Spain

5 Spanish Culture Shocks

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Written by Danny Hsiao, Foster undergraduate

  1. Meal time

The first thing that surprised me when I was in Spain is the meal time. The Spanish people usually eat their lunch at around two to three and dinner at around nine to ten, without an official breakfast. So how does this work and how do they stay away from hunger if they are separating their meals so far away? Here is how. Although they don’t have an official breakfast where people really sit down and eat, they have TWO small snack times for the morning, one after waking up and the other around eleven. The snack can be a simple hot chocolate with some cookies or a really sugery latte. They need to eat very sweet so they don’t get hungry easily. Now there is a seven-hour gap between lunch and dinner, so the same trick applies again—snack! Most of their companies will allow employs to go out and have some coffee which, again, is usually very sweet, at around six so they don’t get hungry before leaving for home at around eight. For me there are just way too many meal times, but this is also telling us how much Spanish people like to slow down their pace, hang out, and stay connected to each other.

  1. Nap time! Siesta!

This is another thing that surprised me when I saw all the students from elementary to high school were all out on the street or on the way home at around two thirty, which I consider to be the most productive time of the day. My host family told me that their schools, and often companies, will have a break time for the about one to two hours so people can go home, eat, and rest. This is called the siesta, when all the stores and services are closed and the streets soon become very quiet as everyone is pretty much resting at home. But if they are spending so much time resting, how long do they work in one day? The answer is that they work ends at about six or seven, which still adds up to a good amount of work in a day, except it is separated into smaller chunks.

  1. Tobacco in Spain is like Starbucks in Seattle

You will be pretty sure that you are in Spain when you see there are more people smoking outside of a bar than those actually inside and drink. Same rule also applies to coffee shops, books store, and even schools. Yes, during the break time in the University of Navarra, there are almost as many students smoking outside as those inside the building. However, the cigarette is much more expensive in Spain than in the US, so the younger smokers in Spain usually hand-roll their tabacco and you can see them rolling in every outdoor occasion.

  1. Wine consumption

Spanish people drink wine, lots of wine. My host family actually buys wine in a huge box instead of bottles anymore, because that would have created way too many empty bottles in one week! There is a story behind it though. When I was in Madrid, my tour guide told me that in the ancient time the water was not clean, and drinking unclean water can be deadly. On the other hand, however, wine was much safer because it was made from fresh juice, so people drink wine instead of water for safety reasons. But if everyone is drinking wine like water, how does a country work? A smart king of Spain figured out a way to deal with it. He order all the bars and restaurants that if someone is ordering wine from them, they would have to provide some food for the customers so they can stay sober to work. As time evolved, the bars and restaurants ended up using a slice of break with some food on it to cover the cup, which is why there is the famous Spanish snack tapas, which literally mean tops. By the way, Spanish wine is really good!

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Another reason why wine is popular is the price!

  1. Flamenco started as a hobo dances instead of high end performance.

It’s rare to see a country’s most internationally popular dance started as a traditional dance from a group of foreign people in almost the lowest social status that the rest of the people basically hated; it happened in Spain though. Before I arrive in Spain, I thought that Flamenco is a popular traditional Spanish dance that, just like most of the other traditional dances world-wide, is used in occasions like celebrations; however, Flamenco is not only a foreign dances brought in by the Gypsies, but also is a dance that people dislike a lot about a few decades ago. Here is the story behind it. A few centuries ago, some refugees from India or Middle East traveled all the way to the southern Spain and claimed that they were the nobles from Egypt—that’s why they are called the Gypsies. However, a lie never lasts long; their real identity was soon discovered by the Spanish people and they were, since then, disliked by the rest of the people. They lost all their social and economic power and fall to the lowest social status. My guide even told me that they became so poor that if you saw someone dancing Flamenco at that time, he or she usually didn’t even have shoes on. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, the Spanish inquisition started and forced many Jews and Muslims to claim to be Gypsies to avoid being exiled or executed, which made the Flamenco dance multicultural with even more sophisticated moves and costumes. As it has become a very meaningful dance that is rich in cultures and history, the people start seeing the beauty in it and finally consider that as a piece of Spanish culture.

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Flamenco performance in Cordoba, Spain.

Living with a Host Family

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Written by Danny Hsiao, Foster undergraduate

Living with a host family is what I consider the best way to really learn the culture of a country. This semester, I chose to live with a Spanish family that consists of two parents, a son, a daughter, and a dog. It is a very authentic Spanish family who drinks lots of wine and has a Jamón stand in the kitchen for everyday use—yes, Jamón every day. The reason why I wanted to live in a host family is that I only had four months to explore and learn from the whole Spanish culture, and the Spanish culture is such a huge and rich collection of traditions and social values; I figured that living in an authentic host family would be the fastest way to really put myself into the culture and really experience it, and it’s true. Seeing them carefully cutting the Jamón down to a slice of bread with a few drops of olive oil, helping them move about three tons of woods to prepare for winter, sitting at a table with ten more super talkative Spanish family members, and seeing the amazed faces when I wrote down their names in Chinese characters are my best moments throughout the program. Everything they do is so interesting for me. I saw things that I had never seen before almost every day with a host family!

Another good thing about living in a host family is that it’s an all-Spanish environment; there is no other language that you will hear in the house. My host parents don’t speak English at all, but their children know a little. When I first arrived in Pamplona, the daughter was the one who helped me settle down because she is the only one who speaks some English. After she moved out with her fiancé, I was left with two host parents who don’t speak English and a lot of challenges in front of me. However, also because of that, I got to improve my Spanish skills very fast. Starting from the basic daily greeting to sharing my political view of my country, I could see my improvement in Spanish almost daily. My host parents played a huge role in that too. Whenever I had questions or didn’t understand what they were trying to tell me, they would slow down and try to explain that to me in another way. If I still couldn’t get it, they would write the whole sentence down, sometimes even paragraphs, and teach me word by word, until I can repeat what they wanted to tell me. I was literary living with two Spanish professors who are native speakers and very willing to share their knowledge. I am very grateful that I met this family that taught me so much about their country.

I really enjoyed my time living with a Spanish family because I got to learn so much about them and so much about Spain. I got to know the locals’ tips on where to eat and what to see, and I also got to improve my language faster than any of my friends. I would recommend anyone who is doing an exchange to live with a host family.

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My host parents cooking

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The Christmas Dinner

Parting Words

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Written by Bonnie Beam, Foster undergraduate

Who knew that small, quirky Pamplona would forever hold a special place in my heart? I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad at the University of Navarra in the Fall of 2014. During my time in Spain, I was amazed at how much I don’t know and the capacity I have to learn if I humbly allow others to teach me what they know. A huge part of this realization came about in my living situation in Pamplona. Early on I decided I wanted to live with locals of the city, knowing that my Spanish was bound to improve much more than if I were to live with people who spoke my native language. This was by far the best decision I made! It was awesome to learn about UNAV, Pamplona and Spain at large through their eyes. They were very eager to help me improve my Spanish, correct my embarrassing mistakes (like referring to God as sexy instead of good – it’s “Dios ES bueno” not “está” in case you were wondering) and teach me all those idiomatic expressions.

Another “must” is going on all the trips with the international students, arranged by the international student office at UNAV! It is the best way to get connected with your fellow exchange students and experience Northern Spain. Our trip to Asturias was by far my favorite- a weekend full of repelling down waterfalls, kayaking, cave-exploring, mountain-climbing. What more could you want?! As a side note, the international student office and the student ambassadors were extremely helpful during my time at UNAV and were always more than willing to answer questions about the school, registering for classes, and give their suggestions for things to do/see in Pamplona and the surrounding cities!

Some other cool experiences I had were tutoring two Spanish kids in English (there is a large demand for English-speaking tutors so look into it if you’re interested in hanging out with kids a few hours a week and earning a little extra money), getting involved with an evangelical church in the area and getting to know more college-aged Spainards that way and playing badminton every week at the polideportivo (UNAV has a variety of sports for which they offer free group lessons every week) and learning how to play pádel with my roommates.

I had a wonderful experience at UNAV! Was it challenging? Very. Awkward? You bet. Eye-opening? Most definitely. Fun? Of course! Worth it? Totally. Whenever you place yourself into a new environment with a completely different culture, language and set of norms, you can expect to grow. But only to the degree that you allow. So if I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to allow yourself to grow A LOT! Attend the conferences, go on awesome adventures with the International Office, serve in some capacity at Navarra, talk with the locals, go to your professors’ office hours, live with Spainards, do things you wouldn’t normally do when your back in the comfort of your home country!

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Hanging out on the beach of Southern France with my roommates. France is only about 2 hours away- you must go!

A Matter of Perspective

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Written by Bonnie Beam, Foster undergraduate

“How’s Spain?!” seems to be a common question these days. As I try to give an honest answer, it seems that quite contradictory phrases most accurately describe my experience thus far. It’s both exhausting and relaxing, challenging yet simple and by far one of the hardest and easiest times of my life.

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Why are these simultaneously possible? Because everything is a matter of perspective.

Por ejemplo…

(1) The fast-track American lifestyle, with maxed out schedules, work-oriented mindsets and the rarity of sit-down meals with loved ones is no where to be found. For the Spanish, living life to its fullest is not about how much money they can accumulate in the bank rather how much time they can spend with loved ones; whether that be making a meal together, going for a walk or grabbing drinks.

One of the things I love most is the priority the Spanish culture places on eating together “en casa” (at home). Nearly everyone goes home for lunch and all the shops close down. Proof of this? My university cafeteria consists of 6, 4-person tables… That’s right, 6 tables for an enrollment size of 11,000! You can imagine how alone I felt when I had to pack a lunch and eat at school one day due to my class schedule.

As many of you know, I live with three girls from Spain. Every day, we all come home for both lunch and dinner to prepare and eat a meal together. Each meal, from start to finish, usually lasts about 2 hours. And not once have I thought that my time would be better spent elsewhere. I absolutely love having the ability to be completely present with those around me; not feeling guilty for missing another function or failing to check off a task on my to-do list because the reality is, here in Spain, the only place you should be is at home, eating with your friends and family.

It’s disheartening to realize that this routine is impossible for most back in the states, where most of our schedules only allow for a 45 minute coffee break, if that. This last week has been a refreshing reminder that our energy should be devoted primarily to people, not to electronics, money or everything that encompasses “achieving the American dream.” In America, the typical Spanish lifestyle might be labeled as unproductive or lazy but to the Spaniards, Americans have their priorities all wrong. Once again, it’s a matter of perspective.

(2) A little visual to help you understand what happened…

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Yes, I was pooped on. While walking down the street with some of my friends from Peru, a bird decided to give me a surprise. Needless to say, I was shocked, mortified and a bit disgusted. But I was soon forced to look at the situation from a different perspective my Peruvian friends quickly explained that in their culture, getting pooped on is good luck. Who knew?! And thus, another realization that everything is a matter of perspective.

A few other things you might like to know…

  1. Dinner is eaten between 9:30-11:30pm. More often, the latter.
  2. I walk everywhere. All day, every day. Yesterday alone, I spent two hours walking to school and back.
  3. Yet, no one carries water bottles. The other day, an older couple in the elevator poked fun at me for carrying a water bottle around.

Ciao!

Among The Cattle and Caves

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Written by Bonnie Beam, Foster undergraduate

This past weekend I took a trip with 40 other international students at UNAV to Asturias, located in northern, central Spain. From mountains, to cathedrals, to rivers, to sleepy, cobblestone towns, the Asturias province has it all! Lush with vegetation and bursting with cattle, the area perfectly captures the un-rushed life here in Spain.

After a nearly 6 hour bus ride, our guides decided to take advantage of all the energy we had stored up on the bus and us through Los Picos de Europa, a range of mountains 12 miles off the coast of Spain (a very rare combination). Fun fact: Los Picos also contain some of the world’s deepest caves! I’ll talk about our cave exploring later on :)

It was hard not to feel like I was back home, exploring the mountainous beauty of Washington.  The one big difference? We wandered amongst hundreds and hundreds of cattle roaming free! They were so close, I could even take selfies with them.

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But the coolest part of being up there was getting to meet Maria, a woman who has lived up there her entire life, in the hut pictured below. She makes excellent cheese from the cattle nearby in her humble abode. Despite what we would perceive as “lack” of basic commodities, she was one of the most joy-filled people I’ve ever met. It was one of the many reminders on this trip that joy and happiness are not the product of material wealth.

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Aside from exploring Los Picos, we also spent our weekend kayaking, cave-exploring and repelling off of waterfalls. To make things extra exciting, while we secured in metal harnesses, swimming and jumping off the waterfalls, a huge thunder, lightning and rain storm moved in. Definitely freaky but so much fun (and something I would never do on my own initiative!).

Each night, we would head back up into the mountains where we stayed in a modest bunk-house, which brought me back to my summer camp days when I was younger. Since I don’t live with other international students, it was great to talk the night away with students from all over the world!

All in all, a great weekend of discovery, friendship, adventures and learning!

The Host Family Experience

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Written by: Patricia Mayer, studied abroad in Leon, Spain, Fall 2012

PatriciaMayer2Patri, mirrraaaaa”
Mira=look, or in Jorge and Miguel’s language “hey look at meee!”

I should have learned the first time. Never, ever, look. A few days ago my host family got home after picking Jorge up from karate practice. As I was studying in my room Jorge ran in dressed in his Karate robe and practiced one of his moves on my arm. A few minutes later I hear “Patri, mirraaaa!!” I glance over to my doorway where Jorge, who escaped from Chety’s grasp midway through changing into pajamas, stands butt-naked dancing and sticking his tongue out at me. I almost fell out of my chair laughing, and the best part was, after a long day at work Chety didn’t have the energy to wrangle an unruly Jorge and let the incident go without punishment.
This might have been the reason why yesterday, as I walked out of my room I was met by Jorge mooning me. Wanting to be just like his big brother, Miguel quickly joined in. And soon I was trying to figure out how to yell the boys are mooning me in Spanish. Something I don’t think I will ever have to say again in Spanish.

And another prime example of the adventures of Miguel and Jorge:
Today, a distressed Eli burst through the door as both boys screamed and talked a mile a minute. I learned they had been at the super market earlier and had been refusing to behave. (Note: they are normally very well behaved, eat all they are given, tell their parents they love them and give them a kiss) But today, they wouldn’t listen to Eli at all in the supermarket. Somehow, while Eli grabbed something off the shelf, Jorge became in charge of pushing the cart which held Miguel as a captive passenger. Because he is 5 and can’t see over the cart, Jorge plowed straight into a coca cola display, knocking a ton of stuff over, and catapulting poor little Miguel out of the cart. Miguel showed me his leg which at the present moment has a giant purple bruise.

I don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to these guys. After spending 3 months eating my meals in the center of chaos (and the best free entertainment you could ask for), I don’t want to leave!

 

Stateside from Pamplona: How We Change

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

By: Michael Cross, Foster Undergraduate

I’m home. I’m here. It’s time to see everyone I’ve missed the last 4 months. But wait, it’s weird. Something just feels different. There’s some invisible difference placed between us that’s just not jiving like it did before, but we’re still great friends or family. What is going on? What is this?

Here’s my thought(s):

A study abroad or other world experiences might not be what change us. We go abroad seeking this conversion into a “whole new person”, whatever that means, but that’s not the whole story. Yes, our ideas are challenged, and we’re presented with all sorts of new things that could mold us into the imaginative “whole new person” we’re looking for. But there’s something else going on.

People are what change, so people are what change us.

Pretty buildings, breathtaking views, and famous museums don’t change us. We get from those exactly what we want from them. What changes us are the people we have experiences with. So going abroad, in and of itself, doesn’t change us. Instead, it just provides us with a barometer to gauge the change that has occurred. Here’s what I mean—

At home, we tend to change at the pace of those around us- friends, colleagues, and family. And as a result, we don’t necessarily see the change because it’s so incremental. But when we go abroad for an extended period of time, we’re no longer around those people changing with us. Instead, we have new people and less close relationships. We don’t stop changing, and we still may not be able to see it while abroad but once we return home, we see it. We see when it feels hard to relate with our close friends. The people that were once so easy to communicate with and relate to now seem distant. The relationships haven’t changed, but some undercurrent has. And I think that undercurrent is YOU. You start to see how you changed independent of your friends. You still might not be able to put your finger on what changed, but you sure feel it. Relationships that were easy and close before now feel slightly forced and different.

But give it a little time and you’ll be back in the groove, assimilated just as before.

Use this as an opportunity to enlighten your friends, teach them what you’ve learned and how you’ve changed. Chances are they feel it and see it to, making them quite curious of what caused the distant feeling. Bring it close again through the sharing of the new you!

You’re Abroad. You NEED to Travel

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

By: Michael Cross, Foster Undergraduate

I left for Spain without a single weekend trip planned which made me a little nervous for how I would get it all together. But upon getting settled and meeting people I was soon able to put together trips for 12 of the first 13 weekends! I’m so glad I hadn’t put any together prior to my arrival in Spain because I would have done it all wrong. I had assumed the only way to get around were trains and plain. However, in Spain, the ease of travel is incredibly simple through their bus system. In the States, I never would have thought about taking the Greyhound to get around but it’s a very easy, useful, and a cheap system in Spain. Take advantage of this! It makes it easy to purchase cheap flights out of small airports because there’s a bus connecting them, and what’s even better is they let you get around to cool towns and cities that wouldn’t be easily accessible without your own car. For instance, a favorite trip of my friend and I was a day trip up to San Sebastian, an absolutely gorgeous, French-inspired beach town in the tip top northeast of Spain. There we could swim, surf, tan, and just take a break from what was already a break from real life. But this is only the beginning of my travel experiences.

One thing to have in mind is that you’ve already purchased the expensive plane ticket across the Atlantic, so you might as well tack on a ton of cheap trips too.  Throughout my 4 months, I was able to get to 16 cities in 7 countries and 2 continents—all for a little more than the cost of getting to Spain from the US. All of this was made possible through the ease of travel and the economical viability of transportation throughout Europe. If you use Ryanair or other low-cost providers, and avoid trains like the plague, it’ll amaze you how cheaply you can get around. So do it! Don’t waste any weekends. The time abroad speeds by, and perhaps extra travel doesn’t help, but it’s so worth it. This leads me to one of my biggest pieces of advice:

Sometimes you’ll get sick of traveling. Honestly, it’s exhausting traveling weekend after weekend because it’s stressful learning new cities, getting your bearings, and filling your head with memories and your camera with gigabytes of photos. So at times I found myself thinking, “I just want to stay put this weekend and take a breather.” But I’m so glad I didn’t! Here’s my advice— If there’s something awesome going on in the city of your abroad trip, then by all means stay put, go to it, and have an experience. But if there’s nothing, go travel! It’ll be so worth it! You’ll get to make something great out of an otherwise ordinary weekend. And each city has so much to offer you. When you’re back in the States, you won’t be able to sit in class and surf Skyscanner or HostelWorld to plan out your weekend. Take so much advantage of this.

Now, this might be different in other, larger cities, but Pamplona is pretty small so you don’t miss much by taking off for the weekend. You’ll be so happy you did in the end.

“Patri, mirrraaaaa”

Friday, January 11th, 2013

By: Patricia Mayer, Foster Undergraduate

Mira=look, or in Jorge and Miguel’s language “hey look at meee!”

I should have learned the first time. Never, ever, look. A few days ago my host family got home after picking Jorge up from karate practice. As I was studying in my room, Jorge ran in dressed in his Karate robe and practiced one of his moves on my arm. A few minutes later I hear “Patri, mirraaaa!!” I glance over to my doorway where Jorge, who escaped from Chety’s grasp midway through changing into pajamas, stands butt-naked dancing and sticking his tongue out at me. I almost fell out of my chair laughing, and the best part was, after a long day at work Chety didn’t have the energy to wrangle an unruly Jorge and let the incident go without punishment.

This might have been the reason why yesterday, as I walked out of my room I was met by Jorge mooning me. Wanting to be just like his big brother, Miguel quickly joined in. And soon I was trying to figure out how to yell the boys are mooning me in spanish. Something I don’t think I will ever have to say again in Spanish.

And another prime example of the adventures of Miguel and Jorge:

Today, a distressed Eli burst through the door as both boys screamed and talked a mile a minute. I learned they had been at the super market earlier and had been refusing to behave. (Note: they are normally very well behaved, eat all they are given, tell their parents they love them and give them a kiss) But today, they wouldn’t listen to Eli at all in the supermarket. Somehow, while Eli grabbed something off the shelf, Jorge became in charge of pushing the cart which held Miguel as a captive passenger. Because he is 5 and can’t see over the cart, Jorge plowed straight into a coca cola display, knocking a ton of stuff over, and catapulting poor little Miguel out of the cart. Miguel showed me his leg which at the present moment has a giant purple bruise.

I don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to these guys. After spending 3 months eating my meals in the center of chaos (and the best free entertainment you could ask for), I don’t want to leave!

Calling Pamplona Home

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

By: Brett Kennedy, Foster Undergraduate

Wow! The first month and a half in Pamplona has been amazing.  It feels more like home with each day that passes.  I have well-acquainted myself with the city and the warm personalities of the people that live here.  It has been a transition, yes, but not as abrupt as I expected it to be.  It has been surprisingly easy to get into the rhythm of the schedule that you find in Spain, including the late dinners and afternoon siestas.  The city has a sort of “buzz” to it that I attribute to the friendliness of the locals; most people you see on the street are engaged in conversation with others, and many times a day I see strangers recognizing each other and stopping for a quick chat.  When I visit the local shops I am always greeted with a big smile and a “How are you?” which is a nice touch to my daily activities.  It’s even considered rude if you don’t greet a stranger in an elevator!

It has been a pleasant transition going from the fast-paced and somewhat impersonal rhythm of home to the more interactive “seize the day” mentality.  With this culture as the driving force, meeting people has never been easier.  Most people are very open to talking to strangers which gives way to opportunities to make new friends.  Overall, Pamplona is a very safe city with many beautiful landmarks scattered throughout it.  Lately I like to relax by running laps around the Ciudadela, or Citadel which was built over 400 years ago to protect the city.  It is the deep-rooted history like this, which is all around the city that adds to the experience of living here and understanding the Spanish culture.  I can already see myself missing Spain the minute I leave, but for now I plan to seize every minute that I can.