I thought I knew pretty well what to expect of Spain’s culture and how to handle the culture shock, but I was still caught completely off guard. Nothing has crashed and burned so far as of my 5th day in Salamanca, but it’s definitely felt like I’ve had some close calls.
I wanted to provide some cultural differences I discovered that either are more intense than I expected or I hadn’t read about before I left. I hope this helps you in your preparation for Salamanca!
When you are told what to do, how to do it, or what you just did wrong, it can feel like a reprimand or a punishment, but it’s really just the only way your host family and teachers can get across how to live in Spain. It will be overwhelming for sure, but do your best to keep in mind that they are trying to help you in the long run and you’re not in trouble.
If you aren’t smelling fuma every 10 minutes you aren’t in Salamanca anymore. If you’re sensitive to this type of thing like me, make sure to set the preference in your Host Family Questionnaire to no smokers inside and out. You’re not being an inconvenience, they’re asking for your preferences for a reason. It’s not too bad and usually you can pass by the cloud quickly, but it’s a good thing to be aware of.
I made this mistake a couple of times and it was a hard thing for me to get over. I’m a picky eater but I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, so I usually don’t say much and just toss what I couldn’t eat after. Don’t do that. If you try a bite of something and you realize you don’t enjoy it, let your host family know respectfully. ¿Puedo probarlo primero? (Can I try it first?). No me gusta esta comida, lo siento (I don’t like this food, I’m sorry). You don’t waste food in Spain, so if you catch it soon enough, they don’t have to throw it out. And do your best to take a little less than what you think you’ll eat so you don’t have excess food that you have to throw out. You can always ask for more after. You’ll have to feel your way through the customs of your own homestay, but don’t be afraid to ask, even if it is in broken Spanish.
Finally, I have some notes of advice just to help make your first few days a little easier:
You’re going to be jet lagged and in an unfamiliar place. It’s rough. Having a schedule and things planned for you does help, but you still have to be prepared to feel lost for a bit. Even if you don’t know what the evening activity is, keep in mind that it’ll be fun one way or another and that if you are in the meeting place, things will go to plan and you’ll be just fine.
But don’t make it excessive. I’ve seen all kinds of different things on how to avoid homesickness, and I do think that not talking to family and friends back home is best for avoiding it, but I also completely understand how hard that is. They want to check in with you and you want to tell them all about what you’ve been doing. Just make sure it doesn’t become constant. I found that I was most homesick at night when my friends were awake back in the US, but during the day I didn’t long for home as much because I was learning or participating in an activity (or napping during la siesta). Do whatever you are most comfortable with, but keeping busy and trying to explore as much as possible does help subside the homesickness.
If you can’t figure it out or you don’t feel like you got an actual answer, come home at 8 because it should fall sometime around there.
You might feel like you don’t have anything to do or no one to do it with, but you will find some people you enjoy and the museums are amazing no matter what! It helped me feel more comfortable because it reminded me of vacationing with my family, and it might help you in a similar way.
You will get lost, but don’t be afraid, the town is smaller than you think. But on that same note, don’t feel bad about pulling out Google maps if you have somewhere to be, eventually you’ll start realizing you know where you are.
I hope this helped fill in some gaps about Spain, your homestay, and your trip. You’re going to have a great time!
Elias Harold, from Astoria, Oregon, is a Greenheart Travel First Time Traveler Scholarship recipient. Learn more about Greenheart Travel’s scholarship opportunities to help you travel for a change!