Living in an entirely different part of the world with customs, etiquette and rules that you are not familiar with can be hard. Visiting Spain was the first time that I had ever been in a country other than the United States. For someone who isn’t a very experienced traveler, it can sometimes feel like being on a completely different planet with confusing manners of communication and functioning. This is why I’m here to give you some tips on how to make your new environment feel more like home.
When I first arrived in Madrid, before travelling to Salamanca, I had trouble understanding people, adjusting to the different daily schedule and adjusting to the way that I was expected to act. As drastically different as Spain can appear, I’ve realized during my time in Salamanca that the majority of day-to-day life is relatively similar to the U.S., just with a few small differences. I find that when something seems strange or uncomfortable, it helps to relate it to what you are already comfortable with. Here are my thoughts on how to make the most of your Spain experience without feeling overwhelmed.
Adjusting to a New Schedule
If you don’t already know, the sleeping and eating schedule in Spain is a bit different. Spaniards tend to eat small breakfasts early in the morning, relatively large lunches around 2-3pm and a somewhat light dinner around 9pm. When I first arrived, jet lag and the hot Salamanca summer made it difficult to adjust. Even still, there’s no need to worry! A small snack between meals and a short, 20-30 minute siesta in the afternoon can make everything easier.
As common as it is for Americans to go out to bars and parties, it seemed to me that Spaniards do so even more often. The difference is that Spaniards go out to walk through the street or buy a drink every night with a more relaxed approach. If you want to feel like one of the locals, going out at night might be a great idea. Try not to be the loud and drunk American stereotype and you may even make a Spanish friend or two. If you prefer more relaxing pastimes like going to the park, library or very cheap (and often free) outdoor music concerts, there is plenty of that to be found in Salamanca.
If looking at beautiful and creative art makes you feel at peace, there are plenty of sites for you to visit. Casa Lis is just one of the great museums in Salamanca with some of the most interesting pieces I’ve seen in person. If street art reminds you of home, there are plenty of good pieces all over the walls in Salamanca. El Barrio Oeste is a great place to go if you want to see a neighborhood overflowing with creativity.
Movies in Spanish
Love going to the movies? Watch a classic film in Spanish! I personally had the opportunity to watch Groundhog Day for free at an outdoor theater event that I heard about by chance one Friday night. Watching your favorite movies in Spanish is a fun and easy way to learn the language while you have a good time with friends. There are a lot of American movies dubbed in Spanish on TV and seeing them again in Spanish can be a fun experience.
Do you think that Spanish food is too strange? Try something familiar with a Spanish twist. Do you love potatoes? If so, Tortilla de Patata will open up a new world of potatoes. If rice and seafood sounds like something you love to eat at home, give Paella a try!
Not sure you fit in very well? One of the best ways to make sure you feel at home is to act like you already are. It’s easy to feel out of place when you are not used to the nuances of Spanish life. I like to observe what all the locals are doing, wearing and how they’re speaking to get a better idea of how to seem more like a citizen than a tourist. Practicing Spanish with your friends, even if they speak English, is an fun way to ease yourself into the language. Most natives will only speak to you in Spanish anyway, so you’re going to need it. Of course, you probably won’t be able to replicate everything exactly, but it’s fun to try and it makes fitting in and navigating much easier.
Jeremiah Jackson is a student at The Ohio State University and was an ISA Featured Blogger. He studied abroad with ISA in Salamanca, Spain.