A Girl Overseas: Adjusting to Culture Shock

A Girl Overseas is a series written by contributor Abby Rasweiler, as she settles in Palma de Mallorca, Spain during a semester abroad. Abby will offer her own stories & recommendations for adjusting in a new country, one glass of vino at a time.

About a month in and my trip to Spain could not be going better. Thus far, the experience has been everything that I hoped it would be, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some surprises along the way. Spain is a very advanced and modern country and similar to the U.S. in many ways, but the culture is certainly distinct and has taken some getting used to.

Perhaps the most jarring difference is the pace of life here. Living on the East Coast my entire life, my brain is permanently fast-paced. In Spain, as with many European countries, the speed of things comes to a screeching halt. People sit and talk for hours over a cup of coffee. They walk down the street at a pace that would drive any New Yorker up the wall.

Many Spaniards have the attitude of just figuring things out as they go, rather than having a plan. So instead of letting this throw me, I have decided to throw caution to the wind (relinquishing any sort of consistent sleep schedule) and embrace the “take things as they come” culture of the country.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Embrace siesta. Any country that takes a nap every day is a good country in my book. Pace yourself for the Spanish horarios. Dinner at 10 pm, class all day, and dancing until 6 am don’t leave much time for solid sleep. A two-hour nap every day is the greatest way to replenish your energy and makes for an overall better attitude.

2. Do things you wouldn’t normally do. If you’re staying in a country for a long time, like I am, you absolutely have to embrace the culture. Sticking to your own ways and not stepping out and trying to fit in will leave you feeling even more on the outside. It can be tough to be away from home for so long.  But in order to have the best experience possible, it’s important to make this new place feel like home!

3. Develop a love of carbs. Although Spain has some of the best food in the world, there is a huge emphasis on pan, or bread. I have yet to have a meal that didn’t come with a baguette, roll, or some other extremely large piece of bread. The same can be said for oil, ham, and eggs. Although you may have moments of weakness and strong cravings for a classic American hamburger, you will quickly learn how to make the most of the culinary offerings wherever you are.

4. Try not to stare at the PDA happening around every corner. Spaniards are unabashed when it comes to public displays of affection. In America, a couple making out in the street is often met with disgusted expressions from outsiders. Across the pond, it is not uncommon to see people all over each other. Embrace the fact that love is in the air and hold in your desire to tell them to get a room.

5. Put down your phone. When I first got to Spain, I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about communicating with people, both back at home and here. There are a lot of options, and I ultimately bought a Spanish SIM card to put in my iPhone. However, for about a week, I was basically phone-less – and it was the biggest relief. It forced me to look up from Instagram and actually immerse myself in whatever I was doing. Sometimes just looking at something beautiful or funny is so much better than Snapchatting it.

6. Ask locals for advice. You can read a million guide books, ask people that you know have visited the place you’re going, and look up everything online, but you will never find out the kind of things that locals can tell you. A few friends and I struck up a friendship with a local chef at a restaurant we have been frequenting recently. Long story short, she ended up leading us to an underground discoteca that we never would have found and giving us one of the best nights of the trip so far.

I look forward to learning many more lessons while here in Spain. Until next time…

Follow more of Abby’s travels on Instagram.