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. Basque is the co-official language of the Basque Country in the north-eastern region of Spain. There have been a number of different hypotheses regarding 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 in 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 of these regions in Spain. Although these different languages are quite prominent within their respective regions, all Spaniards speak the national Castilian Spanish 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!

Living and Working Space
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.

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 & Must-Sees

Guggenheim Museum
This contemporary building designed by architect Frank Gerhy sparked a cultural reformation in the city of Bilbao. As a contemporary art museum, it is a member of the European Branch of the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation. The Guggenheim Museum is a mainstay in Bilbao's cityscape and has become its icon.

Built in 1909, this building's reinforced concrete structure enabled it to survive the 1919 fire. It has now been remodeled and serves as a major cultural center for the city. It houses a public library, a gym, a pool, a movie theater, and several shops and cafes.

St. James Cathedral
This Gothic style cathedral was begun in the 14th Century. The remaining additions of its tower and façade were completed in 1887. The cathedral honors its namesake, St. James, who is the patron saint of the city of Bilbao.

Casco Viejo

This medieval neighborhood is the old town of Bilbao and was the walled portion of the city until the end of the 19th Century. It is considered, perhaps, the most vibrant part of the city and houses numerous shops, bars, cafés, restaurants, and historical churches, as well as the largest food market in all of Europe.

Artxanda Funicular Railway

This tram will take you to the top of the Artxanda mountain 2,625 feet above the city of Bilbao. The view from atop the mountain is spectacular and allows for a panoramic shot of the entire city including its estuary. The mountaintop park is the perfect spot for a picnic or a peaceful stroll. The many bars and cafés also provide a warm respite during the colder months.

In addition to the aforementioned, there are numerous other monuments and must-sees you can explore in Bilbao.

Cultural Activity Suggestions

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

There are a plethora of museums that students can explore including: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Ria de Bilbao Maritime Museum, Basque Museum, Athletic Club Museum, and Arkeologi Museoa - Bizkaia Museum of Archeology, among several others.

Religious Sites

Bilbao, like most of Spain, is home to many historical churches, cathedrals, and basilicas: Begoña Basilica, St. James Cathedral, St. John?s Church, Incarnation Church and Monastery, and St. Nicholas Church, among others.

Parks and Gardens

In addition to indoor cultural activities, students have the opportunity to explore Bilbao from an outdoor perspective. They can visit the Doña Casilda Park, the Etxebarria Park, the Memorial Walkway, the Europa Park, and the Bidarte Park, among others.


As a cultural epicenter, Bilbao is home to numerous theaters including: the Arriaga Theater, the Euskalduna Palace, the Bilborock, and the Arteria Campos Eliseos Theater.

Outdoor Activities

Bilbao is a very outdoor oriented city. With both the sea and mountains nearby, it is an outdoorsman's paradise. Students can swim or surf on Sopelana and Barinache beaches. They can also hike and mountain bike in the mountains that surround the city. There are also plenty of picturesque towns nearby such as Bermeo, Lekeitio, Mundaka and Zarautz.

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 Bilbao, and share your culture and language with others while learning more about your surroundings and Spanish student counterparts!

The Universidad de Deusto offers students the opportunity to participate in a service learning project during their semester/academic year in Bilbao. The goal is to complement the student's academic background with additional interaction with native Spanish speakers, meet real needs within the community, and increase awareness and commitment to social justice issues. To learn more about the Bilbao Service Learning opportunity, please click here.

The Universidad de Deusto offers students the opportunity to participate in either a business or education internship program during their semester/academic year in Bilbao. The goal of the internship is to complement the student's academic background with participation in a professional or educational environment. Industries in which a business internship is available are: accounting and finance, business, hotel management, international relations, marketing, and public relations. The education internship focuses on observation and lesson planning. To learn more about the Bilbao Internship program, please click here.

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 Bilbao, cultural happenings and expat lives.

Language Resources

Helpful 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)
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.

Online Dictionary Resource

Verb Conjugation

We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to verb conjugations in Spanish.

Listening & Speaking
Check out some different Spanish podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills.

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