International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987


Culture Corner

Spain Culture

Spanish Language
The official language of Spain is Castilian (Castellano), however, it is important to keep in mind that Castilian is not the only language spoken in Spain. There are a number of different languages and dialects that are spoken throughout the various regions of Spain, four of which are co-official languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician, and Valencian. Catalan, a romance language, is primarily spoken within the region of Catalonia where it is the co-official language and is the official language of Andorra. Basuqe is the co-official language of the Basque Country in the north-eastern region of Spain. There have been a number of different hypotheses of acout the origins of the language, but it still has no proven connection to any other language. Galician is the co-official language of Galicia which is in the north-western region of Spain. It has been suggested that Galician and Portuguese have similar roots, the reason being that Portuguese originated in Galicia and northern Portugal. Valencian is the co-official language of the autonomous region of Valencia which is located on the east of Spain along the coast. Valencian is a dialect of Catalan but is perceived as a completely different language by many Valencianos. Spain is a very culturally proud nation and there is a very strong connection between language and cultural identity in all these regions in Spain. Although these different languages are quite prominent within their respective regions, all Spaniards speak the national Castilian language and foreign students using it will not have any problems with communication.

Spain offers a wide array of dishes each of which is influenced by the country's numerous cultural influences: Roman, Christian, Jewish, and Moorish. There are numerous foods that can be found throughout the country including: tortilla española (potato omelette), paella (a rice dish), jamón serrano (a type of cured ham), various cheeses, chorizo and morcilla (sausages), churros, flan, and magdalenas (madeleines or muffins). However, the country's cuisine also varies by its 19 regions and is indicative of the geography and culture of each. Students will have the culinary opportunity to experience typical Spanish cuisine as well as those that are indicative of the particular region in which they are studying and/or traveling.

Personal Greetings
The concept of personal space is different – hugs and kisses are common; including when meeting people for the first time. When passing locals in the street, don't be surprised if eye contact is made but no smile or greeting is exchanged.

Rhythm of Life
Spaniards typically live a much slower paced life, when compared to other countries such as the U.S. Normally, breakfast is light and consists of a cup of coffee with milk, hot chocolate, and a pastry or toast. Around mid-morning, Spaniards typically take a "coffee break" to sip on a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice or a cup of coffee. Lunch is the most important, and heaviest, meal of the day and is typically eaten between 2PM and 4PM. During the hours of 2PM-5PM many small businesses will close for workers to go home and eat lunch with their family, this break is known as the siesta. Dinner is eaten between 9PM-11PM and is typically much lighter and is not as important in Spain as it is in other countries, such as the U.S. Commuting between housing and school will be a part of your daily routine, so be prepared to walk everywhere or use public transportation!


Spaniards generally live in smaller apartments, or pisos, instead of houses as Americans do. These apartments are compact but comfortable. You may expect to find smaller appliances (i.e. washers, dishwashers and refrigerators) and smaller living accommodations, closet space, beds, showers and tubs than in the U.S. Space heaters and fans are widely used as central air is not as common in Spain. Clothes lines and drying racks are widely used in Spain, especially in the South, and you will find clothes dryers to be less common. Also, many families shop for meals daily vs. weekly.

The Spaniards are well known for their fiestas! In every town and village in Spain at some point during the year there is a unique festival which brings all the residents together. Although most festivals have religious origins, Spaniards take the art of celebration very seriously with festivities which include costumes, traditional dance, sharing of large meals, and celebrating until the very wee hours of the morning! Each major city in Spain has a number of different regional festivals depending on the time of year. It is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the celebrations that will be going on during your time abroad in order to not miss out on one of these fantastically exciting cultural events!

Monuments and Must-Sees

La Sagrada Familia
Visit the Sagrada Família, the famous Antoni Gaudí cathedral that he dedicated 43 years of his life to, still in progress today.

Park Güell
Visit and explore the fantasy-like buildings and sparkling ceramic mosaics designed by the famous architect Antonio Gaudí.

Poble Espanyol
An open air museum that is composed of 117 full-scale "typical Spanish" building replicas. Students can enjoy the ambiance while strolling through the roads and squares free of traffic and admiring the different buildings that exemplify the architecture from the different regions of Spain.

Camp Nou
Watch a soccer match at the famous Camp Nou, the largest stadium in Europe and home to FC Barcelona, the top soccer club in all of Spain and Europe.

The hill Montjüic is one of Barcelona's major tourist attractions and was also where the '92 ollympics were held. At the top of the hill is the fort of Montjüic which you can take a tour of and also enjoy the gorgeous views of the city from the top.

La Pedrera
A very symbolic and creative building designed by Antoni Gaudí located on the famous street, Passeig de Gracia. You can tour this imaginative house, admiring the construction and wave like features and also the very impressive rooftop.

Cultural Activities

Barcelona has a number of activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultural activities to do while in Barcelona. You can organize many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Valencia, various sponsored cultural activities will be announced by the ISA Barcelona directors.

Explore one of the many musems in Barcelona such as the Museu Picasso, Museu Futbol Club Barcelona, Museum d' Història de Catalunya, Palau de la Música Catalana, and many more!

Las Ramblas
Take a stroll along the most famous pedestrian street in Barcelona that begins at the southern end of Placa Catalunya and ends at the Port Vell. There are dozens of restaurants, shops, and a wide array of creative street performers all along Las Ramblas.

Parks and Beaches
Enjoy a sunny weekend afternoon in the beautiful Parc Ciutadella which is a very common recreational destination for locals and tourists. You can also spend the afternoons gathered with friends on the beach of Barceloneta or Vila Olimpica where locals gather to have picnics, play musical instruments or play sports!

Tapas Tour
Take some time and have a "tapeo" while exploring many of the tasty tapas (small traditional Spanish and Catalan dishes) bars the city has to offer. You will be pleased to find the streets of Barcelona full off outdoor terraces with people enjoying a small tapa and drink, after work and on weekends.

Cultural Immersion

Language Exchange
Students will be given the opportunity to meet local and international students wishing to share their knowledge of Spanish and learn English in exchange. This activity is a great way to get to know other students in Barcelona, and share your culture and language with others while learning more about your surroundings and Spanish student counterparts!

While there is no structured volunteer program offered, any student truly interested in volunteering while in Barcelona can work with the ISA Barcelona staff to find different opportunities.

ISA Student Blog
Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home on the ISA Student Blog, one of WordPress' top 23 recommended travel blogs! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features current ISA students as bloggers, photo bloggers, and video bloggers who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students, advisers, and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through writing, photos, videos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger, Photo Blogger, or Video Blogger. The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for all ISA Featured Blogger programs. Please contact the ISA Blog Team at if you have any questions.

Cultural Blogs:
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Barcelona, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

Helpful Spanish Phrases
Buenos días. Good morning.
Buenas tardes. Good afternoon.
Buenas noches. Good evening.

¿Cómo se llama? What is your name? (formal)
¿Cómo te llamas? What is your name? (informal)
Me llamo... My name is....
Mucho gusto/Encantado. Nice to meet you.

Me gustaría... I'd like to order... (in a restaurant)
¡Salud! Cheers!/Bless you! (after a sneeze)
Vale. Okay.

Adios. Bye
Hasta luego. See you later
hasta pront. See you soon.

Helpful Catalan Phrases
Bon dia. Good norning.
Bona tarda. Good afternoon.
Bona nit. Good night.

Com es diu? What is your name? (formal)
Com et dius? What is your name? (informal)
Em dic.... My name is....
Encantat/ Molt de gust/ Tant de gust. Nice to meet you.
Adéu. Bye
Que vagi bé. Take care.

Online Dictionary Resource

Beware of translation websites... much can be LOST in translation!