably the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken. I was so nervous when I got on my plane for my semester in Spain, I thought I might throw up (yikes)! Now I’ve been living in Barcelona for about two months, and can truly say that getting on that plane was the best decision I’ve ever made! However, studying abroad in this beautiful city hasn’t quite been all fun and games; culture shock is a real thing. Barcelona is nothing like my little bubble in Phoenix, so you can imagine how weird it is to live in a big city that is 5,000 miles away from everything you have ever known. Although it took some getting used to, I eventually conquered my three biggest culture shocks.

One of my favorite things to do is walk around the Ciutadella Park, especially on Sundays! Not only is it beautiful but there are always locals out salsa dancing in the park!

1. Probably the most obvious one, the language barrier

Barcelona locals speak either Spanish or Catalan, which in fact, are two completely different languages. Luckily, Barcelona is a very tourist driven place, so a lot of people do understand English. The biggest issue I had was at the grocery store, because NOTHING is in English. One time, I bought baking soda instead of salt by accident… oops! In order to avoid this, I recommend Google Translate and just trying to speak as much Spanish (or Catalan) as often as possible. If you at least try, usually people are able to pick up what you are trying to say!

I live only a few blocks away from Sagrada Familia and one day decided to walk to Sunday mass, although I couldn’t understand everything that was said, it was still an amazing experience!

2. Pick-pocketing is Real

My best advice if you are planning to study abroad in Barcelona is to bring a good bag that can’t be opened easily (ladies, bring that cross-body) and possibly an extra phone. Although Barcelona really is an incredibly safe city, I have known way too many people who have had their wallets and phones stolen. When on the metro, I now hold everything I have in front of me and I either hide my phone somewhere where no one can see it, or I hook a lanyard on it and wrap the lanyard around my wrist. Don’t ever let your guard down when it comes to this, my friend had her phone stolen and although it wasn’t the end of the world, it is still a pain in the butt to get a new one.

3. Eating out in Barcelona

Eating out in Barcelona is completely different from eating out in the states. First off, lunch usually isn’t until 2 pm (and sometimes restaurants aren’t even open because of siesta time) and dinner is at about 9 or 10 pm. Water isn’t free at restaurants, but you don’t have to tip which is so nice! This wasn’t hard to get used to, but being the impatient person I am, eating out can be a bit frustrating. Never go out to eat here if you are in a hurry. Your check won’t come until you ask for it, and when you do, it usually still takes a while for them to bring it. It also isn’t common to split checks here, so either always have cash on you or have someone buy everyone’s meal and pay that person back (Venmo will be your best friend)!

Trying out new foods is one of the best parts of studying abroad, and it is even better when you get to make it! Here is a little something my friends and I made during ISA sponsored cooking class!

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

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