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 about 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!

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

Magdalena Palace and Park
Visit the former summer palace of Spanish royalty in the early 20th century. The impressive palace is now the most emblematic building of the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo. Students can also enjoy a walk along the Peninsula of Magdalena, which offers impressive views of the Bay of Santander.

Cabo Mayor
Explore Parque de Cabo Mayor with its 19th-century lighthouse. From the park, you'll enjoy impressive views of the cliffs overlooking the Cantabrian Sea!

Museo de Bellas Artes

Discover the works of art housed at Santander's Museo de Bellas Artes. Find pieces by Goya, classic artists, local artists, and 20th-century pieces.

Experience Santander's many architectural styles, including the stunning Gothic cathedral, Catedral De Santa María De La Asunción, and the town hall, a common meeting place for students and locals alike.

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

Cultural Activities

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

Ferry Ride
Discover a new perspective and enjoy spectacular views on a ferry ride through the Bay of Santander.

Tapas Tour
Enjoy fish and other seafood, freshly caught in the nearby bay. After a stroll along the harbor, discover the region's delicacies on an evening tapas tour through the city.

Outdoor Activities
Lounge on one of the many beaches of Santander, including Santander's most popular Sardinero Beach. Then partake in surfing, sailing or hiking in the rolling hills of natural parks that surround the city. Santander has much to offer the outdoor enthusiast.

Pack a bag with Spanish cheese, jamón serrano, a barra de pan, a blanket and head to one of the many parks or beaches that Santander has to offer! Gather friends, practice your Spanish and enjoy the sites and sounds of the "outdoor" Santander. If you don't have time to pack a lunch, stop by a café, grab a bocadillo and park yourself along the beach for a quick lunch.

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 of Santander, 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 Santander can with the ISA Santander staff to find different opportunities. Past students have volunteered with the organization, Red Cross, in a variety of different areas based on the students' interest.

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!