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.

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 & Must-Sees

The Alcazaba is a Moorish fort whose construction begain in the 8th Century and ended in the 11th Century. This fortress was built for King Badis who at the time was the ruler of Granada and is considered the most well-preserved alcazaba (citadel in Arabic) in all of Spain. Just below the fortress, students will find the ruins of an old Roman ampitheatre from the 2nd Century.

Picasso Museum
This museum is dedicated to the city's most famous resident, Pablo Picasso, who was born in Málaga. The museum houses many of Picasso's personal works that have been donated by his family. Student's may be interested to note that these paintings are not actually signed by the artist himself on the front of the canvas as they are the works that were hung in Picasso's own home.

Catedral Basílica de la Encarnación & La Manquita
This cathedral was constructed between 1528 and 1782 in the Renaissance style. It posesses two towers, one of which gives the cathedral the distinction as being the second-highest in Andalusia. The second tower however, was never completed. There are two schools of thought regarding its unfinished state. The first of which is that monies that would have been used to complete the tower, were instead used to aid the British colonies (eventually the U.S.A.) to gain independence from Britain. The second is that the monies were used in the preparation of the Way of Antequera. No matter the school of thought from which you come, the cathedral's unfinished tower has earned it the nickname of La Manquita (The One-Armed Lady).

Calle Larios
Calle Larios is found in Málaga's center. It is the main shopping thoroughfare in the city. The street has been closed off to traffic and is a pedestrian haven where students can stroll together with friends, meet locals, purchase gifts, and have a café con leche.

Plaza de Toros
The Plaza de Toros is Málaga's bullfighting ring located in the La Malagueta neighborhood.

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

Cultural Activity Suggestions

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

Málaga offers students the opportunity to take advantage of Spanish theatrical pieces with its many theaters: Recinto Eduardo Ocón, Teatro Alameda, Teatro Cánovas, Teatro Echegaray, and Cervantes Theater.


There are numerous cultural events that take place throughout the year: Certamen Internacional de Pintura al Aire Libre in October, Conciertos Clásicos en Navidad in December, Carnaval in February, Semana Santa in March/April, and Festival Terral in July.


Sample the traditional fare of Málaga in its many restaurants, bars, and cafés. Take a tapas tour and enjoy the pescaíto frito (little fried fish), which is traditionally Málagueña.


It's impossible to visit Málaga without enjoying its wonderful beaches. The warm climate, sun, and sand are a perfect combination allowing for sunbathing, swimming, and surfing.


Given its amazing climate, Málaga allows for a multitude of sport activities, many of which are done outdoors: golf, tennis, swimming, archery, trekking, marina sports, and gymnasiums.

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 Málaga, 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 Málaga can work with the ISA Málaga staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and the Málaga staff can help you figure out how to get involved

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.

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!