Handling Culture Shock in Spain One Step at a Time

school in spain

Yay! My first week of school is over in Spain! That was possibly the longest week of my entire life. A high school exchange program is a time to learn and adapt to other cultures. Sometimes things won’t go your way and there will be things that you won’t like. Well, that thing for me is school.

I do not hate school by any means, but I also do not look forward to it. I would describe my feelings for school as numb. It could just be a version of culture shock- school shock! I wouldn’t even be able to begin to compare school in the USA to school here.

Here are a few points about school so far:

  1. You are allowed to smoke anywhere here- yes, even at school. The students and teachers smoke together and it is completely casual. Here, the age to buy cigarettes is 18, but they say that 10 year olds can get away with buying them. It is something I never imagined. Smoking outside of the school is what is allowed, but students often push their limits. They play with lighters in class and cigarettes just lay on desks. It is astonishing because it is so foreign! Unfortunately, the smell of smoke is almost impossible to escape.
  2. I am in a group on Facebook for exchange students and I read through the post often just to see how other exchange students like their experiences. One day there was a post from a girl who said she had a disaster at school because she went to the bathroom and there was no toilet paper. In my head I was thinking, “Dang what country did this girl go to!” Then I just forgot about it. Well then the first day of school I go to the bathroom and in the stall there was no toilet paper, so I went to the next one to get some, and the next, and the next… and.. apparently I have to bring my own toilet paper to school! So, be thankful for your toilet paper at your school. I am dreading the awful day when I forgot toilet paper- but hopefully that will never happen!
  3. School is for exactly six hours a day. All classes are 55 minutes long and there are two fifteen minute breaks after every two classes. My classes rotate everyday but I take Economics, English, History, Philosophy, Mathematics applies to sciences, Literature, and Geography. You would think that my favorite class would be English, but it is Geography and History because the teacher of those classes is very nice to me. He is an older man and is very laid back. During my other classes, I copy words out of the dictionary or write in my journal. I have begun to pick up on a few phrases in school, but not much. It can be very boring, but I have made it through everyday so far!
  4. Everywhere I look in school, I see English. Not in the classroom, or on the walls, but on the clothes of the students. Boys and girls wear clothes with English on them. Many have asked me what their shirts say, and each time I am left wondering why they would buy a shirt and then wear in when they have no idea what it says. A lot of the time the shirts have poor grammar. Por ejemplo: “Don’t take it personal”, “Taking the world by the storm”, and the worst so far: “I am the DUFF”. Which as you know from the movie means, “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” I am sure that he had no idea what his shirt said.
  5. As you can see, schools are pretty laid back about the rules. Well, some. There is one thing that you absolutely cannot have in school. Can you guess? Cell phones. So you can smoke and leave class when you want but don’t you dare bring out a cell phone. It is polar opposite in the United States!

So, that is school. I haven’t been super busy lately, but I am definitely exhausted at the end of the day from speaking Spanish and always being on guard. Living in other families’ houses comes with challenges of its own. You constantly have to be on guard and don’t get too comfy when sitting down because chances are you are going to have to move or they are going to call you to do something.

street in spain

My street in Spain where I live.


I have done a lot of watching of the other children to make sure that I am doing something right. One thing here that I did wrong at first was I ate pizza, chicken nuggets, and other finger foods with my hands. Here, you eat nothing with your hands! Yes, I sit at dinner and cut my chicken nuggets!

Another change here is that you do not go to your bedroom unless you are going to sleep, you do not sit down on a bed once it is made up, and you do not open your door in the morning until your bed is made. At home, I come home from school and love jumping in my bed and cuddling up under my blankets! Not here! However, beds here are much simpler. There are no big comforters or fancy pillows. You simply have one small/thin comforter and then a pillow you sleep with. So “making the bed” is not as strenuous as it sounds!

I am still adapting to the food here, but it regularly catches me somewhat off guard. Throwing away leftover food is not an option. As a matter of fact, “leftovers” do not exist. You are expected to eat everything on your plate. Nobody here has a problem finishing their food- except me! Portions here are very large, and we eat often. It is definitely something that you have to get used too, but everyday is a step in the right direction! There is no snacking here.

friend in spain

Enjoying some food with my friend, Claire.

Now onto my activities. I have had a pretty difficult time getting involved in various activities. Since I am in a very small town, there is not much offered. My host family plays tennis and I was very excited about that when I came because it was something that we all had in common. I did not fully explain how much experience I have had with tennis and so I think they were very surprised with my abilities. The tennis coach in the town is also the English teacher at school and it all seemed to be falling into place perfectly. Well, it now has turned out that I will not be able to play tennis at all.

The daughter in my host family is in the most advanced class, and that consists of the players with the best tennis ability in the town. Although their abilities do not stretch to the level of players in the United States, I would have definitely considered it worthwhile. My family told me one night that I would be going with their middle son, Pablo, to tennis every night at 7. I was kind of confused why I would be going with him since he is not an avid tennis player, but like majority of things here, I just said okay and waited to see what would happen.

This tennis clinic ended up being players from the ages of 8-14 that had almost no experience. The coach kept telling me to slice the ball and hit is softly so they could try to hit it back. I asked why I was not in the other clinic and he said that I am only temporary and he only put players in that clinic who will be here for the future. So needless to say, I will not be playing tennis. It is quite disappointing because if a student came to anywhere in the United States and had a higher level of tennis ability than anyone in the town, they would not only be welcomed into the clinic, they would probably be begged to join.

Another activity that I was looking forward too is dance. I had asked my host sister before I came if they offered classes such as tap, jazz, hip-hop, or ballet and she said yes! When I got here, we went to about five different dance studios to find one that I liked. Turns out, classes such as the ones I listed above do not exist here! There is ballet for young girls and then 50+. There are, however, Pilates classes that I plan on joining!

I Google mapped and found a park that is a twenty-minute walk from the house. In the afternoons, I go run or walk to get some exercise and to get out of the house. I also brought my Eno (a small easy-to-hang hammock) and can go hang it in the park and read! Although organized activities have not worked out, I am optimistic that I will find other ways to spend my time!

As far as outings with my family go, I have not had any. I am looking forward to writing about the first thing that we go do. Adjusting to life in a new country is never easy, but I am taking it one day at a time!






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