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 in Spain. 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!

Cultural Immersion

Volunteer Teaching Certificate Program
Students enrolled in an ISA Salamanca semester, trimester or academic year program (who have a Spanish language level of high intermediate or above) can choose to participate in the Volunteer Teaching Certificate Program. This program allows students to volunteer as native English speakers in a public school in Salamanca. Typically, students volunteer for 2-4 hours per week. Volunteer placements are limited, so if interested, students must confirm their interest as soon as possible on their Pre-Registration form in their student portal. Once students are on-site, they will receive more information regarding their specific school placement, schedule, etc. Upon culmination of the program, students will receive a certificate from the Spanish Ministry of Education and from ISA indicating their successful completion of volunteer hours.

Students enrolled in an ISA Salamanca Summer program, as well as students with a beginning to intermediate Spanish language level, have a similar volunteer teaching opportunity at an English academy in Salamanca.

Please note that this program is not for academic credit and does not require an additional fee. Students must complete all scheduled hours in order to obtain the certificates. Students will be responsible for their own transportation costs to and from their volunteer placement.

In addition to the program listed above, there are many other volunteer oppportunities in Salamanca. Any student truly interested in volunteering while in Salamanca can work with the ISA Salamanca staff to find different opportunities. Past students have volunteered with organizations involved in a variety of different areas based on the students' interest including: healthcare, childcare, and disability services.

Students also have the opportunity to participate in volunteer activities that are environmentally focused with the Universidad de Salamanca's Oficina Verde (Green Office). They can partake in video forums in which participants view documentaries on controversial and current topics and then establish panel discussions regarding the matter. Students can participate in orientations that aim to combine outdoor activities with environmental education. Mobile Campus is another great opportunity in which students design a project to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable mobility. Workshops are offered in which students, using recycled materials, learn to make decorative items, accesories, and ornaments. There are also workshops where students, with minimal materials, learn to construct solar cookers to be used on outings and picnics. Students can also partake in river cleanups in which they will clean a stretch of river and use the items collected to design an exposition. There are also various field work oppotunities through which students participate in reforestation to better understand the environment and to increase their level of environmental awareness and participation.

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

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 Salamanca, cultural happenings and expat lives.

Cultural Activity Suggestions

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

Festival Internacional de las Artes de Castilla y León
This is one festival not to be missed. It is an event that brings together a broad, high-quality range of cultural arts including contemporary and classical productions

Cultural Events

Salamanca offers a multitude of cultural events that take place throughout the year. Events range from the Explorafoto Castilla y León International Photography Festival to Jazz in the Streets to street theater such as Lives & Fictions and Summer in the Cave. Students can plan their cultural calendar by visiting

Religious Tourism

Salamanca is home to two cathedrals: the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral. Two other grand spiritual destinations in Salamanca are the Santo Domingo and the Clerecía. However, Salamanca is also home to a multitude of smaller religious institutions that should not be missed including many convents and small churches.

Outdoor Activities

Take advantage of the varying seasons to participate in numerous outdoor activities of different styles. There is plenty to be done in Salamanca and its surrounding towns: hiking, riding ATVs, skiing, horseback riding, running and archery.


Salamanca is well known for its jamón (ham) and provides ample opportunity to sample the jamón serrano or jamón iberico. Stop off at many of the restaurants and cafés to discover many local dishes that have been perfected over thousands of years in the heart of Old Castilla.

Monuments & Must-Sees

Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor is located in the center of Salamanca. It was originally used for bullfights, but is now the central gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. Shops, restuarants, and cafés line the square and offer students an opportunity to purchase souvenirs or sample the local fair with friends. The Plaza Mayor is considered one of the finest in all of Europe.

Catedral Vieja
Of Romanesque design, this cathedral was founded in the 12th century. It serves as a staple of the Salamanca cityscape.

Catedral Nueva
The construction of this cathedral began in the early 1500s. It serves as a combination of both Gothic and Renaissance style architecture. It was completed in the mid-1700s and now also serves as a staple of Salamanca's cityscape.

Casa de las Conchas
This historical building was constructed in the late 15th Century and early 16th Century and is currently home to a public library. The most unique aspect of this building is that its exterior is decorated with over 300 shells. These shells are a symbol of the Order of Santiago de Compostela, of which the building's architect was a knight.

Universidad de Salamanca
The original and main buildings of the Universidad de Salamanca are of extreme historical importantance as the university is the oldest and one of the most prestigious in all of Spain. It is also the fourth oldest university in continuous operation throughout all of Europe. While there, students will learn of several interesting side stories about the university, including that of la rana.

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

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!