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Culture Shock: An American College Student Living in Spain

It’s officially been two weeks since moving into my Sevillano home, but I swear it feels like I’ve lived here for months already! Being thrown into the Spanish lifestyle has forced me to abandon all my American habits and completely adjust to the culture – much more so than I anticipated. But here’s the thing: I LOVE it. Total immersion is the reason I came here, and my appreciation for this unique place is growing by the day. Although there are a million differences between Seville and the U.S., there are several aspects that are especially prominent and virtually inescapable.

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Siesta = City Shutdown

Pretty much everyone has heard of the famous siesta that characterizes Spanish culture, so this was not a huge shock to me. If anything, I was looking forward to quick afternoon naps to power me through the late nights! But once I got here, I quickly realized that this was more than just an occasional nap. From roughly 2 to 5:30, the city of Seville basically shuts down. Hardly anyone is outside (partly because it’s so dang hot!) and if you want to run a few errands after lunch, forget about it! Most local shops and restaurants close around 1:30 or 2 and don’t re-open for another three hours. The other day at about 3 PM, I was running around my neighborhood trying to add more data to my SIM card, and I literally had to go home until 5:30 because EVERYTHING was closed! This has definitely been a big adjustment for me and my American friends, so keep that in mind if you’re coming to Spain – especially in the less touristy areas.

Meal Timing

As an American, the biggest adjustment for me has definitely been meals. And not just the type of foods we eat, but the timingas well. I’m used to eating 5 or 6 small meals a day in the U.S., but here, snacking is simply not a thing. I live in a homestay of five people so I have to be very flexible of when and what I eat. So each morning, I have an espresso and a toasted baguette with olive oil and Iberian jamón while my Spanish family runs out the door – usually around 8:30 or 9 AM.


Then, comes the hard part: waiting until lunch. Like most Spanish families, we don’t sit down for lunch until 2:30 or 3 PM, which is about 5 to 6 hours after my light desayuno. Needless to say, I am absolutely RAVENOUS at this point and rely on espressos to quiet my growling stomach. Thankfully, lunch is usually the largest meal of the day, so dinner (often accompanied by wine or a cerveza) is pushed all the way until 9:30 or 10 PM. It’s nothing like how I used to eat in the U.S., but I’ve actually adjusted a lot better than I thought I would!

Alcohol in the Streets

The Spanish culture is a very social one. And more often than not, socializing includes a glass of beer or wine at an outdoor café any day from noon to 11 PM, with a slight break for siesta of course. Almost every street is lined with dozens of round tables filled with tapas, drinks and friends catching up during or after a long day of work.


It’s the epitome of “casual drinking” as my friends and I like to call it – something that is quite unusual for us college kids. The point of drinking isn’t the alcohol; the alcohol acts as a vehicle for conversation and social interactions. People will sit for hours and hours just talking and using alcohol as an excuse to stay in one place. It’s one of the first things I noticed when I got here, and is now one of my favorite things about Seville. Here’s to casual drinking!

Different Words and Phrases in Spain  

This culture shock is specific to people who have taken Spanish as a second language class in American schools. In my experience throughout middle and high school, the grammar and vocabulary skills we learned were typical of Latin American Spanish. Our teachers always skipped over the “vosotros” form of verbs, saying that “people only use this in Spain”, as if that somehow justified us not learning it. But now that I’m living in Spain and adjusting to the language, I am constantly learning new words and phrases.  For example, “Vale!” (pronounced “Va-lay”) is a word that you will undoubtedly hear throughout Andalusia. It doesn’t have a direct translation in English, but it’s used as a sort of acknowledgement – kind of like “okay” or “yep”. I swear people here say it in every other sentence! Additionally, some of the words I said all the time at school like “caminar” (“to walk”) and “carro” (“car”) are simply not used here. Instead, they say “andar” and “coche“. This may seem like one of the more nitty gritty cultural adjustments I’ve had to make, but trust me, it’s been a huge challenge!

There’s No Water

Okay. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but hear me out. Back in the states, I was obsessed with staying hydrated. I never left the house without my 16-ounce Tervis Tumbler and at restaurants, I went through at least two large glasses before I finished my food. Needless to say, I peed A LOT. So during the first few days of walking through Seville, I immediately noticed how little water I was drinking. At most restaurants, you have to specifically order a glass of water (which are TINY by the way) as well as any re-fills that you want. I quickly learned to bring a reusable water bottle with me during the day, but even then, I struggled to find water fountains anywhere! I usually end up filling it up in the sink, which I don’t mind since tap water is totally safe to drink. But overall, the hydrated-obsessed American culture is not mirrored in Spain.


8 thoughts on “Culture Shock: An American College Student Living in Spain”

  1. Hey my girl! Glad you are having fun and learning a new culture. We love and miss you and are so proud of your adventurous spirit! Keep learning and growIBG and keeping your family entertained!

  2. Oh, yes! I remember adjusting to all these things when I lived in Spain, too. I will never understand why Spanish teachers in the U.S. are so quick to skip the vosotros form! Have you had any Tinto Verano yet? My favorite!

  3. Hi Crosby. I know your Mom through Rotary. We are staying in the old town area of this beautiful city. Your blog is spot on. Did the Cathedral tour this morning. It was awesome. Better than Notee Dame. Hope we get a chance to link up.

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