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5 Study-Abroad Culture Shocks I Had In Spain

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UVA chapter.

What is a culture shock? A culture shock occurs when a person experiences disorientation after being suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar way of life and culture. Culture shocks occur no matter how hard we try and it’s important to note the way they make us feel. This past semester I have been studying in Valencia, Spain. Valencia is located on the East coast of Spain and it is the third most-populated city in Spain. Our program warned us that Spanish culture would be different from the United States, but below are some of the biggest culture shocks I have faced throughout my time in Valencia.

meal times and amounts

The hardest thing to get used to in Spain is by far the meal times. The Spanish meal schedule works very differently from the traditional times of the United States. To start, Spaniards eat a very small breakfast around 7:00/8:00 a.m., this usually consists of only a coffee and a small cookie or piece of bread. Then, Spaniards eat an “almuerzo” around 10:00-12:00 p.m. The almuerzo is a snack that is often a sandwich or pastry. The main meal of the day is the lunch. This is often eaten between 2:00-4:00 p.m. and it is a large meal. They take a small snack between lunch and dinner from 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. in order to stay full into the late dinner. Dinner is served anywhere from 9:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m. and it’s smaller and can consist of soup and bread or a tostado. Comparing this to the U.S., where dinner is the main meal served around 5:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., it was difficult to get used to eating my last meal so late at night. I normally do not finish dinner until 11:30 which is considered reasonable in Spain.

what is considered rude

Growing up in the South, I was always taught to say “please”, “thank you”, “yes ma’am” or “no sir.” In Spain, it is not considered rude to not say “please” when ordering or asking someone to do something. Even saying “thank you” is not required in most situations. The Spanish are all about efficiency and in many situations and saying “please” and “thank you” are seen as unnecessary additions to the conversation. In addition, Spain has two forms of saying the 2nd person “you” they can use “” when talking to someone informally and “usted” when talking to someone who demands respect such as a professor. Usted functions as a form of showing respect to elders much like using ma’am or sir with someone in English. However, most older adults and professors prefer that you use when speaking to them even if it seems very informal.


If you go into any shop or restaurant in Spain, the price that you see is the price you pay. Unlike the U.S. where taxes are added at the register, the prices displayed in Spain include the taxes that have to be payed on the item. This has been such a refreshing cultural shock for me because I am never caught by surprise by how much the item is, I can get out my change before I pay if I am paying in cash which always saves me time. The prices of many items are also significantly cheaper in Spain. For example, it costs me $2.50 to get a coffee with milk and a croissant in Spain, which would likely cost me $6 or more in the U.S. I have gotten into the habit of buying coffee everyday and I already know how hard it will be to go back to paying U.S. prices on coffee.

the spanish grading scale

While I am graded by the traditional U.S. system in my study-abroad program, we learned about the Spanish grading system in my translation class. Spain grades based off a 10 point scale with 10 being the highest score someone can receive. Getting a 5 or above means passing, and getting an 7.5 or above is considered a good grade. It may seem like only needing a 5 is easy, but it is extremely hard to achieve even an 8 on an exam and only a certain portion of the class can receive a 9 or above. This makes the system extremely competitive for students. I was shocked when my host sister told me she got an 8 after studying all day and night until I learned how the Spanish grading works. What is considered good to an American vs a Spaniard may seem very different but the numbers come out to be about equivalent. For example, an 8.7 would be considered a B+ for both.

all the fireworks

Spain has fireworks shows all the time and they are spectacular. In the United States large fireworks shows are reserved mainly for events such as the 4th of July or other important holidays. In Spain, the big celebrations have fireworks but so do many other small events. In addition, the fireworks shows can last for 20 minutes or more and the pyrotechnics used are significantly louder than those in the U.S. During Fallas, a festival in Valencia, there were fireworks every day which would shake the windows of my apartment. During the shows, most people wore earbuds because they were so loud.

Gabriella is a third-year majoring in History and Archaeology with a Spanish minor. She hopes to attend law school in the future and is passionate about repatriation, restorative justice, and sexual respect. She currently serves as the HerCampusatUVA's Campus Correspondent/Vice President! In Gabriella's free time, she enjoys reading fantasy books, working out, traveling, and finding new music to listen to! Around grounds, she is also involved with her sorority and CORE (Culture of Respect Educators)!